Did you know that tooth decay is the second most common disease, following the common cold? The sad fact is that most of us will experience at least one dental cavity during our lives, and a significant amount of the population will develop gum disease. So why are we, as a nation, so at risk for dental problems? There are a number of factors, but the way we treat our teeth has a lot to do with the outcome.
Preventive dentistry is the ongoing care used to prevent the occurrence of tooth decay and other dental diseases. Public health advocates are also battling the tooth decay epidemic through preventive dentistry methods.
We have so many resources to keep our dental health in check -- here's how you can best utilize them.
The main responsibility of preventive care falls on you! In order to reduce your chances of getting a dental disease, you have to take care of yourself. Consider the following points when it comes to your preventive dentistry program:
Oral Hygiene -- Brushing and flossing removes dental plaque, a film-like substance that is constantly forming on your teeth. If not removed, dental plaque can build up over time and produce dental tartar, a hardened, sticky substance which harbors the acid-producing bacteria that generate tooth decay. Eventually, dental tartar will creep under the gum line, leading to gum disease as well.
Diet -- A good diet is incredibly important to your dental health. Not only do foods that contain sugars and carbohydrates feed the bacteria that produce dental plaque, but studies also show a diet low in calcium can increase your chances of ending up with periodontal disease and jaw deterioration.
Smoking and Drinking -- Smoking, chewing tobacco and consuming alcohol can wreak havoc on your mouth! If the dry mouth, tooth discoloration and buildup of dental plaque aren't enough for you to want to quit smoking, consider this: Smoking causes gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer.
At the Dental Office
General dentistry is preventive dentistry, and dental exams are a necessary part of any preventive dentistry program. Because most dental problems are painless, if you're not visiting the dentist on a regular basis, you may not be aware of your condition until it causes significant damage. And if you're concerned about the cost, consider this: Preventive dentistry is less expensive than restorative dental treatment, which you're bound to need if you don't take care of your teeth!
Checkup and Dental Cleaning -- A prophylaxis, also known as a dental cleaning, appointment is recommended every six months to check for signs of tooth decay and remove dental plaque that you've missed. The dentist and dental hygienist have special tools to reduce the dental tartar and stains that you're unable to remove on your own.
X-rays -- X-rays allow dentists to look for dental conditions not visible to the naked eye, such as cavities between teeth and dental problems below the gum line.
Oral Cancer Screening -- Dentists will check for signs of malignancy during a dental exam. If needed, they'll conduct an oral cancer exam.
Patient Education -- Patients who understand the outcome of poor dental health are more likely to see the dentist for preventive dentistry treatments.
Preventive dentistry is especially important for children. Instilling excellent oral hygiene practices and a good diet at an early age will better prepare children for a lifetime of dental health. But considering that children's permanent teeth are still forming, dentists take extra measures to ensure a healthy smile.
Fluoride -- Fluoride strengthens teeth and prevents tooth decay. Fluoride treatments are provided in-office, and dentists recommend using fluoride toothpaste when brushing. The addition of fluoride to our public water supply has helped reduce dental caries by up to 40% over the last 60 years.
Dental Sealants - Dental sealants are a clear or white plastic coating placed over the back teeth to prevent dental plaque from forming on the surface.
Orthodontics -- A malocclusion can make it difficult to eat or speak, and crooked teeth are hard to keep clean. Correcting a child's bite with dental braces limits the possibility of dental problems as an adult.
Mouthguards -- See your dentist for a dental mouthguard to wear during sports activities. A custom-made mouthguard provides better fit and protection against a broken tooth. Mouthguards are also used as a treatment for bruxism, which is teeth grinding.
At-Home Care -- Children probably won't understand the long-term effects of bad oral habits. Parents should assist their children with brushing and flossing until they are able to do it on their own, and avoid putting their baby to bed with a bottle to prevent baby bottle tooth decay.
When practiced thoroughly, preventive dentistry can prevent pain, save you money and enable you to keep your teeth for a lifetime. And considering that oral health is linked to overall health, preventive dentistry can keep dental diseases from affecting your well-being. So if you don't already have an established preventive dentistry program, get started today -- it's never too late to improve your dental health!
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