A dentist’s job is to diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions and disorders affecting the teeth, gums, jaws, and other related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and guidance on daily care and dieting habits to help you maintain proper oral health at home. While most general dentists provide a wide array of dental procedures, they may refer you to a specialist in the case of more intensive surgeries or issues such as wisdom teeth removal or oral cancer.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that patients visit their dentist twice a year to maintain a healthy smile. Regular visits can prevent and diagnose the development of serious dental problems before they begin to require more extensive and costly treatments.
X-Rays sometimes referred to as radiographs, are vital pieces of every dental care plan. When X-rays pass through your mouth, they penetrate soft tissues (gums and cheeks) to be absorbed by denser structures (teeth and bone). An image then forms on the film to help dentists accurately detect abnormalities like cavities, developing teeth, or root issues.
How often should X-rays be taken? It depends on your individual health needs, risk factors, medical and dental history, and any current symptoms. Children with developing teeth, cavity-prone teens, adults with extensive previous dental work, and seniors may have a higher risk of tooth decay, so they should update their X-rays every six months. However, those with healthy teeth and gums may only need new ones taken every three years. Your dentist will be able to assess your unique needs each time you come in for an appointment.
Most trips to the dentist will include a routine procedure focused on the health of your gums called a periodontal exam. While there are many techniques, each one assesses the health of your gums by examining the space where they meet your teeth. Regular periodontal exams can help diagnose a host of problems including:
- teeth grinding
- loosening teeth
- plaque build up
- receding gum lines
Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral, has long been used to help prevent decay by building up tooth enamel defense. Every day, other minerals in our diets are added and taken away from the structure of our teeth in processes called remineralization and demineralization. Fluoride assists by protecting against the loss of those minerals while rebuilding the tooth’s enamel. The dental community endorses the practice of supplementing diets with fluoride through toothpaste, some rinses, varnishes, and gels.
While fluoride is helpful to your teeth, it is generally not safe to swallow toothpaste, rinses, or other products containing topical fluoride. This is because while the ADA states that fluoride is safe, there are cases of people becoming overexposed to higher concentrations resulting in a relatively harmless condition called fluorosis, a stain on your teeth. Children may get fluorosis if they receive too much fluoride in the earlier stages of their dental development.
Water fluoridation is the common practice of supplementing public drinking supplies with sodium fluoride. It is an inexpensive way to better the overall dental health of communities and in no way affects the appearance, taste, or smell of water. It takes place in nearly every community in the U.S. and is endorsed by every major health and safety-related organization in the world.
Learn more about community water fluoridation from the Center for Disease Control’s website and from the American Dental Association.
Nutrition and Teeth
While nothing replaces the importance of regular visits to the dentist, one of the best defenses for your oral health is a well-balanced diet. Making sure your body receives the right amount of nutrients helps your teeth, gums, and immune system stay strong and fight off bacteria that cause infection, decay, and disease. Sugary foods and drinks, as well as carbohydrates, can all leave behind harmful acids that eat away at tooth structures. Good nutrition and eating habits go a long way towards a healthier smile.
These good habits start in the earliest stages of childhood, so allowing your kids to eat excessive amounts of junk food can lead to overall health issues, some specifically related to their mouths. If you allow them to drink fruit juices or sodas rich in sugar, encourage them to use a straw to keep the substances off of their teeth. Make sure their diet includes foods rich in calcium and a healthy balance of the essential food groups. In some cases, fluoride supplements may help prevent cavities from forming in their teeth but consult with your dentist first.
Age and Oral Health
Most children in America often don’t see the dentist until they are two years old, which sets them up for a variety of dental issues later in life. The importance of primary teeth cannot be overstated, so the ADA suggests your baby sees the dentist between six and twelve months old. Around this time, their teeth are beginning to emerge and a critical window to spot any problems will quickly open and close.
Before you even see the first tooth erupt, it’s best to get into the practice of wiping his or her gums with a piece of gauze soaked in water. As teeth begin to show, switch to using a toothbrush designed for babies and brush twice daily. Parents should be advised to consult their dentist before beginning to use fluoridated toothpaste.
Usually toward the tail end of their first year and the beginning of their second, babies teeth to relieve their sore gums as primary teeth begin to emerge. Discourage thumb sucking or the use of a pacifier passed the age of four because this can lead to malformed teeth and bite relationships later on. Instead, a piece of wet gauze, your finger, or the back of a small spoon rubbed against their gums will help.
Maintaining your young child’s dental health is important because while they may not have a full set of permanent teeth, their temporary ones are still susceptible to problems like baby bottle tooth decay. This condition occurs when the sugar in liquids like breast milk and some juices combine with their saliva and pools inside their mouth. This feeds bacteria into their gums and erupting teeth, causing a buildup of plaque, and subsequent tooth decay. It is most often seen in babies who have prolonged nursing habits, who are allowed to fall asleep with a bottle, or whose pacifiers are often dipped in sweet substances like honey. Gum cleaning or teeth brushing after every feeding and encouragement to drink from a cup as early as possible are two great ways of avoiding this condition.
Around the age of three, most children will have grown all 20 of their primary (temporary or baby) teeth. Throughout the next 8-12 years, their full set of 28 permanent teeth will gradually replace their primaries. While they eventually fall out, the health of the baby teeth plays a large role in the growth and development of the adult ones to come. For example, poorly formed baby teeth could end up crowding the spaces reserved for the adult ones coming through resulting in a malformed bite later in life.
It is common for young children to suffer from toothaches. While it normally occurs as adult teeth begin to erupt, it could indicate a larger problem. A long-lasting toothache that cannot be fixed at home should be examined by a dentist. Some common ways to safely relieve the pain are:
- Rinsing their mouth out with warm water and table salt
- Giving them aspirin or acetaminophen
- Applying a cold compress to the outside of their cheek
It’s important to maintain a healthy oral regimen and receive checkups every six months. By staying on top of your dental hygiene throughout your life, you’ll be able to avoid things like dentures. In fact, there is usually no reason not to keep your original teeth throughout your entire life. Good dental hygiene paired with a balanced diet equates to a healthy body and a longer life.
As we age, we are more susceptible to health issues and our mouth is no exception. In addition, poor oral health can be linked to more systemic issues like diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, if you suffer from arthritis or other joint issues, you may find it difficult or painful to do things like hold a toothbrush or floss. Thankfully, there are products on the market specifically designed to be easier to hold and control. You can also modify your existing products by extending a toothbrush handle with a Popsicle stick or an easy-to-handle stress ball.
Women and Oral Care
Throughout a woman’s life, surges and drops in hormone levels during menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and menopause can have adverse effects on her teeth and gums. Lesions, ulcers, dry sockets, and swollen gums can occur and are important things to look out for. Taking care of your mouth as a female throughout all these changes is essential to maintaining good oral heath.