A preventive program is a cooperative effort by the patient, dentist, and dental staff to preserve the natural dentition and supporting structures by preventing the onset, progress, and recurrence of dental diseases and conditions. Preventing dental disease starts at home with good oral hygiene and a balanced diet. It is continued in the dental office by the efforts of your dentist and dental hygienist to promote, restore, and maintain your oral health. Prevention also includes regular dental exams, cleanings, and x-rays. Sealants and fluoride are also great preventive treatments that help protect the teeth.
Prevention helps avoid serious and costly dental problems and is the key to having a healthy, confident, beautiful smile.
A comprehensive dental exam will be performed by your dentist at your initial dental visit. At regular check-up exams, your dentist and hygienist will include the following:
- Examination of diagnostic x-rays (radiographs): Essential for detection of decay, tumors, cysts, and bone loss. X-rays also help determine tooth and root positions.
- Oral cancer screening: Check the face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissues, and gums for any signs of oral cancer.
- Gum disease evaluation: Check the gums and bone around the teeth for any signs of periodontal disease.
- Examination of tooth decay: All tooth surfaces will be checked for decay with special dental instruments.
- Examination of existing restorations: Check current fillings, crowns, etc.
Professional Dental Cleaning
Professional dental cleanings (dental prophylaxis) are usually performed by Registered Dental Hygienists. Your cleaning appointment will include a dental exam and the following:
- Removal of calculus (tartar): Calculus is hardened plaque that has been left on the tooth for some time and is now firmly attached to the tooth surface. Calculus forms above and below the gum line and can only be removed with special dental instruments.
- Removal of plaque: Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible film that forms on the teeth. It is a growing colony of living bacteria, food debris, and saliva. The bacteria produce toxins (poisons) that inflame the gums. This inflammation is the start of periodontal disease!
- Teeth polishing: Remove stain and plaque that is not otherwise removed during tooth brushing and scaling.
Digital radiography (digital x-ray) is the latest technology used to take dental x-rays. This technique uses an electronic sensor (instead of x-ray film) that captures and stores the digital image on a computer. This image can be instantly viewed and enlarged helping the dentist and dental hygienist detect problems easier. Digital x-rays reduce radiation by 80-90% compared to the already low exposure of traditional dental x-rays. Dental x-rays are essential, preventative, diagnostic tools that provide valuable information not visible during a regular dental exam. Dentists and dental hygienists use this information to safely and accurately detect hidden dental abnormalities and complete an accurate treatment plan. Without x-rays, problem areas may go undetected.
Dental x-rays may reveal:
- Abscesses or cysts.
- Bone loss.
- Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors.
- Decay between the teeth.
- Developmental abnormalities.
- Poor tooth and root positions.
- Problems inside a tooth or below the gum line.
Detecting and treating dental problems at an early stage may save you time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and teeth!
Are dental x-rays safe?
We are all exposed to natural radiation in our environment. Digital x-rays produce a significantly lower level of radiation compared to traditional dental x-rays. Not only are digital x-rays better for the health and safety of the patient, but they are also faster and more comfortable to take, which reduces your time in the dental office. Also, since the digital image is captured electronically, there is no need to develop the x-rays, thus eliminating the disposal of harmful waste and chemicals into the environment. Even though digital x-rays produce a low level of radiation and are considered very safe, dentists still take necessary precautions to limit the patient’s exposure to radiation. These precautions include only taking those x-rays that are necessary, and using lead apron shields to protect the body.
How often should dental x-rays be taken?
The need for dental x-rays depends on each patient’s individual dental health needs. Your dentist and dental hygienist will recommend necessary x-rays based upon the review of your medical and dental history, a dental exam, signs and symptoms, your age, and risk of disease. A full mouth series of dental x-rays is recommended for new patients. A full series is usually good for three to five years. Bite-wing x-rays (x-rays of top and bottom teeth biting together) are taken at recall (check-up) visits and are recommended once or twice a year to detect new dental problems.
Fluoride is the most effective agent available to help prevent tooth decay. It is a mineral that is naturally present in varying amounts in almost all foods and water supplies. The benefits of fluoride have been well known for over 50 years and are supported by many health and professional organizations.
Fluoride works in two ways:
- Topical fluoride strengthens the teeth once they have erupted by seeping into the outer surface of the tooth enamel, making the teeth more resistant to decay. We gain topical fluoride by using fluoride-containing dental products such as toothpaste, mouth rinses, and gels. Dentists and dental hygienists generally recommend that children have a professional application of fluoride twice a year during dental check-ups.
- Systemic fluoride strengthens the teeth that have erupted as well as those that are developing under the gums. We gain systemic fluoride from most foods and our community water supplies. It is also available as a supplement in drop or gel form and can be prescribed by your dentist or physician. Generally, fluoride drops are recommended for infants, and tablets are best suited for children up through the teen years. It is very important to monitor the amounts of fluoride a child ingests. If too much fluoride is consumed while the teeth are developing, a condition called fluorosis (white spots on the teeth) may result.
Although most people receive fluoride from food and water, sometimes it is not enough to help prevent decay.
Your dentist or dental hygienist may recommend the use of home and/or professional fluoride treatments for the following reasons:
- Deep pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of teeth.
- Exposed and sensitive root surfaces.
- Fair to poor oral hygiene habits.
- Frequent sugar and carbohydrate intake.
- Inadequate exposure to fluorides.
- Inadequate saliva flow due to medical conditions, medical treatments, or medications.
- Recent history of dental decay.
Remember, fluoride alone will not prevent tooth decay! It is important to brush at least twice a day, floss regularly, eat balanced meals, reduce sugary snacks, and visit your dentist on a regular basis.
