An Ounce of Prevention

Recently, Dr. Adam Still was interviewed by SNN’s Nancy O’Neil on her show Aging Gracefully on Suncoast FYI. This topic of this interview is Preventative dentistry and we know you will find it informative!

‘Preventative dentistry’ is defined as measures that dental professionals take to prevent the development or progression of dental disease. The key is that you want to catch something early before it progresses into something far more difficult to treat and therefore more expensive to treat. We have a saying that “dentistry isn’t anywhere near as expensive as negligence is”. It means you want to take care of things early and not get into a situation where you have a major issue going on. There is another old dental saying that says “only floss the teeth you want to keep“.

What preventative measures can we as individuals take? From the patient’s perspective it really comes down to home care. It’s all about making sure you are brushing and flossing with the proper technique, the proper duration and also making sure that you are being productive and that you’re doing it correctly rather than doing it the wrong way. You have to make sure you get all the bacteria out. That’s the key to all of this… To make sure you’re removing all the bacteria before you let the disease process take over your teeth and gums. So what is brushing ‘properly’? The key is a two-minute tooth brushing. We really recommend electric/ultrasonic toothbrushing. For the most part the reason is because they have a timer on them to let you know how long two minutes really is. We tend to spend only about 30 seconds and think we’re done, but it’s nice to actually have that running clock to let you know. Also, make sure you are flossing in a way that the floss fully reaches all the surfaces between your teeth. Just doing home care isn’t good enough – you have to make sure you are doing it correctly. It’s good to have a dentist or dental hygienist to advise you how to go about that.

What do we typically see when somebody comes in who needs treatment? There are quite a few things. The most obvious is tooth decay. When a tooth first starts to decay, the very first part of that process is that the minerals are pulled out of the outer surface, the enamel. When the minerals are pulled out, that leaves room for the bacteria to take over and start actually eating into the tooth. If we catch it in that early phase where it’s just de-mineralizing, we can add minerals back into the tooth and reverse the process. If we don’t catch it that fast and it starts eating into the tooth, the next step would be to do a filling. So we remove the decay, fill the cavity and we should be done. But in a case where the decay is more extreme and even further into the tooth, towards the center of the nerve and the blood supply the tooth now has become infected, it now involves a root canal and then restorative work on top of that. So you can see that this progresses from something very easy to fix to something that is difficult to fix.

Another example of that would be cracks, which is a similar process where you get a little stress fracture on the side of the tooth. If it’s not caught early enough, it turns into a deeper crack which will eventually cause the tooth to fracture. Sometimes it’s just a piece of the tooth and other times it will crack all the way through and the tooth may not be salvageable at that point. Or it may just crack into the nerve canal and you’re back into a similar situation with the need for a root canal and more restorative treatment.

One of the real big issues is gum disease and the challenge with that as a patient, is you don’t necessarily feel it. It is very common. What happens with gum disease is the bacteria will collect along the gumline and if it’s not caught early enough, it will get underneath the gums. Then it starts causing the tissue to detach off the root and you start losing bone. If we catch that in time, it’s just a matter of removing the bacteria before it’s done any damage. But once it’s done the damage, it can involve surgical intervention. Again, another case if we catch it early enough, it’s easy to treat. Nobody wants to go to surgical road unless they absolutely have to.

The hard part about preventive dentistry is we’re treating the patient before they are aware of problems coming on. When you’re doing that you’re forced to educate someone. You have to go through the process, take photos to demonstrate what’s going on so the patient can see the process developing and then they can make an educated decision about how they want to handle it. We’re talking about proactive dentistry versus reactive dentistry. With proactive dentistry we’re heading things off before they get there. With reactive dentistry, we are waiting until the tooth cracks or the patient is in pain and that’s almost easier dentistry to do because the patient can feel it or see it themselves. They are coming in and saying “tell me what can I do about this”. With preventative dentistry we take that extra time to walk them through the process. With reactive dentistry, you don’t feel as good about because you know you could’ve headed it off. Smile Sarasota is all about preventative dentistry – we don’t want to see you in pain or in an emergency situation that could have been prevented. This is way we recommend coming in for your checkups and cleanings at least two or three times per years. Early intervention is so important because losing teeth has a lot of implications on a person’s overall well-being that continues throughout their life.

Call Smile Sarasota today and learn how to keep healthy teeth and gums for life!

Many thanks to SNN and Nancy O’Neil!