The importance of Regular Dental Checkups
Regular dental checkups are crucial for early detection and prevention of dental problems.
How does tooth decay form?
The bacteria in plaque produce acid which eats away at the tooth structure producing a cavity.
How will I know if I have a cavity?
This may sound a bit surprising to most people, but a large majority of cavities are completely painless. This is because the outer enamel has no nerves, so only when the cavity enters the underlying dentin, then the cavity may begin to feel sensitive.
The most common symptoms are an increased sensation to cold, sweet foods or beverages. A cavity is often responsible for a tooth that breaks. The cavity weakens the tooth, especially when it forms under a filling or a tooth cusp, and can easily cause a fracture when biting down.
Patients are sometimes taken off guard when they learn that they have a few cavities but they don’t have any symptoms. It is far better to treat a small cavity than to wait until they have symptoms, such as pain. By the time there are symptoms, the cavity may have spread to infect the dental pulp, necessitating a root canal procedure or an extraction to eliminate the infection.
Regular dental checkups, at least twice a year, will greatly reduce the likelihood that a dental cavity will go undetected and spread, causing pain and infecting the dental pulp.
How do dentists detect cavities?
Cavities are detected a number of ways. The most common are clinical (visual & tactile checkup) and radiographic (X-ray) examinations.
Teeth that are discolored (usually brown or black) can sometimes indicate a dental cavity.
Dental X-rays are very useful in finding cavities that are wedged between the teeth or under the gum line. These “hidden” cavities are difficult or impossible to detect visually or with the explorer.
Are some people more at risk for developing cavities?
People who have reduced saliva flow due to diseases such as Sjogren Syndrome; dysfunction of their salivary glands; have undergone cancer chemotherapy or radiation; and who smoke are more likely to develop cavities. Saliva is important in fighting cavities because it can rinse away plaque and food debris and help neutralize acid.
People who have limited manual dexterity and have difficulty removing plaque from their teeth may also have a higher risk of forming cavities. Some people have naturally lower oral pH, which makes them more likely to have cavities.
What can I do to prevent cavities?
Brushing your teeth and removing plaque at least three times a day, especially after eating and before bed. Flossing at least once a day is important to remove plaque between your teeth. You should brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush, and angle the bristles about 45 degrees toward the gum line. Brush for about the length of one song on the radio (three minutes). You can check with your dentist or hygienist on the proper brushing methods.
- Reducing the amount and frequency of eating sugary foods.
If you are going to drink a can of sweetened soda, for instance, it is better to drink it in one sitting than sip it throughout the day. Better yet, drink it through a straw in one sitting, to bypass the teeth altogether. Getting to the dentist at least twice a year for a checkup is critical for examinations and professional cleanings.
- Using fluoride toothpaste and mouthrinses.
Fluoride is a compound that is added to most tap water supplies, toothpastes and mouth rinses to reduce cavities. Fluoride becomes incorporated into our teeth as they develop and makes them more resistant to decay. After our teeth are formed, fluoride can reverse the progress of early cavities, and sometimes prevent the need for corrective dental treatment.
If you are very susceptible to cavities, your dentist can perform high concentration, in-office fluoride treatments and/or prescribe a fluoride supplement, either as a gel, tablets or drops. In some cases, customized trays can be used while you sleep, to deliver higher doses of fluoride and help strengthen teeth to prevent cavities.
- Fissure sealants A sealant is a white resin material that blankets the tooth, protecting the vulnerable pits and fissures of the tooth, hence helping to reduce cavities from forming. Sealants are routinely placed on children’s teeth to prevent cavities on their newly developing molars. The use of sealants is also a cost-effective way to reduce the incidence of cavities in adults as well. However, sealants usually cannot be used on teeth that already have fillings.
- Stimulation of saliva production
People who have dry mouth are at risk for developing cavities, and can have their dentist prescribe artificial saliva and mouth moisturizers, as well as chewing sugarless gum to stimulate saliva production. An antiseptic mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate can also be useful in killing bacteria associated with dental caries.
- Have a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Have regular dental checkups