While modern dentistry can fix any number of oral health issues, preventive dentistry focuses on avoiding problems rather than waiting for them to happen and then looking at ways to solve them.
The importance of preventive dental care is underlined by the type of problems it can avoid or minimize the risk of. These issues include:
- Tooth decay.
- Erosion of tooth enamel.
- Gum disease.
The mouth is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, so your oral health and general well being are connected, and preventing dental problems will help to keep the rest of your body in good condition.
For instance, medical conditions that have been linked to gum disease include:
- Heart disease.
- Lung infections.
- Increased risk of cancer.
- Brain disorders.
Dental Exams and Cleanings
Regular check-ups incorporating professional cleanings are the cornerstone of preventive dental care. Your dentist will look for any signs of tooth decay or enamel erosion, and the cavities they can cause. These symptoms, which you may not have noticed yourself, include:
- Soft areas on a tooth’s enamel.
- Discoloration of enamel.
- A build-up of plaque and tartar.
Dental exams can also detect many other problems, including:
- Deep spaces between your teeth and gums, which can indicate gum disease (periodontitis).
- Signs of cancer of the mouth or throat.
Dental check-ups typically include professional teeth cleaning to remove bacterial plaque and tartar, which can build up even if you brush and floss regularly. Once plaque has hardened into tartar (calculus), it can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends you see your dentist every six months for a check-up and cleaning.
Fluoride Treatments and Dental Sealants
Besides check-ups and cleanings, preventive dental care can also include dental sealants and fluoride applications.
Fluoride protects your teeth against cavities by strengthening enamel – the outer protective layer of your teeth.
Your dentist can apply fluoride directly to your teeth in the form of a gel, varnish, or foam. The American Dental Association says fluoride can reduce tooth decay by 20 to 40 percent and also reverse early stages of decay.
However, fluoride treatment only works on the smooth surfaces of teeth. Dentists use sealants to protect the numerous nooks and crannies of back teeth from decay.
Sealants – plastic resins that harden on a tooth’s surface – cover the cracks and grooves on your teeth that are difficult to keep clean by brushing. They also make brushing your teeth easier and more effective.
Preventive Dental Care at Home
Between visits to your dentist, it’s important to stay on top of your oral care routine at home to keep your teeth and gums in good shape.
- Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day, preferably with a fluoride toothpaste, in the morning and just before bedtime.
- Floss daily to remove food particles trapped between your teeth where your toothbrush can’t reach.
It’s also important to limit sugary or acidic drinks and snacks and to maintain a healthy, teeth-friendly diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables. Foods rich in vitamin C – such as leafy greens like broccoli and kale – can help to prevent gum inflammation.
If you take part in contact sports, wear a customized, professionally-made mouthguard to cushion and protect your teeth and gums. Mouth shields can also prevent neck injuries, jaw fractures, and cerebral hemorrhaging.
Importance of Preventive Dental Care for Children
Preventive dentistry is particularly important for kids, paving the way for healthy teeth and gums as they progress toward adulthood.
Dental exams and professional cleanings at an early age before bacteria have the chance to build up can ensure a lifetime of good dental health.
Your child’s baby teeth may be temporary but they play a crucial role in reserving space for the proper emergence of the permanent, adult teeth. Many dentists recommend a dental exam before a child's first birthday, to ensure their teeth and gums are in good condition.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) says dental anxiety in children can be diminished by starting regular visits to the dentist before a problem like a cavity develops.