The Power of Preventive Dentistry
There’s nothing as disheartening as finding out you have a new cavity when you see your dentist. Although tooth decay, gingivitis, and gum disease are common oral health problems, it doesn’t mean they’re unavoidable. In fact, these issues are all highly preventable, and you can get to the point where cavities and bleeding gums are no longer something “normal” for your smile.
What is preventive dentistry, and which services are included?
Preventive dentistry is a field of dental care dedicated to maintaining optimal oral health by stopping the development of tooth decay, gum disease, and other avoidable problems. While restorative or orthodontic services fix dental damage that has already occurred, preventive dentistry services focus on avoiding the need for restorations in the first place.
Some examples of dental care services considered preventive in nature include:
- Professional cleanings at your dental office
- Routine oral health exams with your dentist
- Topical fluoride application post-cleanings
- Early removal of impacted wisdom teeth
- Annual or biennial digital x-rays
- Oral cancer screenings
Your at-home dental care routine is also a form of preventive dentistry care.
How does preventive dentistry impact oral health?
Preventive dentistry care benefits a person’s smile in several ways, but these are the three major reasons it matters.
1. Nearly all cases of tooth decay and gum disease are preventable.
Some dental problems can’t be helped, such as chipping a tooth from a fall, but tooth decay and gum disease are almost entirely preventable.
Poor oral hygiene is typically the culprit for tooth decay and gum disease. Not brushing or flossing often enough, eating a diet heavy in sugar and starches, and skipping dental check-ups and cleanings increase plaque build-up and an overgrowth of bad oral bacteria. By avoiding these triggers, you also avoid cavities, gingivitis, and advanced gum disease.
Some people have an increased risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease, perhaps from necessary medications or an underlying systemic disease. It can be more difficult to avoid these issues in these situations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible. Your dentist can help you design a more aggressive oral hygiene plan suitable for your unique needs.
2. Periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
Many people are surprised to find that periodontitis is often the reason for tooth loss in adults, not tooth decay. Periodontitis is the most advanced form of gum disease, and it can cause permanent damage to your smile, both in terms of tooth loss and irreversible damage to the gum tissue and bone.
The impact tooth loss has on oral health goes beyond aesthetics. The loss of teeth certainly delivers a blow to a person’s self-confidence, but it also triggers bone resorption in the jaw. Loss of bone density in the jaw can change the shape of your face, cause your teeth to shift and your bite alignment to change, and often increases the risks of further tooth loss.
Modern dental implants are a fantastic solution for tooth loss, but it goes without saying that maintaining a full smile with healthy, natural teeth should always be the goal.
3. Early oral cancer detection is crucial in successfully treating the disease.
The sooner you catch oral cancer, the better. This particular form of cancer responds very well to treatment when caught at an early stage and may only require the surgical removal of the affected tissue or tumor.
Unlike some other forms of cancer, most cases of oral cancer are considered preventable because controllable lifestyle factors often cause it. Heavy alcohol consumption and use of tobacco products (smoking or chewing) are two habits often present in patients who develop oral cancer.
Uncontrollable factors, like age, HPV, or certain medications, can also increase the risks of oral cancer, but you still have the power to opt in for oral cancer screenings on a regular basis.
Which oral hygiene habits will help me maintain optimal oral health?
Follow these healthy oral hygiene habits, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving and maintaining optimal oral health.
1. Take great care of your teeth at home.
Your at-home dental care routine is everything when it comes to preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
Refresh your knowledge of proper brushing and flossing techniques by asking your dentist or finding a reputable video on YouTube. Use ADA-approved products, ideally with fluoride for cavity protection. If you forget to brush and floss, set twice-daily reminders on your phone. Speaking of your phone, set a two-minute timer before you start brushing.
2. Limit dental exposure to sugars and acids.
If you take great care of your teeth but still battle cavities and gingivitis, it could very well be due to your diet. Sugars and acids are nemeses of healthy teeth and gums because they actively degrade tooth enamel and feed bad bacteria.
In addition to reducing how much sugar and starches you consume in your daily diet, limiting exposure time when you indulge in a sweet treat or soda is also very effective. For example, instead of sipping or snacking on a sweetened beverage or food item throughout the day, drink or eat your serving promptly, and brush your teeth 30 to 45 minutes after you’ve finished.
Using straws and vigorously swishing your mouth with fresh water after non-water beverages or foods can also limit enamel exposure to sugars and acids.
3. See your dentist every six months, no matter what.
There is no alternative for regular professional dental care visits with your dentist and hygienist. Even if your teeth feel great and cavities are a rarity, always see your dentist every six months for a check-up and cleaning.
Your dentist can notice early signs of trouble before they become apparent to you. Remember, when you experience obvious symptoms of tooth decay or gum disease, like tooth pain or tender, bleeding gums, it means damage has already occurred.
Your dentist’s hygienist will also be able to remove plaque build-up that is impossible to remove with a toothbrush and floss. Even if you have the finest powered toothbrush on the market, the very best oral care products, and are a whizz with floss, plaque build-up is still inevitable and can only be removed with specialized tools.
4. Ask your dentist for oral cancer screenings.
A great dentist will include oral cancer screenings during your routine check-ups. If you are considered a moderate to a high-risk individual for oral cancer, these screenings might happen during every six-month exam. If you’re considered to be low-risk, your dentist may opt for annual screenings.
By the way, if you’re currently searching for a new dentist, oral cancer screenings included during biannual check-ups is a green flag that you’ve found one who prioritizes preventive dentistry care.
Establish your dental care schedule at Bloomington Modern Dentistry.
Dr. Baker is a beloved dentist in Bloomington, IL, and the Bloomington Modern Dentistry team leader. Our goal is to help you achieve and maintain the smile of your dreams with restorative, cosmetic, and preventive dentistry services.
Schedule your next dental appointment today by calling our office or using our online request form.