Preventative dentistry relies on good oral hygiene and regular dental care that is essential throughout your life, whatever your age. By practicing good oral hygiene at home and visiting the doctor regularly, you will help prevent dental problems and aid in early detection of problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss. In the process, you can save your teeth and gums. You should visit your dentist every 6 months for routine cleanings and check ups. A complete program of preventive dental begins with regular cleanings to control plaque and calculus, which cause tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth. It is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. It is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. The bacteria create toxins that will damage gums. At each regular checkup the dentist will measure the depth of the shallow v-shaped crevice between your tooth and gums to identify whether you have gum disease.
Periodontal diseases are classified according to the severity of the disease. The two major stages are gingivitis and periodontitis. Periodontal diseases attack just below the gum line, where they cause the attachment of the tooth and its supporting tissues to break down. As the tissues are damaged they develop into a pocket; generally, the more severe the disease, the greater the depth of the pocket. With gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing. In the more advanced stages of gum disease, called periodontitis, the gums and bone that support the teeth become seriously damaged. The teeth can become loose, fall out, or have to be removed by a dentist.
Tooth decay or cavities can develop on all surfaces of any tooth. A decaying tooth may not cause you pain, so you may have a cavity and not realize it. The dentist checks for tooth decay at your regular check-ups and will periodically use x-rays to check for decay between teeth. The dentist treats tooth decay by cleaning out the cavity and placing a restoration or filling in the tooth.
By fighting plaque you can keep your teeth for a lifetime. You can start fighting plaque and keeping your gums and teeth healthy at any age by following some simple guidelines:
- Schedule regular check-ups. Visit the doctor regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste to remove food particles and plaque from the tooth surfaces.
- Clean between your teeth daily with floss. Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.
- Eat a balanced diet with limited snacks. Nutritious foods such as raw vegetables, plain yogurt, cheese or a piece of fruit should be chosen for snacks.
- Ask the doctor about dental sealants, a protective plastic coating that can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay often starts.