Most Americans enjoy excellent oral health and are keeping their natural teeth throughout their lives. But this is not the case for everyone.
Cavities are still the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood. About 100 million Americans did not see a dentist in 2007, even though regular dental examinations and good oral hygiene can prevent most dental disease.
A dental visit means being examined by a doctor of oral health capable of diagnosing and treating conditions that can range from routine to extremely complex. The dentist's responsibilities include:
- diagnosing oral diseases;
- creating treatment plans to maintain or restore oral health;
- interpreting X-rays and diagnostic tests;
- ensuring the safe administration of anesthetics;
- monitoring the growth and development of the teeth and jaws;
- performing surgical procedures on the teeth, bone and soft tissues of the oral cavity;
- managing oral trauma and other emergency situations.
Dentists' oversight of the clinical team is critical to ensuring safe and effective oral care. Even seemingly routine procedures such as tooth extractions, preparing and placing fillings or administering anesthetics carry potential risks of complications such as infection, temporary or even permanent nerve damage, prolonged bleeding, hematomas and pain.
Dentists' areas of care include not only their patients' teeth and gums but also the muscles of the head, neck and jaw, the tongue, salivary glands, and the nervous system of the head and neck. During a comprehensive exam, dentists examine the teeth and gums, but they also look for lumps, swellings, discolorations, ulcerations — any abnormality.
In addition, dentists can spot early warning signs in the mouth that may indicate disease elsewhere in the body. Dentists' training also enables them to recognize situations that warrant referring patients for care by dental specialists or physicians.© American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.