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.
Dental Exams & Cleanings
Dental Exams & Cleanings
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 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.
Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors.
Decay between the teeth.
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 your 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, they are 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.
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.
Bruxism refers to an oral parafunctional activity which occurs in most humans at some point in their lives. The grinding of the teeth and the clenching of the jaw are the two main characteristics of this condition, which can occur either during the day or at night.
Bruxism is one of the most common known sleep disorders and causes most of its damage during sleeping hours. The clenching and grinding which accompanies bruxism is symptomatic of a malfunctioning chewing reflex, which is turned off in non-sufferers when sleeping. For sufferers, deep sleep or even naps, cause the reflex nerve control center in the brain to turn off, and the reflex pathways to become active.
Typically, the incisors and canines (front 6 upper and lower teeth) of opposing arches grind against each other laterally. This side to side action puts undue strain on the medial pterygoid muscles and the temporomandibular joints. Earache, depression, headaches, eating disorders and anxiety are amongst the most common symptoms of bruxism; which often accompanies chronic stress, Alzheimer’s disease and alcohol abuse.
Bruxism is frequently misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, because it is only one of several potential causes of tooth wear. Only a trained professional can tell the difference between bruxing wear and wear caused by overly aggressive brushing, acidic soft drinks and abrasive foods.
A BiteStrip® is an economical device used to diagnose bruxism at home. The device itself is a small electromyography which senses and monitors any activity in the jaw muscles during sleep. The frequency and severity of the condition can then be assessed and the best treatment plan can be formulated.
Reasons for the treatment of bruxism
Here are some of the main reasons why bruxism should be promptly treated:
Gum recession and tooth loss – Bruxism is one of the leading causes of gum recession and tooth loss; firstly because it damages the soft tissue directly, and secondly because it leads to loose teeth and deep pockets where bacteria can colonize and destroy the supporting bone.
Occlusal trauma – The abnormal wear patterns on the occlusal (chewing) surfaces can lead to fractures in the teeth, which may require restorative treatment.
Arthritis – In severe and chronic cases, bruxing can eventually lead to painful arthritis in the temporomandibular (TMJ) joints (the joints that allow the jaw to open smoothly).
Myofascial pain – The grinding associated with bruxism can eventually shorten and blunt the teeth. This can lead to muscle pain in the myofascial region and debilitating headaches.
Treatment options for bruxism
There is no single cure for bruxism, though a variety of helpful devices and tools are available. Here is a common way in which bruxism is treated:
Mouthguards – An acrylic mouthguard can be designed from tooth impressions to minimize the abrasive action of tooth surfaces during normal sleep. Mouthguards should be worn on a long-term basis to help prevent tooth damage, damage to the temporomandibular joint and help to stabilize the occlusion.
- Other methods of treatment include relaxation exercises, stress management education and biofeedback mechanisms. When the bruxing is under control, there are a variety of dental procedures such as crowns, gum grafts and crown lengthening that can restore a pleasant aesthetic appearance to the smile.
If you have questions or concerns about bruxism, please ask your dentist.