Author: Mark S. Morris, D.D.S., Merrimack Smiles

You know to see your dentist twice a year (more if you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease) for your preventative maintenance appointments. But do you know why these visits are critically important?

Regular appointments help prevent the possibility of disease and other health issues from becoming a larger potentially serious problem. 54,000 people a year are diagnosed with cancer of the oral cavity, and studies have linked periodontal disease (gum disease) to heart disease and potentially other disease processes. Your visits to the dentist provide you with multiple opportunities a year to have professionals assess not only the health of your mouth but potentially your total body.

Your preventative maintenance appointments are so much more than “just a cleaning”. During your visit we:

Review your medical history

It is important for your dentist and hygienist to know what is going on with your entire health picture. Including: what medications and supplements you are taking, at what dosages and frequency; any allergies and reactions you experience as well as medical conditions you have been diagnosed with. Discussing your medical history allows us to make sure that you are keeping up with your healthcare needs, but also that the treatment provided during your appointment will not have any adverse effects. Your dentist is also acutely aware of visible signs that may warrant a suggestion to visit your physician. Common medical conditions that dentists frequently find include skin and oral cancers, GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), diabetes, auto-immune disease, high blood pressure and chronic sleep apnea. These conditions as well as other diseases, can present signs in your mouth, sometimes before other areas of your body. In addition to checking the health of your teeth and gums we are also looking out for your overall general health.

Oral Cancer Screening

Both the hygienist and dentist will evaluate your tissue for signs of pathology, cancer. The dentist will also evaluate your radiographs (x-rays) for any signs of pathology in the bones of your jaw and head. Early detection is key for a more favorable outcome for any pathology and often oral cancer can be missed because your medical doctor is not routinely looking inside your mouth. Using their fingertips your dentist and hygienist will each analyze the soft tissue structures and muscles of your neck. Having both providers perform this screening increases the changes of detecting something unusual while also reenforce the findings that nothing out of the normal was detected.

Periodontal Disease Evaluation

Periodontal disease has been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and come cancers. It is important to your health that your mouth remains healthy, and any disease is addressed. The Dentist will evaluate your radiographs (x-rays) for bone loss comparing the images year over year and the Hygienist will perio-chart (measure) your gum tissue depths and levels keeping record year over year for comparison. Together the dentist and hygienist will evaluate your periodontal status and risk and making recommendations to help you obtain and maintain your healthy mouth. The doctor will prescribe treatment to control and eliminate any disease, and/or risk factors.

Scaling and Polishing

When your teeth are cleaned, bacterial biofilm is disrupted and removed. These bacteria biofilms are responsible for decay (cavities) as well as periodontal disease (gum disease). Your dental hygienist with their specialized instruments, can remove more than you are able to with an electric toothbrush and floss, no matter how well you use these products at home. Additionally, because bacteria are disrupted in this process it is important that we conducted a thorough medical history review, because this increased bacterial load can travel into your body, and we need to know if you have any risk factors requiring additional precaution we need to take before we start the therapeutic periodontal treatment. Most commonly patients with specific risk factors are prescribed an antibiotic to take before their appointment so they can complete it safely. Your hygienist will also be able to remove any surface staining that has built up from drinks (coffee, tea, wine) and tobacco use.

Evaluate Salivary Flow

Dry mouth can lead to an increase in decay because your mouth lacks the saliva flow to help wash away the bacteria. Many patients do not even realize they have a decreased salivary flow until it is discussed with your dental professional. The reason for this is we only know what our bodies do and may not even realize that our constantly sticky mouth is unusual and could be the reason for bad breath, cavities, etc… 

Oral Hygiene Instruction

Based on your unique findings and condition of your mouth your hygienist and dentist will provide you with instructions on how you can improve your home care routine. They will inform you of areas that need more attention and provide technique recommendations and introduce you to new tools that will help you achieve a healthier mouth.

Intra-oral Photos

Your hygienist will utilize a pen-sized camera to take photographs of your mouth, and teeth. Having these pictures will help you visualize what the dentist and hygienist is describing to you. Because there are many situations where the best course of action is to improve homecare and/or complete more frequent maintenance visits and monitor the area(s) of concern, having these pictures, combined with radiographs and your perio-chart provide a lot of data to help your dentist and dental team monitor your oral health and provide the best recommendations to keep you healthy.

Your preventative maintenance appointments are more than “just a cleaning” they are vitally important to maintaining and achieving a healthy mouth and body. If you have not been to the dentist in a while now is a great time to recommit to your health goals and reserve an appointment. You will be so happy you did!

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”—Benjamin Franklin

Read more great tips from Dr. Morris

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