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Dental Health Care: What Is It & What Does It Mean to You?

Why do you visit a dental professional? Maybe you need a routine checkup, or you have a sore tooth that needs attention. When you zoom out and consider oral health as a whole, you realize that dental health care is a vast industry. Almost everyone has mouths with teeth, gums, and tongues, so we all require some form of oral care. But what exactly is dental health care, and what does it mean to you?

What Is Dental Health Care?

Dental health refers to the overall health of your mouth — including your teeth, gums, and tongue, and its care comes in all shapes and sizes. Your oral health can be a good indicator of your overall health, and poor oral hygiene can increase your risk for disease in other areas of your body, so you should not neglect your dental health! Dental health care can generally be broken down into three distinct categories. These include:

Preventive Dental Care

Going to the dentist for routine checkups is a preventive form of care and an essential facet of your oral care routine. During a routine dental visit, you will usually meet with both the dentist and dental hygienist. Your dental professionals will perform various examinations to assess the health of your oral cavity, looking for common dental issues such as signs of tooth decay or gum disease. If untreated, these conditions can lead to pain, tooth loss, gum recession, and even bone loss. By visiting your dentist regularly and catching signs of these issues early, you're taking a proactive step for your dental health and potentially avoiding pain and discomfort down the road.

Routine examinations can also include dental hygiene instrumentation to remove plaque and tartar from your teeth and gums. Depending on your situation, your dental professionals may also take X-rays, apply sealants, provide in-office fluorides, give you lessons on personal hygiene and nutrition, and recommend products for you and your family. The frequency of your oral exams and dental hygiene appointments depends on your dental health, but the usual recommendation is twice annually.

Restorative Dental Care

Even with all the right preventive care, you might still need restorative treatment. Restorative dental care refers to any procedure that repairs a problem with your tooth or gums. These problems can vary in severity — from a small cavity to periodontitis — and their associated treatments vary as well. The majority of dental problems involve a tooth that is decaying, missing, loose, or impacted.

When your mouth is in pain or you notice an oral problem, you usually visit your dentist first. Depending on the situation, your dentist may fix the problem or refer you to a dental specialist. A few examples of restorative treatments include:

  • Fillings
  • Crowns and Bridges
  • Root Canals
  • Implants
  • Gum Reshaping
  • Dentures and Partials

Cosmetic Dentistry

Beyond your oral health, dental health care also provides a way to improve the look of your smile. For example, those with crowded, crooked, or missing teeth might seek help to correct their teeth alignment and function. Orthodontists and prosthodontists can help improve your smile through therapeutic options like braces.

Others might be in search of a brighter smile. In that case, dental health care might be a way to improve the color of your teeth through whitening treatments, which are available through your dental office or for use at home.

How Does Dental Care Change As You Age?

What dental health care means to you depends a lot on your age. As your body changes, so does your smile. From the first tooth eruption to aging hormones, our dental care needs change throughout life. Let's take a look at the primary dental care stages, so you can feel more confident in caring for yourself or your children.

Birth to Kindergarten

Even before the first teeth are visible, you can support your baby's oral health by wiping their gums after feedings with a moist gauze pad or clean cloth. When the first teeth appear – at around six months — they become susceptible to tooth decay, so consistent cleaning is essential.

You can eventually clean your baby's primary teeth with a baby-sized toothbrush and fluoride-free toothpaste. After age two, you can start incorporating a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. You can also try flossing between your child's teeth when you notice two or more teeth touching — if they will let you!

Schedule your child's first dental visit after their first tooth appears or by their first birthday. This appointment will be a great time to discuss fluoride recommendations, teething, thumb-sucking, and home care concerns with your dental professional.

Elementary School Years

Children begin losing their baby teeth by age five or six when their permanent teeth start to erupt. They usually have all their permanent teeth by age 12 or 13. While every child is different, most will lack the coordination to brush their teeth on their own until they're eight to ten years old. You can make it a priority to help them with their oral care routine each day.

Your child should see their dental professional regularly for checkups and dental hygiene treatment. During this time, a dental professional will monitor your child's teeth alignment and possibly recommend dental sealants and in-office fluoride treatments to prevent early decay. They might also teach them the basic techniques of brushing and flossing.

Teenage Years

If you've made it to the teenage years, hopefully, all the oral hygiene rituals and diet choices you promoted start to stick. However, keep up the vigilant reminders to brush and floss. If your child has braces, it's normal for them to feel frustrated with diet restrictions or have brushing and flossing challenges. Remind them how confident they will feel when the braces come off and that this impermanent sacrifice will create a long-lasting positive impact.

College and Beyond

After high school graduation, your child will set out into the world with healthy teeth and proper oral hygiene practices because of your teamwork. Before they go, schedule a routine dental and dental hygiene appointment for thorough evaluations. Around this time, wisdom teeth start to erupt, and if these teeth are impacted, the dental professional might recommend removal.

Adulthood

Though your cavity-prone years might be behind you, regular dental visits and preventative care are still an essential part of your oral health. As you age, you become more at risk for periodontal disease and oral cancers. Plus, if you've had previous restorative work, regular exams can make sure your fillings, crowns, implants, and more are still serving you well.

Older Adults

With decades of use, your teeth and gums wear down and become more prone to dental issues. From dry mouth to attrition — older adults have a unique set of oral care needs. Even if you already require full or partial dentures, you should still prioritize your oral health by following all your dental professional's instructions for caring for your dentures and visiting the dentist regularly to identify signs of wear or damage.

No matter your age or your oral health needs, preventive maintenance is the foundation of your oral care. In addition to maintaining a vigorous home care routine, the best thing you can do is schedule regular dental checkups and dental hygiene appointments. Your dental professionals can closely monitor your oral health and take care of problems before they increase in severity. If you're overdue for a checkup, find out what to look for in a general dentist and make an appointment today.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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