A preventive program is a cooperative effort by the patient, dentist, and dental staff to preserve the natural dentition and supporting structures by preventing the onset, progress, and recurrence of dental diseases and conditions.
What are the keys to preventing dental problems and gum disease?
The unfortunate thing about most dental problems, including gum disease, is that they usually could have been prevented. If you’re diligent about brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing once a day, you’ll remove the plaque that is constantly bathing your teeth trying to build up and harden into tartar.
It’s not difficult or time consuming, but many people treat their home hygiene with indifference. That’s a shame considering how important our teeth and our smile are to our health, self-confidence, and nutrition. People can often be more concerned about maintaining the arbitrary 3,000-mile oil change timeframe on their car than they are about their home hygiene and keeping their twice-yearly professional cleaning and exam appointments with Dr. Holbrook and our team.
This is one case where the old axiom from Ben Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is absolutely true.
What’s involved in a routine dental cleaning and exam?
Your twice-yearly cleanings and exams usually take around one hour. Here’s what we do in these appointments at Dr. Holbrook’s practice in Albuquerque:
- We take x-rays. We like to take digital x-rays once each year. These can reveal cavities between your teeth, the health of your jawbone, and the alignment of the teeth (particularly important for children). Our digital x-rays have very low radiation compared to film x-rays and they can be enlarged easily to look at areas of concern.
- We’ll examine your mouth. Before Dr. Holbrook sees you, one of our three dental hygienists examines your mouth. She will first look for signs of tooth decay and any areas of softening enamel. This is an early sign of decay. Next will come measurements of the pockets around your teeth. These measurements tell us if your gums are receding and whether gum disease is causing bone loss. Finally, your bite will be evaluated. Again, this check is important for children with rapidly developing teeth.
- We’ll screen for oral cancer. Both your hygienist and Dr. Holbrook will check for signs of oral cancer. We’ll examine your head, neck, and lips, along with your mouth tissues including your tongue. This is when we pull on your tongue, push on your glands below your jawline, all of that. The reason we do this is simple — oral cancer treatment is very successful IF it is caught early.
- We’ll scale and clean your teeth. We’ll scale your teeth, which means we’ll use picks and other dental tools to remove the tartar that has formed on your teeth. We’ll then polish your teeth with a special gritty paste that removes stains and polishes the enamel.
- We may apply fluoride or sealants. If we’re dealing with our younger patients, our final step will be to apply fluoride, long proven to effectively protect teeth. And if we haven’t done so already, we’ll apply a resin sealant to the molars to prevent bacteria and food debris from getting down into the deep cracks in the molars.
How often should I come in for routine dental cleanings and exams?
The American Dental Association recommends having a professional cleaning and exam every six months. Patients can think that is overkill, especially if they aren’t having any current dental problems. But this six-month period is not an arbitrary timeframe — that’s about how long it takes for plaque to harden into tartar and begin to build up in areas. If this is left untreated, this tartar and plaque will start to push under the gumline, and that’s the beginning of gum disease.
But if we see you every six months at Dr. Holbrook’s, we can remove any tartar that has built up. We also thoroughly clean the teeth and provide an abrasive that polishes away some of the stains from your morning coffee and evening red wine. Now your teeth and gums are clean and healthy.
Beyond our professional cleaning, Dr. Holbrook examines your overall oral health. He is looking for signs of oral cancer and gum disease. He’s looking for any gum recession. He’s testing any existing cavities, bridges, or crowns to verify they are still functioning and intact.
All of this works to keep your oral health in tip top shape. By seeing us every six months, the odds of your appointments being nothing more than cleanings and exams are much higher. Good home hygiene and consistent twice-yearly professional cleanings and exams almost ensure you will never have to deal with gum disease, tooth loss, placement of implants, or dentures. That’s the real crime about not taking care of your teeth.
What happens if I haven’t been to the dentist in years?
Whatever your reasons for not seeing a dentist, unfortunately you’re not alone. The ADA recently released statistics of the frequency of people seeing their dentist. Just over half, 52.3% of adults, visited their dentist every six months, the recommended ADA timeframe. From there, things deteriorated: 15.4% visited once a year, and 11% visited every two to three years. Believe it or not, 21.3% said they had not visited the dentist in the last five years.
So, what is likely to be the consequence of not having regular dental care?
- You almost surely have some level of gum disease. That’s because calculus, the clinical term for plaque that has hardened into tartar, can only be removed by a professional hygienist or dentist. Since you can’t break it off your teeth at home, odds are it has continued to accumulate and is surely pushing under your gums. The degree that this is happening is the depth of your gum disease. The ADA estimates that over 47% of U.S. adults over the age of 30 have untreated gum disease. Gum disease doesn’t go away: it ends up with tooth loss.
- You likely have decay in at least one tooth. When you don’t diligently remove plaque from your teeth and when plaque turns to tartar, you’re creating a playground for bacteria to thrive. When you have cleanings and exams every six months, if bacteria have penetrated into the enamel, they likely have not made deep progress. The cavity is still small, and it is easy to remove the decay and place a filling. Left unaddressed, the bacteria will keep pushing into the tooth, and if they enter the interior pulp the tooth is now in danger of needing extraction. Not to mention this will probably be quite painful, as the bacteria are now engaging with the nerve fibers inside the tooth. Now you will need a root canal just to save the tooth.
- Your breath is probably sour. Bacteria and decay are not associated with clean, fresh breath. Bacteria that lead to gum disease and tooth decay will begin to give you chronic bad breath as the bacteria multiply and thrive in pockets where your gums are pulling away from your teeth.
OK, you get the idea. If you haven’t seen a dentist in years, it is highly likely that bad things are happening with your teeth and gums. You’re headed for a future of tooth loss and dentures.
What happens if I have dental anxiety, but I want to come in for a cleaning?
Dr. Holbrook places an emphasis on the comfort of our patients. That’s just as true during a routine biannual cleaning as it is during a root canal. But many people have severe anxiety about going to the dentist, and this keeps them from having the routine preventive care that heads off major dental problems. To help our patients overcome their anxiety we offer a variety of dental sedation options. You may simply need some nitrous oxide or maybe an oral sedative. You may need IV sedation. No matter, if sedation allows you to relax and come in for the treatment you need to keep your mouth in great shape, we’ll provide that sedation. If you need sedation to comfortably handle a routine cleaning and dental exam, we’re more than happy to provide it. The key is to allow you to get the preventive, routine treatment you need.
Schedule your next dental cleaning with Dr. Holbrook!
If you are interested in learning more about cleanings and prevention, or if you wish to schedule a consultation with Dr. Steven E. Holbrook, give us a call at (505) 881-1159 today! You can also reach us by filling out the appointment request form on this page. Our office serves Albuquerque and the surrounding areas of New Mexico.