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Dental Health Care: What Does It Mean to You?

When you consider why you go to your dental professional, you may solely think of routine checkups and cleanings. Or maybe the follow-up appointments to fix a cavity or two. But when you zoom out and consider this type of care as a whole, dental health care is a vast industry. We all have teeth, gums, and tongues, and therefore every one of us requires some form of oral care. But what exactly is the field of dental health care, and what does it mean to you?

Dental health care can mean something different to you depending on the type of care you need at different life stages. But overall, its primary purpose is to optimize oral care for a healthier you. Let's go over the main facets of dental health care and why they're important.

Routine Visits

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), approximately two-thirds of Americans seek routine dental care. A regular dental visit is a preventive form of care and an essential facet of your oral care routine. During a routine dental visit, you will meet with both your dental hygienist and dentist.

Your dental professionals will perform various examinations to assess the health of your oral cavity. They will specifically be 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, or, eventually, bone loss. That's why prevention is critical. By mitigating the chance of letting these conditions advance, you're taking a proactive step towards appropriate treatment and less pain and discomfort down the road.

Dental Cleanings and Advice

Are you the type of person who doesn't feel you've had dental care unless you've had a thorough cleaning? We understand that feeling! A dental hygienist usually performs this cleaning, also known as scaling and root planing, by removing plaque and tartar from your teeth and gums. Depending on your situation, they may also take X-rays, apply sealants, and in-office fluorides, give you lessons on adopting personal oral hygiene habits and nutrition counseling, and recommended products that are right for you and your family. The frequency at which you receive recommended dental cleanings will be unique to you, but the usual recommendation is twice annually.

Fixing Tooth Problems

Beyond your routine cleaning and checkup, you may also think of dental care as a means for fixing a problem with a single tooth. The majority of dental problems a person complains about involve a tooth that's decaying, missing, loose, or impacted (below the gumline).

The dentist's office is one of the first places a person goes for when their mouth is in pain, especially when it's a pressing issue. Depending on the situation, your dentist may fix the problem or refer you to a dental specialist. Specialists such as prosthodontists and oral maxillofacial surgeons will help with more complex conditions affecting your jaw and teeth alignment.

Improving Aesthetics

Beyond your oral health, you may also consider dental care a vital way to improve the look of your smile! For example, people with crowded, crooked, or missing teeth will seek help to correct their teeth alignment and function. Orthodontists and prosthodontics can help improve your smile through numerous types of therapeutic options, like braces, for example.

And some of us may not be seeking better alignment but rather a more glowing smile. In that case, dental health care can be a way to improve the color of your teeth through whitening, which is available for use at home and in your dental office.

Dental Care From Birth to Late Teens

As our bodies change at different points of life, so can our smile. Whether it's teething as our first set of teeth erupt or becoming more prone to gum disease because of hormonal changes as we age, our dental care needs will change throughout life. Let's go over the primary dental care stages of life, and the common areas of dental care for adults, as these may help you feel more confident in caring for yourself or your children!

Birth to Kindergarten

Even when there are no visible teeth yet, it is recommended to clean your baby's gums after feedings with a moist gauze pad or clean cloth. The first teeth that appear – around six months of age – are susceptible to tooth decay upon their eruption, so consistent cleaning is essential.

You can eventually clean your baby's primary teeth with a baby-sized toothbrush. After age two, the ADA suggests incorporating a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. It would be best if you also began flossing your child's teeth when you notice two or more teeth touching one another.

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

Elementary School Years

Children begin shedding their baby teeth by age five or six, right when their permanent teeth start to erupt. They should have all of these teeth in 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. So helping them every day with their oral care routine is important.

Your child should see their dental professional regularly for checkups and cleanings. 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. Your child's dental hygienist or dentist will also teach them the basic techniques of brushing and flossing.

The Teen Years

Now is when you expect all of the right oral hygiene rituals and diet choices you've been implementing to stick! However, keep up the vigilant reminders about brushing and flossing. Young teens often get lax with home care. If your child has braces, it's normal for them to feel frustrated with diet restrictions or have brushing and flossing challenges. Stress how beautiful and attractive their smile will be when their braces come off and that this impermanent sacrifice will create a long-lasting positive impact.