How to Properly Brush & Floss
Brushing and flossing are of paramount importance to oral hygiene. Though bi-annual professional dental cleanings remove plaque, tartar, and debris, excellent homecare methods are equally valuable. Proper brushing and flossing can enhance the health of the mouth, make the smile sparkle, and prevent serious diseases.
Reasons why proper brushing and flossing are essential:
- Prevention of tooth decay – Tooth decay is one of the leading causes of tooth loss, and its treatment often requires complex dental procedures. Tooth decay occurs when the acids found in plaque erode the natural enamel found on the teeth. This phenomenon can easily be prevented by using proper home hygiene methods.
- Prevention of periodontal disease – Periodontal disease is a serious, progressive condition that can cause tooth loss, gum recession, and jawbone recession. Periodontal disease is caused by the toxins found in plaque and can lead to serious health problems in other parts of the body. Removing plaque and calculus (tartar) from the surface of the tooth using a toothbrush, and from the interdental areas using dental floss, is an excellent way to stave off periodontal problems.
- Prevention of halitosis – Bad breath or halitosis is usually caused by old food particles on or between the teeth. These food particles can be removed with regular brushing and flossing; leaving the mouth healthier, and breath smelling fresher.
- Prevention of staining – Staining or the yellowing of teeth can be caused by a wide variety of factors such as smoking, coffee, and tea. The more regularly these staining agents are removed from the teeth using brushing and flossing techniques, the less likely it is that the stains will become permanent.
The Proper Way to Brush
The teeth should be brushed at least twice a day; ideally in the morning and before bed. The perfect toothbrush is small in size with soft, rounded-end bristles and no more than three months old. The head of the brush needs to be small enough to access all areas of the mouth, and the bristles should be soft enough so as not to cause undue damage to the gum tissue. The American Dental Association (ADA) has given electric toothbrushes their seal of approval; stating that those with rotating or oscillating heads are more effective than other toothbrushes.
Here is a basic guide to proper brushing:
- Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle where the gums and teeth meet.
- Use small circular motions to gently brush the gumline and teeth.
- Do not scrub or apply too much pressure to the teeth, as this can damage the gums and tooth enamel.
- Brush every surface of every tooth, cheek-side, tongue-side, and chewing surface. Place special emphasis on the surfaces of the back teeth.
- Use back and forth strokes to brush the chewing surfaces.
- Brush the tongue to remove fungi, food, and debris.
The Proper Way to Floss
Flossing is a great way to remove plaque from the interdental regions (between the teeth). Flossing is an especially important tool for preventing periodontal disease and limiting the depth of the gum pockets. The interdental regions are difficult to reach with a toothbrush and should be cleansed with dental floss on a daily basis. The flavor and type of floss are unimportant; choose floss that will be easy and pleasant to use.
Here is a basic guide to proper flossing:
- Cut a piece of floss to around 18 inches long.
- Wrap one end of the floss around the middle finger of the left hand and the other end around the middle finger of the right hand until the hands are 2-3 inches apart.
- Work the floss gently between the teeth toward the gum line.
- Curve the floss in a U-shape around each individual tooth and carefully slide it beneath the gum line.
- Carefully move the floss up and down several times to remove interdental plaque and debris.
- Do not pop the floss in and out between the teeth as this will inflame and cut the gums.
If you have any questions about the correct way to brush or floss, please ask your dentist or dental hygienist.
Panoramic X-rays (also known as Panorex® or orthopantomograms) are wraparound photographs of the face and teeth. They offer a view that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. X-rays in general, expose hidden structures, such as wisdom teeth, reveal preliminary signs of cavities, and also show fractures and bone loss. Panoramic X-rays are extraoral and simple to perform. Usually, dental X-rays involve the film being placed inside the mouth, but panoramic film is hidden inside a mechanism that rotates around the outside of the head. Unlike bitewing X-rays that need to be taken every few years, panoramic X-rays are generally only taken on an as-needed basis. A panoramic x-ray is not conducted to give a detailed view of each tooth, but rather to provide a better view of the sinus areas, nasal areas, and mandibular nerve. Panoramic X-rays are preferable to bitewing X-rays when a patient is in extreme pain, and when a sinus problem is suspected to have caused dental problems.
A sealant is a thin, plastic coating applied to the chewing surface of molars, premolars, and any deep grooves (called pits and fissures) of teeth. More than 75% of dental decay begins in these deep grooves. Teeth with these conditions are hard to clean and are very susceptible to decay. A sealant protects the tooth by sealing deep grooves, creating a smooth, easy-to-clean surface. Sealants can protect teeth from decay for many years but need to be checked for wear and chipping at regular dental visits.
Reasons for sealants:
- Children and teenagers – As soon as the six-year molars (the first permanent back teeth) appear or any time throughout the cavity prone years of 6-16.
- Adults – Tooth surfaces without decay that have deep grooves or depressions.
- Baby teeth – Occasionally done if teeth have deep grooves or depressions and child is cavity prone.
What do sealants involve?
Sealants are easily applied by your dentist or dental hygienist and the process takes only a couple of minutes per tooth. The teeth to be sealed are thoroughly cleaned and then surrounded with cotton to keep the area dry. A special solution is applied to the enamel surface to help the sealant bond to the teeth. The teeth are then rinsed and dried. Sealant material is carefully painted onto the enamel surface to cover the deep grooves or depressions. Depending on the type of sealant used, the material will either harden automatically or with a special curing light. Proper home care, a balanced diet, and regular dental visits will aid in the life of your new sealants.