Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Dentists and dental plan carriers know that, when it comes to preventive dentistry, Franklin was on the money. Prevention is cost effective. For example, research shows an early first dentist visit can help prevent future oral health problems. On the other hand, waiting for children to have a first dentist visit after age three can mean higher dental costs later in life.
Overview: The Far-Reaching Benefits of Regular Dental Visits
Getting your mouth checked by a doctor has benefits that go beyond oral health. For example, dental checkups reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. Seeing your dentist regularly, therefore, could do more than save your teeth. It could also save your life. Here are some of the key reasons why regular dental cleanings and checkups matter.
Preventing Gum Disease
Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in American adults, and most adults will face gum disease at some point in their lives. One of your biggest oral health goals, therefore, should be taking efforts to prevent and minimize this problem. Regular checkups will help you do that. Your dentist has special tools that check to see if your gums are still healthy. If there’s a problem, he or she will tell you how best to fix it before it costs you your smile.
Over time, tiny food particles in your mouth convert to plaque, an acidic substance that clings to and slowly eats away your teeth. Regular flossing and brushing can help slow this process but will not prevent it entirely. Over time, cavities grow worse until they begin to cause pain. A tooth isn’t like skin; it won’t regenerate to repair itself. When cavities are in their early stages, they are easy to repair. However, if you let the cavity get bad enough, you’ll lose the tooth. Fortunately, oral health pros always check for cavities in their earliest stages. They use x-rays and other medical equipment to find them before they start to hurt or cause lasting damage.
Preventing Oral Cancer and Other Life-Threatening Conditions
Oral cancer is a deadly serious problem. Experts estimate that nearly 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with it every year. Almost half of those diagnosed with oral cancer will die within five years of their diagnosis. The Oral Cancer Foundation notes that this high mortality rate is mainly caused by the fact that oral cancer is usually detected at a very late stage. It can be hard to detect early because the symptoms are relatively mild at first. Fortunately, dentists know how to recognize the signs of cancer early and will be able to detect it during a routine check-up.
Dental Checkups: Breaking Down Every Exam Your Dentist Performs During a Checkup
A dental check up is usually pretty quick. This may make you wonder whether it’s really necessary to schedule appointments every six months. However, aside from the usual cavity check, dentists also perform numerous types of exams. Here’s a simple breakdown of the types of exams that are done when you see the dentist for a checkup:
People who do not go to the dentist at least twice a year are far more likely to find they have gum disease after it’s too late. Dentists must measure and record data twice a year in order to monitor changes in bone and tissue attachment levels. Therefore, it is crucial that you go in for a checkup on a regular basis. To check for gum disease, a dental pro will use a special tool to measure the amount of space between your gum tissue and teeth. Measurements between one and three are generally healthy and normal. Higher numbers are a sign of tissue or bone loss. Your dentist can compare the findings with previous data to determine the presence or progress of gum disease.
Tooth Decay/Cavity Exam
That metal stick with a thin, curved end your dentist uses to touch the surface of your teeth is a sickle probe, aka an “explorer.” This instrument can detect cavities, but that’s just one of its many functions. The explorer can also determine how much enamel, plaque and tartar are on your teeth. In addition, it tells your dentist how hard each tooth is.
X-rays are another part of the tooth decay and cavity exam. They allow the dentist to see decay and cavities that have just begun to form. They are especially helpful in areas that are not easy to see, like the tiny gaps in between teeth. In addition to spotting tooth decay and cavities, this exam can identify the cause of each problem. Moreover, it helps your dentist figure out what kind of treatment to use.
Oral Cancer Exam
That blue light some dentists shine in your mouth comes from a VELscope. This is used to examine the mucous membrane (the oral mucosa) lining inside the mouth. Any abnormalities in this area could be an early sign of oral cancer. If caught early through an oral cancer exam, there is a good chance minimal surgery will help prevent the cancer from spreading.
A joint/bite exam is when your dentist puts his or her fingers near your ears and asks you to open and close your mouth. In this exam, your dentist is checking your Temporal Mandibular Joints (TMJ). These connect the jawbone to the skull. If the dentist detects poor bite alignment, tenderness in the joint and connecting muscles, or any particularly sensitive areas, the patient might have a TMJ disorder. The exam will help the dentist identify the cause of the problem and figure out what type of treatment to use.
Teeth cleaning removes plaque and biofilm, which is a layer of oral bacteria that can stick to your teeth. The process also removes calculus, a byproduct of hardened biofilm. Having plaque, calculus and biofilm removed at least twice a year dramatically decreases your risk of developing cavities, gum disease, and even bad breath.
Address Your Oral Health Proactively
Skipping the dentist increases your chances of developing potentially serious oral health problems. Remember, your dentist is trying to address issues before they become a threat to your health. If she succeeds, your two visits per year could be the only days you spend in the dental chair!