What is preventive dentistry?
Preventive dentistry helps you to keep a healthy mouth, and means you need to have less dental treatment. The two main causes of tooth loss are decay and gum disease. The better you prevent these two issues, the better chance you will have of keeping your teeth for life.
When the Hygienist and patient work together, a healthy mouth can be achieved, preventing the need for filings, crowns or extractions later. Your Hygienist will work with you to get your mouth into good condition, and then continue with a maintenance plan for optimal oral health.
Who can benefit from preventive dentistry?
Preventive dentistry will benefit anyone who wishes to care for their existing teeth, preventing future damage. Even those without teeth can benefit from preventative dentistry. Conditions such as mouth cancer and denture stomatitis can be spotted during regular exams.
What is involved?
The hygienist will first check your teeth and gums, and talk to you about any treatment you may need. The main goal is to help you get your mouth healthy. In a healthy mouth, it is unlikely that tooth decay or gum disease will continue to be a problem.
- The hygienist will thoroughly remove all plaque and tartar from your teeth. This is a routine cleaning and polish. If the plaque is extensive, you may need to return for several appointments for a more extensive deep cleaning.
- The Hygienist will show you the best ways to brush, and how to clean in between your teeth using interdental brushes or floss, to remove the bacterial ‘plaque' which forms constantly on your teeth. When you eat or drink something sugary, the bacteria in the plaque turn the sugar into acid, which may cause tooth decay. Plaque can also cause gum inflammation (swelling and soreness) if it is not regularly and thoroughly removed. The hard tartar (or ‘calculus') which builds up on the teeth also starts off as plaque.
- You will be given expert advice on which oral care products are best for your care.
- The Hygienist can talk to you about your diet, and any habits you have such as smoking and drinking, and how it relates to your dental health.
Will I need treatment?
A ‘preventive dentist' will often recommend treatment to strengthen a tooth to make sure it does not break. For example, if the dentist sees that a tooth is cracked, or is weak and in danger of breaking, they may advise a new filling or perhaps a crown or onlay to protect it. This is always
better than waiting until the tooth breaks, and then dealing with it as an emergency, and a more difficult problem.
What else can the dentist and hygienist do to help prevent tooth decay?
Fluoride helps teeth resist decay. Your Hygienist will recommend the right level of fluoride for you to use in your toothpaste. Fluoride varnishes may be recommended for children to help prevent decay. If you are particularly at risk of decay your Hygienist may recommend or prescribe a high-strength fluoride toothpaste.
What are sealants?
The biting surfaces of teeth can be protected by applying “pit and fissure sealants”. These make the tooth surface smoother and easier to clean, and prevent decay starting in the difficult-to-clean areas. Your Hygienist can tell you whether or not this would be right for you.
How can diet affect my teeth?
Food and drinks containing sugar cause decay. Reducing sugary snacks and drinks, combined with routine dental cleaning and care, can slow tooth decay. A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and minerals can help prevent gum disease and protect against mouth cancer.
Am I at risk for dental erosion?
Dental erosion is the loss of enamel caused by acid attack. When the enamel is worn away it can lead to pain and sensitivity. Foods and drinks that contain acid, such as citrus fruits, carbonated drinks, smoothies, fruit juice and fruit teas, can all cause dental erosion if you have them often.
How do I prevent dental erosion?
Acidic foods and drinks can be harmful if you have them often in large amounts. Try to have acidic food and drinks only at meal times, and drink acidic drinks through a straw. We recommend that you do not brush your teeth for at least one hour after eating or drinking anything. Every time you eat or drink, the enamel on your teeth becomes softer for a short while, and loses some of its mineral content. Waiting for an hour or so will allow your saliva to slowly restore it to its natural balance.
How does smoking and drinking affect my teeth and gums?
Smoking can cause tooth staining, tooth loss and mouth cancer, and make gum disease worse. If you smoke, you may need to visit the dental office more often, but the best advice is to try to stop smoking. Alcoholic drinks can also cause mouth cancer and if you smoke AND drink, you
have a higher risk of developing cancer of the mouth.
What can I do at home?
It is very important that you keep up a good routine at home to keep your teeth and gums healthy. We recommend that you:
- brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with fluoride toothpaste - brush for at least 2 minutes, rotating between all surfaces of the teeth
- clean in between your teeth with ‘interdental' brushes or floss - brushing alone only cleans up to about 60 percent of the surface of your teeth
- use a mouthwash. Many mouthwashes contain antibacterial ingredients to help prevent gum disease, and fluoride to help prevent decay.
What else I can do?
You can take other steps to help prevent tooth loss, decay and the need for treatment.
- Cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.
- Use a straw when you have fizzy or acidic drinks - this helps the drink to go to the back of your mouth and reduces the acid attack on the teeth.
- Chew sugar-free gum - it makes your mouth produce more saliva and stops your mouth drying out. It can also help to reduce plaque and prevent dental decay and erosion.
- Visit your Hygienist regularly, as often as they recommend.
What oral care products should I use?
There are now many specialized toothpastes, including total care toothpastes and toothpastes made specially to help with plaque and gum disease, and sensitive teeth. There are also ‘whitening' toothpastes. Mouthwashes can help, and there are different types including ones with anti-bacterial ingredients.
Adults should use a toothbrush with a small- to medium-sized head and soft to medium filaments (bristles).
Tests have shown that electric or ‘power' toothbrushes with an oscillating, rotating action are better than manual toothbrushes at removing plaque. They can remove up to twice as much plaque as a manual toothbrush. If you are unsure, ask your dental team for advice on the one that best suits your needs.