College and Beyond

Your child will be going off to college with healthy teeth and several acceptable oral hygiene practices because of your teamwork. But before they go, schedule a dental appointment for a cleaning and thorough examination. It's around this age that wisdom teeth start to erupt, and if these teeth are impacted, their dental professional may recommend their removal. Schedule this standard procedure before your child leaves for college or during a holiday break.

Dental Care Throughout Adulthood

So you've got your kid's oral care squared away, or perhaps you aren't a caregiver to any children and are solely concerned about your oral health. It's time to get into the common reasons you may seek dental care as an adult! If you're someone who thinks that, because your cavity-prone years are behind you, regular dental visits and preventive care aren't as necessary as they used to be, think again.

Now that you're older, you're at risk for many dental problems you didn't have to deal with when you were a teenager. Dental care for adults is crucial, and some examples may make you think twice before you cancel your next dental checkup.

Periodontal Disease

As we age, we become more at risk for periodontal disease. If your home care routine of brushing and interdental cleaning has slipped or you've skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth and gums. This type of buildup can, over time, cause severe damage to your teeth, gums, and jaw. The good news is that periodontal disease is very preventable with a rigorous at-home oral care routine and vigilant oversight from your dental professional.

Oral Cancers

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over 40 have the most significant risk for oral cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that approximately 54,010 people will get cancer of the mouth, tongue, tonsils, or oropharynx this year. And out of that population, an estimated 10,850 people will die from these types of cancers. Quitting tobacco products and limiting your consumption of alcohol will help mitigate your chances of getting oral cancer. It's important to remember that lifestyle habits can play a large role in our oral health too!

Break Down of Dental Fillings

Did you know that dental fillings, depending on their material, can last up to 20 years? But inevitably, either from natural wear or unexpected damage, the fillings in your mouth will start to break down. When this happens, food and bacteria can get underneath them, causing decay to go deep into your tooth. This can affect the nerves in your teeth and, if not caught, will lead you to need a root canal treatment. For this reason, routine dental checkups are essential for discovering any fillings that are coming loose.

Temporomandibular Joint Problems

Whether you're grinding your teeth in your sleep, clenching your jaw tight at work, or have a bite irregularity that wasn't fixed in childhood, these types of oral habits and conditions can lead to painful temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems. If you grind your teeth when you sleep, your dental professional can make you a nightguard. This appliance takes the stress off your joints. It also helps you stop grinding, an occurrence that will wear down your enamel if left untreated.

Preventive Maintenance Is the Answer

If there's one message we hope you've taken from this article, it's that preventive maintenance is the foundation of your oral care. As an adult, you're not immune to dental problems and may not even realize how some progress without the watchful eye of your dental hygienist and dentist. In addition to maintaining a vigorous home care routine, the best thing you can do is schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings. Your dental professionals can closely monitor your oral health and take care of problems before they increase in severity.

What to Look For In a Dental Office

Perhaps you realize that you'd like to find a new dental office that suits your needs. Whether you've relocated or decided you'd like to seek different care for a new dental problem you have, there are a few essential protocols every good dental office will have in place:

  • A dental practice should start every adult patient's first visit with an interview that considers your dental and medical history (and desired outcomes).
  • Then you will likely get a comprehensive dental clinical examination, a full set of X-rays, and an oral cancer exam. Depending on your specific situation, you may also get diagnostic and intraoral photographs, complete periodontal charting, and other exams, if needed.
  • If your dentist feels that your treatment plan requires guidance from other specialties, they may refer you to a specialist.
  • After considering all of the information the dental team has gathered, the team can create an individualized dental treatment plan for you. They should be able to answer all of your questions regarding who will be performing the treatment, its cost, how long it will take, the recovery process, etc.

Note that every dental office has its way of operating and treating patients. To that end, practices may differ in what information they deem necessary to create a suitable treatment plan. And while we love being a trusted resource for advice, we believe that your dental professional, not the internet, is your best resource for determining the fee for your specific treatment.

We know that looking back at every potential aspect of dental care can feel overwhelming. But that's why dental care truly means something different to everyone. Perhaps you've only experienced routine maintenance and never needed a filling (lucky you!). Maybe you have just had a baby and are curious about when their oral care journey truly begins. Or you're an older adult who'd like to find a new dentist for your specific oral care needs. Regardless of your stage in life, we all fall somewhere along this dental care journey!

By committing to a rigorous oral care routine, going to your checkups, and staying open and curious to potential oral health curveballs that come your way, you are doing everything you can to take care of your and your family's smiles!

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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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