What is “Preventive Dentistry”?

Preventive Dentistry: Care Today, Savings Tomorrow
If you don’t take care of your teeth and properly manage your oral health, you may find yourself spending thousands of dollars in restorative dental care. Did you know that a full-mouth restoration can cost between $45,000 and $80,000? By practicing preventive dentistry, you can help to safeguard yourself against most of these dental costs.
Effective preventive dentistry emphasizes the importance of both routine hygiene appointments in the dental office, and daily practices at home to prevent tooth decay and other dental diseases. For example, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a minimum of two dental checkups each year for professional cleaning and management of any developing conditions. Adhering to this recommendation can help you stop dental disease in its earliest stages, protecting your smile and limiting your expenses.
It Begins with Early Action
Dental hygiene begins in infancy. Begin daily tooth cleaning as soon as your child’s first tooth erupts. You should bring your child for her first dental check when her first tooth erupts, or no later than 12 months of age, to ensure your child feels comfortable at the dentist office and to have any of your questions answered.
Preventive Dentistry Strategies
For older children and adults, preventive dental care is a combination of at-home and in-office hygiene routines.
At-home oral hygiene: The most important things that we stress for your at-home care is brushing and flossing at least twice daily, or even after every meal, to remove any build-up. Left on your teeth, food debris turns into a filmy coating called plaque, which can eventually harden into tarter. Tarter is the hard, sticky substance on your teeth where acid-producing bacteria thrive, causing tooth decay and gum disease.
Fluoride use: Fluoride can both strengthen your teeth and help to prevent tooth decay. Most public water is fluoridated, and falls under the category of systemic fluoride, and this has been ranked as one of the greatest public health achievements in the twentieth century. Many dental offices provide topical fluoride treatments in-office and recommend using a fluoride toothpaste at home.
Regular dental visits: Because tooth decay and gum disease are often painless in the early stages, you may not be aware of a dental problem until it is quite significant. In addition to “just cleaning” (prophylaxis) your teeth and checking for tooth decay, your dentist and the dental hygienist will also perform oral cancer screenings and monitor the health of your gum tissues. For children, the monitoring of oral growth and development is essential.
X-rays: Although most dental offices do a thorough visual exam of your teeth at each appointment, x-rays are the only tool available for looking at the contacts between your teeth and for identifying any possible problems that are below your gumline. Just as high blood pressure is often symptomless and only measurable with a blood pressure cuff, tooth decay is often painless and only seen with dental x-rays. Dentists are aware that some people are concerned about radiation levels, and can answer any questions you may have regarding radiation. Faster than conventional X-rays, digital technology allows for image enhancement of problem areas on a computer screen in the patient room, allowing for better detection and patient education. Most importantly, they emit up to 90 percent less radiation than conventional radiography. In addition to digital x-rays, many offices use an intra-oral camera that allows actual photographs of your teeth to be seen on a computer screen, making it easier to see and discuss areas that are of a “clinical” concern and areas that you may see as “esthetic” concerns.
Mouth guards: Even if you never step into a boxing ring, your dentist may recommend a mouth guard for you. Worn at night, a custom-made mouth guard can help in many situations. If you grind your teeth at night (bruxism), a mouth guard will ease your daytime symptoms and decrease the amount of wear damage to your teeth. If you feel pain in your TMJ (temporomandibular joint), hear a “click” or “pop” when opening and closing your mouth, or have ever had a “lock-jaw” episode, a mouth guard will help to ease your pain and decrease the damage to your joint. Finally, if you have had extensive restorative treatment (veneers, crowns, bridges, implants), a mouth guard will help to prevent breakage of your teeth.
Sealants: Most often recommended for children with erupting molars (“back teeth”), sealants are thin composite coatings that are places on the chewing surfaces to prevent tooth decay from forming.
Patient education: Most dental teams believe that even with access to the best preventive care including digital x-rays and intraoral photographs, mouth guards, fluoride treatments, sealants, an uneducated patient is still at high-risk for dental problems. Dentists would rather help you maintain your overall dental health than fix your emergency problems, although any of us can have the unfortunate weekend emergency.
Xylitol: Xylitol, a natural sweetener made from birch trees, has been clinically shown to help reduce cavities and help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Xylitol can be used as a sugar substitute in cooking and baking, or beverages. It also is included in many toothpastes, mouth rinses, chewing gums, and candies.
Benefits of Preventive Dentistry
There are numerous credible studies that have proven a link between your oral health and your overall health, and preventive dentistry is important to your overall well-being. Especially in children, severe decay can affect growth and development. For both children and adults, tooth decay and gum disease, can have a negative impact on your eating, speaking, daily activities, and even on your self-esteem.
Preventive dentistry can result in less extensive – and less expensive – treatment for any dental conditions that may develop, and help you keep your natural teeth for a lifetime.

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