This past week, my daughter was complaining, “I’m going to the dentist again? Why, I don’t have any cavities?”
Like most teenagers, the art of exaggeration has infiltrated and become a standard part of my daughter’s vocabulary. After some discussion, she admitted that there had only been her two regular, semi-annual dental check-ups and cleanings. As a parent and nurse, I certainly didn’t want to waste an opportunity to educate so I shared a short history of dental practices with her.
When I was 14 years old, I already had several teeth with fillings and had experienced one or two extractions. By this same age, my husband was already wearing his first set of partial dentures! Visits to the dentist, during that period, were regular, painful, and much more frequent than twice a year. Tooth decay was not as controllable as it is today. Tooth decay is caused when the plaque in your mouth reacts with sugary or starchy foods to produce an acid that damages the enamel and weakens the tooth.
What a tremendous change fluoride has made in dental health. Fluoride is recommended early, often even before a baby has cut their first tooth. Fluoride makes the teeth more resistant to decay, retards minute areas of decay from developing into larger ones, and inhibits the spread of germs in the mouth. About half of all cities in the United States now have fluoride in their drinking water. In areas without fluoridated water, the family pediatrician or dentist often prescribes fluoride tablets or drops.
Another improvement in dental health has been the development of the dental sealant that protects the tooth from decay. Although dental sealant has been around for about 25 years, they were not commonly used as a part of preventive dentistry in the early years. Application of dental sealant can significantly reduce the cost of tooth repair. The sealant lasts for about 10 years, and can be reapplied after that time if it has been worn away from an area of the tooth.
Tooth loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Older adults who still have their natural teeth are beginning to outnumber denture wearers. The Mayo Clinic Health Letter states that, “About 30 percent of adults over age 65 currently need dentures because they’ve lost all their teeth. That’s expected to drop to about 10 percent early in the next century.” This is primarily due to fluoride and preventive dental care. Natural teeth can last a lifetime.
Here are some dental care tips to help keep your teeth and gums in top shape.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day – after every meal if possible. Use a soft-bristled brush because it’s better at removing plaque deposits.
Replace your toothbrush every 3 months or sooner if the bristles become splayed.
Floss your teeth after brushing. Waxed and unwaxed anti-plaque flosses are equally effective. Dental flosses vary in strength. Choose one that doesn’t shred on use. If you find flossing difficult, try using a floss holder. Floss gently between your teeth in a “C” motion.
Visit your dentist at least once a year for an overall cleaning and check-up.
One last word about tartar control toothpaste. Tartar was once thought to contribute to or even cause periodontal disease. It is now considered far less important. According to the 1988 Journal of the American Dental Association, tartar control toothpaste has only a “cosmetic benefit”. They have no effect on gingivitis or periodontitis.
For healthy teeth that will last you a lifetime, what you need is a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss that you use at least twice a day – every day.
Holyoke Sun Article for4/14/1999
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