What is “Preventative” Dentistry?
Preventative dentistry includes regularly performed exams, x-rays and cleanings that maintain dental health and prevent oral disease or decay. These procedures can be performed by any general dentist and hygienist are usually a part of regular bi-annual exams.
In addition to a thorough physical exam by a dentist, x-rays and other detailed scans may be necessary to diagnose certain issues. Cleaning and fluoride treatments are also an important part of preventative maintenance.
What is Preventative Screening?
Preventative screening includes panoramic scans and x-rays to get a full view of the teeth and mouth. As our teeth are made of bone and partially lie below the surface of the gum, seeing the full picture through x-rays can spot issues otherwise not visible to the naked eye. For children, these images can verify if their permanent teeth are coming in correctly. For young adults, they can show when wisdom teeth start to emerge.
What Kind of Equipment Is Used for Preventative Screening?
There are different types of x-rays that can be used for a regular screening. A new patient will usually have a full set of x-rays taken, which includes bite wing x-rays, and periapical x-rays for anterior teeth. Each operatory is equipped with a standard dental x-ray unit to perform this function. A panoramic x-ray is one image which shows the entire dentition and jaw bone. The patient will stand up and face a panel while part of the x-ray machine rotates around their head for a full, panoramic picture of the inside of their mouth. Panoramic x-rays are useful for evaluating wisdom teeth in both children and adults.
Sometimes, a dentist may require a more detailed image of a patient’s mouth to diagnose certain conditions. For this, they use a Dental Cone Beam Computed Tomography scan (CT). Somewhat similar to a panoramic x-ray, the patient stands at the CT unit while the machine rotates around their head. A CT scan may be used to enhance any abnormalities spotted on a regular x-ray, or it may be used to diagnose and assess a patient’s full mouth for advanced procedures such as placing implants.
How Does Oral Cancer Screening Work?
For at-risk patients, such as tobacco users or those with a family history of oral cancer, oral cancer screening can be an important part of preventative dentistry. These screenings usually involve a simple physical examination of the teeth and gums, both visually and by feel. If any abnormal bumps or masses are detected, the dentist can take a swab or a biopsy from the area and have it sent to a lab to determine if the lesion is cancerous.
How Is Cleaning and Fluoride Treatment Preventative?
Perhaps the biggest part of preventative dentistry is regular cleaning. Teeth cleanings almost always accompany a regular dental exam, and are performed by a dental hygienist. Unlike when you simply brush or floss your teeth, a professional cleaning is thorough and clears away plaque build-up while polishing the surface of the teeth. Regular cleaning can prevent issues associated with too much bacteria build-up like gingivitis and gum disease as well as tooth decay.
Fluoride is also a very important component in good oral health. The mineral strengthens the outer surface of your teeth– the enamel. For children especially, drinking water with fluoride or taking dietary supplements can be key in fighting cavities. While adults can benefit from fluoride, it’s most effective when taken as the adult teeth are just forming.
Regular professional fluoride treatments can be performed by a dental hygienist as well. These treatments are recommended in children and adults at high risk for tooth decay, and simply involve a foam or gel applied to the surface of the teeth after a regular cleaning.