Do I Really Need Regular Dental Exams?
Life is busy these days! Sometimes it may feel like there’s just not enough time for everything. Putting off your next dental exam may sound tempting. If you’re thinking about Nashua NH dental care you may ask, “How often do I need to see a dentist anyway?” You may find a variety of answers; however, you might not be doing yourself a favor by skipping your regular dental exam.
In general, you’ll benefit from a dental cleaning and checkup every six months. Dental problems tend to start small and then progress (sometimes very quickly) so by seeing your dentist and hygienist regularly you’ll become aware of any concerns before they become bigger problems. Tooth decay and gum disease are two examples of problems that may be overlooked if you miss your regular exams.
Tooth decay begins with the bacteria that naturally live in your mouth. When you eat, particularly eating starchy or sweet foods, the simple sugars in the food combine with your saliva and the bacteria to form plaque. Plaque (stained red in the picture above) is a sticky film that builds up constantly on your teeth and, if it’s not removed, it mineralizes and becomes rock-hard tartar (stained blue). As the bacteria in the plaque and tartar digest the simple sugars it causes a chemical reaction in your mouth, producing acid. Every time you eat, your teeth are bathed in this acid for 20 minutes or more. The acid slowly dissolves the minerals in the outside enamel layer of your teeth and a demineralized area forms, appearing as a white or brown spot on your tooth. This is the first visible element of tooth decay. If the area does not remineralize, the decay will grow until there’s a hole on the surface of the tooth. This hole is dental caries, commonly called a cavity.
Cavities are not painful at the start but they can quickly become destructive. If a cavity is left untreated the decay soon penetrates through the middle dentin layer of the tooth and gets into the inner pulp layer. When the pulp layer becomes infected with tooth decay the pulp can soon die, causing quite a bit of pain. This is not a condition you can treat at home and it won’t go away on its own. Once the infection has reached the pulp root, treatment with root canal therapy is required to remove the infection and prevent it from reaching the jaw bone. Sometimes the tooth is so full of decay there’s not enough healthy tooth structure remaining to save. Tooth extraction may be the only option.
Gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease, is a swelling and discoloration of the gums. Often with gingivitis, the gums bleed when you brush and floss but it’s usually not painful. Since it’s not painful, the bleeding might appear to be simply an annoyance and you might think that it’s not important to see your dentist just for that. However, gingivitis can quickly lead to a more serious condition called periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is an infection of the teeth, gums and bone that surrounds the teeth. Like gingivitis, it’s rarely painful and it’s very possible for you to have periodontal disease and not be aware of it. Periodontal disease is serious, however, because it can lead to tooth and bone loss.
Like tooth decay, periodontal disease is caused by the bacteria in plaque and tartar. These bacteria produce toxins, and it’s these toxins, combined with your body’s reaction to them, that destroys the bone around your teeth. As the bone is destroyed, your gums shrink away from the teeth forming pockets in the space between the tooth and gum. Bacteria becomes trapped in these pockets and it becomes harder and harder for you to remove the bacteria at home by brushing and flossing. When the pockets grow to more than 4 mm in depth you just can’t get at the trapped bacteria at all. If periodontal disease is left untreated, your teeth can become loose as there is less and less jaw bone to hold teeth in place. There is a point of no-return beyond where teeth cannot be saved.
Regular Checkups for Prevention and Treatment
Combat these problems by scheduling a dental exam and professional cleaning at least twice a year (if you’re prone to tooth decay it’s helpful to schedule even more frequently). During a continuing care appointment, your hygienist will use cleaning and polishing tools to remove bacteria and plaque. Even if you brush and floss thoroughly every day, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to remove all the plaque and tartar yourself. Professional dental cleanings keep your teeth free of tartar and reduce cavities, gingivitis, and the likelihood of periodontal disease.
During your dental exam, your dentist will look for problems with your bite, mouth sores, signs of oral cancer, and other oral problems. He or she will check your teeth and gums closely to discover any cavities, gingivitis, or periodontal disease. If you have cavities, it’s important to remove the decay and restore your teeth before the infection reaches the tooth pulp. If you have gingivitis, your hygienist will discuss effective brushing and flossing techniques with you, and perhaps use an antibacterial rinse to help kill bacteria.
The situation becomes more serious if periodontal disease has begun. The reason is that periodontal disease can’t be cured; it can only be monitored and controlled with periodontal therapy, such as scaling and root planing procedures to remove the bacteria from the tooth roots and gum pockets. Even after periodontal therapy, periodontal disease can reestablish itself in your mouth after only 90 days, and it can spread from one area of the mouth to another quickly and painlessly (that’s scary!). More frequent dental visits will help you minimize the recurrence of the infection, and slow down or eliminate its destructive effects. If you have periodontal disease, your dentist will probably recommend regular dental exams and periodontal cleanings every three or four months instead of every six months.
Children should also start seeing their dentist regularly and early, as soon as the first tooth has come in, in order to help prevent early tooth decay, treat problems with the child’s bite, and work to ensure a healthy adult mouth.
For More Information
At New Hampshire Center for Comprehensive Dentistry we are committed to caring for your health and prevention of tooth decay and gum disease. If you’re looking for Nashua NH dental care, we’ll be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have. If you like, give our office a call or email us to schedule your next regular dental exam and professional cleaning.