Dentists Do More Than Check for Cavities


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Oral Health Coaches- Dentist and Hygienist

By Estela Villanueva-Whitman • November 12, 2010

Warren Bruce visits the dentist every six months to stay on top of any dental problems that may arise.

“I think it’s important so I can take care of my teeth. They can address any other issues I have and do a good oral overview,” said Bruce, 47, of Des Moines.

Because of his dental habits, he’s avoided major problems, other than a crown and a few fillings. Dr. Katherine Elsner, a dentist at University Dental Care where Bruce is a patient, said it’s important to keep up on your dental health.

“Have a relationship with a dental professional who knows your medical and dental history. Keep up with your appointments because it’s not only your teeth we’re looking at,” Elsner said.

Dr. Michael Davidson of Davidson Family Dentistry added that dentists can customize a treatment plan for every individual.

“Your oral health is an indicator of your general health. Often times the dentist is the one to see the patient more often than the physician,” she said. “There are things that a dentist can pick up on through a routine examination that can go unnoticed.”

Gum disease is connected to heart disease, she pointed out, and she can also refer patients for sleep studies if she suspects sleep apnea.

Davidson said regular checkups are important to remove tartar and catch slow-growing cavities when they are small and easier to treat.

Head Neck Cancer Awareness screening tobacco use smoker smoking

Oral Cancer Screening

– Cancer screen. During routine exams, dentists look for any abnormalities in the back of the throat, teeth, gums, tongue, face and neck. Elsner is especially vigilant on tobacco users and smokers.

– Fluoride treatment. Davidson said fluoride treatment is usually not covered by insurance in adults, but is recommended for patients who have had a cavity in the past year, have an exposed root surface or sensitivity issues. Office treatment provides increased protection for three to four months.

– Watch the treats. Elsner reminds patients to watch soda intake, including diet brands. Folks with Gastro esophageal reflux disease are also more prone to acid in the mouth.

Davidson said that slow snacking is the most problematic.

“While eating in small portions throughout the day can be beneficial for general health, this practice allows bacteria to grow more quickly and can cause more cavities. Set meals followed by brushing are still recommended for oral health,” he said.

– Fresh breath. Davidson recommends brushing the tongue and using mouthwash. Sugar-free gym with xylitol, a remineralizing agent, can help, Elsner said.

Tips to maintain a healthy smile:

Routine checkups. See a dentist every six months. Patients with periodontal disease, gum disease, or on bone density drugs should visit more frequently, Elsner said.

Manual or electric? Some patients — the elderly and those with crowded teeth — do better with electric toothbrushes. Be wary of electric brushes that are too aggressive.

Brushes should be replaced every three to four months, depending on use, and after a viral infection. Davidson prefers electric brushes, but recommends a soft or extra soft brush if purchasing a manual one.

Mouth rinses. Elsner recommends an anti-cavity rinse before bed to help remineralize and strengthen enamel.

Brush after meals and before bed. Elsner recommends brushing three to four times a day. Some medications can cause dry mouth, making teeth prone to dental decay, Elsner said. In those cases, prescription paste may be needed.
Davidson said the average patient can brush two times a day, more if needed.

Floss once a day. Davidson said the best time to do so is nighttime, when salivary flow decreases. Use any type that is comfortable to you.

From 11-12-2010

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