What does preventive dentistry mean to you? If you’re like most, you’ll think of brushing, flossing and dental “cleanings”. This is the cornerstone of preventive dentistry. At your regular recare or “check-up” appointments, scaling and polishing (cleaning) of your teeth removes the hard “tartar” (calculus) and plaque (soft deposits) from your teeth.
These deposits are irritants that contain bacterial colonies that produce toxins which affect not just your teeth but also the supporting gums and bone (periodontium). Periodontitis, is the disease process that, while often painless, causes the destruction of this foundation in which your teeth live. Eventually, loosening or the loss of teeth results.
Bacteria found in those deposits are now being linked to other medical problems such as premature births and heart disease. So, as you can see “cleanings” or “Hygiene Therapy” is a preventive treatment.
But prevention does not end there. Many of you have restorations (fillings) of various sizes, in some of your teeth. No matter how small, any restoration weakens the tooth. As restorations become larger, more protective restorations such as onlays or crowns may be recommended to prevent tooth fracture while chewing. Even small restorations that feel fine may need to be replaced if defects are seen. For example, you may have at one time been told you have a leaking filling.
Gaps at the tooth/filling interface can allow oral bacteria to creep under the restoration starting new decay. This decay can progress and endanger the pulp (nerve) much more quickly than if the decay started on the tooth surface. Replacing a leaking filling can prevent the pulp from being affected and the resulting need for root canal treatment.
Radiographs or X-rays are a preventive diagnostic tool. Among other things, radiographs can catch decay in early stages and aid in the diagnosis of periodontal disease. More serious diseases can be caught early too.
If you do lose a tooth and it is not replaced, a chain reaction of events can occur. Teeth next to a “gap” have a tendency to tip into the space like the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”. Tipped teeth are more prone to gum problems and biting forces are directed abnormally. Alteration in the bite can result and as a result your jaw muscles have to learn (unconsciously) to avoid hitting the miss-aligned teeth. Unnatural movements can result in muscle aches and TMJ ( jaw joint ) problems. While these problems develop slowly, tooth replacement can be preventive.
We could go on to discuss other areas where dental problems can result in problems from your appearance to digestive problems, but the examples above help you understand how dentist view the preventive aspects of the dental services provided. What you may see as a solution to a problem, a filling, a bridge, a denture, can also be seen as a preventive treatment.