Preventive dentistry helps avoid the costly and invasive procedures often needed to treat serious dental conditions. Maintaining dental health helps people look and feel their best, and can have a positive effect on their overall health. Preventing dental problems requires a lifelong commitment. To begin developing proper dental-hygiene habits, a child should visit a dentist shortly after the first teeth emerge.
Regular Dental Visits
Comprehensive dental exams and cleanings are recommended every 6 months to 1 year. These exams help identify tooth decay, and early signs of gum disease or oral cancer, through diagnostic X-rays and physical examination. Early detection of these conditions helps ensure effective treatment, and prevent permanent damage.
Regular cleanings by a certified dental hygienist help keep teeth clean and healthy. A dental cleaning includes removal of tartar and plaque, which can build up, and cause inflammation and disease if left untreated. The teeth are also polished to remove stains that often cannot be removed by at-home toothbrushing.
Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that are applied to the surfaces of teeth to protect them from decay and other diseases. Decay often begins in the teeth's grooves because they are hard to clean, and susceptible to plaque buildup. Sealants create a smooth surface that fills deep grooves and makes teeth easier to clean.
Sealants are applied to children's teeth once their six-year molars surface, or anytime between the ages of 6 and 16. Adults may also benefit from sealants, especially when the surfaces of their teeth have deep grooves or depressions that are difficult to clean. A sealant is applied by cleaning the selected tooth, and then painting the sealant onto its surface, where it hardens and bonds to the tooth, protecting it from decay. The procedure takes just a few minutes and is painless.
Fluoride is a natural substance that helps strengthen teeth and prevent decay in patients of all ages. Fluoride treatments are administered at a dentist's office using either acidulated phosphate fluoride (APF) or neutral sodium fluoride. It is applied to the teeth in gel, foam or varnish form, either in a mouth tray or by putting it directly on the teeth.
There is no single method for protecting teeth from disease and decay. Teeth should be taken care of each and every day, and professionally cleaned on a regular basis. Practicing good dental hygiene is the best way to keep teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime. To maintain healthy teeth and gums, teeth should be brushed at least twice a day; brushing before going to bed at night is essential. Flossing at least once each day to clean the spaces between the teeth and under the gums is also recommended. In addition, using over-the-counter mouthwash freshens breath, and helps protect the mouth from disease.
- Medline Plus
- National Institutes of Health
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine