Good oral health means a mouth that's free of disease - which can range all the way from mild gingivitis (gum inflammation) to oral cancer; a bite that functions well enough for you to eat without pain and get ample nutrition; and a smile that lets you express your happiest emotions with confidence. Simply put, oral health is a crucial component of your overall health and well-being.
If you only see a dentist when problems arise, you may be missing out on some important benefits! As doctors who specialize in oral health, dentists offer a wide range of preventive services. At your regular exams, for example, you will be checked for any signs of oral cancer, tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral infections; hard-to-reach deposits from your teeth will be cleaned; and you can get answers to any questions you have on topics ranging from oral hygiene issues to the connection between oral health and systemic diseases. So please don't wait for a serious problem to come up before you make an appointment with us.
What You Can Do
One of the most important things you can do to safeguard your oral health is to maintain a daily oral hygiene routine that effectively removes plaque from your teeth. It's the bacteria that thrive in the plaque biofilm that cause so many oral health problems. Effective oral hygiene involves brushing your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once per day to remove plaque from between the teeth.
Nutrition and lifestyle choices also play an important role. You don't have any control over hereditary factors that may predispose you to gum disease - but you do have control over how much sugar you eat and when you eat it; how often you exercise; whether you smoke; and how often you visit the dentist.
Most often, bad breath originates in the mouth, from trapped food particles that are then processed by oral bacteria. The most common location for mouth-related bad breath is the back of the tongue, where large quantities of naturally occurring bacteria can thrive on food remnants, dead skin cells and post-nasal drip (mucus coming down your throat from the nose). The waste products of these bacteria include volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs), which have a smell resembling rotten eggs. Other places where bacteria and food particles can be trapped are between the teeth, beneath the gums, and in oral appliances or dentures. Poor oral hygiene sets the stage for these problems, as well as for tooth decay and gum disease, which can also cause foul odors.
It's possible for other health conditions and habits to affect your breath. Halitosis may occur in people who have a sinus or bronchial infection, an oral yeast infection (which can be caused by antibiotic use), or even a systemic (general body) disease such as diabetes, kidney failure or a liver malfunction. A chronically dry mouth (xerostomia), which is often a side effect of certain medications, and tobacco use can also contribute to this problem. Even stress, dieting and hormonal changes can affect your breath.
Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally present to some degree in both fresh and salt water sources. Its major dental benefit is that it is readily incorporated into the teeth's mineral structure, thereby making them stronger and more decay-resistant. Fluoride can even reverse tiny cavities that are starting to form. Less tooth decay means you have a better chance of avoiding significant dental treatments — and keeping your natural teeth for life.
The great majority of toothpastes sold today contain fluoride, because it's an effective, easy and inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay and promote oral health. Because of its proven health benefits, fluoride is often added to municipal water supplies. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently named community water fluoridation as one of the most significant public health achievements of the 20th century.
Fluoride can be delivered to teeth in two ways: topically (on the surface) and systemically (through the body). The first method helps people of all ages; the latter is only beneficial in childhood while the permanent teeth are forming beneath the gum line — up to about age 9.
The amount of fluoride you need varies according to your particular risk for decay, which is determined by many factors: your body's own biochemistry, your diet, the amount of fluoride you come into contact with daily, and the effort you put into your own oral hygiene. If you maintain an effective daily routine of brushing and flossing, and avoid sugary and/or acidic foods and beverages, your decay risk will likely be low. If you are lax about oral hygiene, drink soda and snack throughout the day, your risk will be much higher.
However, there is such a thing as too much fluoride — particularly when it comes to children. If developing teeth absorb too much fluoride, they can become permanently stained or even pitted — a condition referred to as enamel fluorosis. It is not dangerous, but may require cosmetic dental work. It's best to consult a dental professional on the most appropriate products for you and your child to use.
You probably already realize that maintaining a balanced diet offers a host of benefits to your overall health. But did you know diet also directly affects the health of your teeth and gums? It all starts before birth, as a baby's teeth begin forming in the sixth week of pregnancy and mineralizing in the third or fourth month. During this time, an expectant mother needs to take in lots of calcium (the major component of teeth) along with vitamin D, phosphorous and protein. Dairy products including milk, cheese, and yogurt have all of these. Broccoli and kale also have calcium, while meats are good sources of protein and phosphorous. These foods are also important for children, whose teeth continue to develop and mineralize through the teen years.
Dental problems can become exponentially more expensive — and painful — the longer they go unaddressed. Fortunately, modern dentistry has many easy and relatively inexpensive ways to make sure that today's minor annoyance does not turn into tomorrow's major headache.
Preventive dentistry describes all the procedures used to arrest tooth decay and other diseases in the earliest stages. The goal is to keep you as healthy as possible and maintain your natural teeth for life.
Preventive dentistry procedures range from the most basic services that have been used successfully for decades, to recent technological innovations. These procedures include:
Oral Cancer Screenings
Teeth cleaning is often performed by a dental hygienist — a highly trained technician who uses a special set of tools designed just for this purpose. Because everyone's teeth are a little different, your cleaning will be tailored to your particular needs. However, many cleanings follow a similar pattern.
First, the dental hygienist will do an oral examination to evaluate the health of your oral tissues. Then the cleaning will take place using either an ultrasonic scaler or metal instruments referred to as curettes to remove the plaque and calculus from the tooth surfaces. The ultrasonic scaler is a hand-held tool with a tiny tip that vibrates at a very high frequency. Hardened deposits are broken up by the rapid movement of the tip, which does not damage the tooth. A constant stream of liquid (called lavage) serves to cool the tip and aid in plaque removal; at the same time, it also washes away the debris.
Some hygienists prefer curettes, which are hand-held instruments that are curved and tapered to fit around and in between the teeth. If your teeth are sensitive, using hand-held instruments may be more comfortable for a professional cleaning. In the capable hands of a hygienist or dentist, it takes only moderate pressure to remove any stubborn buildup and scrub the teeth clean, regardless of which instruments are used.
Finally, your teeth are polished with a low-speed rotary brush fitted with a soft rubber tip. A slightly gritty, toothpaste-like gel is applied, and the tip spins around and polishes the teeth, making them smooth and shiny.