Helping patients focus on prevention


Itís about more than just the mouth

Dentists are trained to take good care of patients when things go wrong, but they are just as skilled at making sure things go right. Dentists understand there are bodies connected to the mouths they treat, and while they look for problems in the mouth, they may help spot problems elsewhere.

"We are trained to focus on [providing immediate treatment]," says Dr. Eugenio Beltran-Aguilar, in the January/February 2004 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy's clinical, peer-reviewed journal, "but people are more than just teeth and a mouth."

One way dentists do this is by understanding the various oral diseases and conditions that lead to tooth loss, which helps them stop those problems in their tracks.

The most prevalent cause of tooth loss is periodontal or gum disease. Characterized by swollen gums and bone loss, periodontal disease is usually caused by poor oral hygiene, which makes bacteria build up in the mouth and attach to teeth, bone and gums. But, there could be other causes behind it.

"Periodontal disease can be an indicator of diabetes or cardiovascular disease," says Bruce R. DeGinder, DDS, MAGD, AGD spokesperson. " It can also be a sign of vitamin deficiencies and other health conditions."

"If we notice other symptoms [in addition to those in the mouth], like lack of energy or difficulty breathing, we can put the pieces of the puzzle together and encourage patients to schedule an appointment with their doctor," says Dr. DeGinder.

Typically, periodontal disease affects patients in their 50's and 60's, but it could start as early as the 20's or 30's. In childhood, periodontal disease can also start with swollen gums and then progress to tooth loss.

Dental cavities are the other leading cause of tooth loss. Resulting from bacteria buildup around the teeth that causes them to decay, cavities can strike at any age, from early childhood or late adulthood.

Patients can also help to cultivate long-term relationships rooted in prevention and care, rather than sporadic emergency treatment, by maintaining a good oral care routine and seeing their dentists regularly.

How patients can re-focus on prevention

  • Brush twice a day for at least five minutes at a time
  • Floss at least once a day
  • Rinse with an antiseptic rinse
  • Invest in an electric toothbrush
  • Use a tongue scraper to remove bacteria from the tongue
  • Keep up regular visits to the dentist at least twice a year

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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