Family dentistry practices are designed to provide general dental care for patients of all ages, from young children to senior citizens. During each stage of a person's life, he or she will require slightly different dental care. For example, the focus with younger children may be the development of an oral hygiene routine that will promote a lifetime of strong, healthy teeth. Teenagers, on the other hand, may wish to pursue orthodontic treatment, and senior citizens are more likely to be interested in restorative dentistry solutions such as dental implants.
Read on to learn more about the importance of regular dental check-ups and what occurs during a dental examination:
- Tooth examination: Your dentist or hygienist will use a small mirror and a pick to inspect every tooth. The mirror helps your examiner be sure that the teeth are inspected from every angle, while the pick may be used to test the strength of your enamel, detect cavities, or to seek out fillings that may need to be replaced.
- X-rays: Most dentists now have fully digital X-rays, which expose patients to much less radiation than traditional dental X-rays. An X-ray is essential in determining whether tooth roots, fillings, and the structures of the jawbone are in good health. Furthermore, it is important to take X-rays of all new patients to use as a reference point should future problems arise.
- Periodontal examination: Most American adults suffer from some degree of periodontal (gum) disease. When caught in their earliest stages, most forms of gum disease are easily treatable, but when gum disease is allowed to progress, it may lead to tooth loss or even bone loss. Your dentist will gently examine for gum discoloration, swelling, and "pockets," areas where the gums pull away from the teeth because of bacteria. He or she may also use more advanced diagnostic tools such as DIAGNOdent® to thoroughly examine your gums.
- Oral cancer screening: The American Dental Association reports that only about one-half of patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive for more than five years. Oral cancer may appear as a white or red spot in the mouth, and may be very difficult to detect with the naked eye. Some dentists employ the ViziLite® or VELscope® Cancer Screening system to detect cancer in its earliest stages, and if you feel you may be especially susceptible to this ailment, it would be a good idea to schedule an appointment with a dentist who features such cutting-edge technology.
- Head and neck examination: Your dentist may palpate the glands in your neck, including the salivary glands found beneath your chin and jaw, to detect any abnormalities. Inspection of the skull where the jaw bones meet is also a part of this examination, as it may help your dentist diagnose TMJ disorder or other occlusal (bite) problems you may not be aware of.
The key to maintaining a smile that is healthy, functional, and beautiful is a good oral hygiene routine. While bi-annual dental checkups and cleanings are a good starting point, without daily maintenance teeth can be subjected to bacteria, plaque, and eventual decay. Speak with your dentist about the best way for you to care for your teeth and gums at home, and in the meantime follow these simple steps to keep your smile brilliant.
- Brushing Your Teeth: While most dentists recommend that patients brush after every meal or three times daily, many people have busy schedules that simply do not permit this. However, at the very least, all children over three and all adults should be brushing their teeth at least two times every day. Furthermore, it is not only the frequency with which people brush, but also their brushing technique that truly affects oral health. Too little brushing may allow plaque to settle into crevices in the mouth and may lead to decay, cavities, and possible tooth loss. Too much brushing, or brushing too hard, may damage delicate gum tissues and can also lead to tooth loss and periodontal disease. It is recommended that adults use a soft-bristle toothbrush that it is ADA-approved. You should replace your brush every two to three months and whenever you have been ill so as not to transfer germs. Brush in soft, circular motions to remove the most plaque, and try to brush your teeth for at least a full two minutes every time to ensure a thorough cleaning.
- Flossing Your Teeth: Even those who are vigilant about brushing their teeth often overlook the importance of flossing. Bacteria, food, and decay can live in the tight spaces between teeth and below the gum line, and are not always removed by brushing. To get at these parts of the mouth, flossing is truly the most effective method. Dentists recommend that adult patients floss at least once every day. For the first several days of flossing, patients may encounter sore or bleeding gums. This is very common, but if the bleeding persists beyond the first week, it is a good idea to speak with your dentist as you may be suffering from periodontal disease or some other oral health problem. The best way to floss is to use a piece of floss that is about 18 inches long. Ease this piece of floss between teeth, moving the floss up and down several times, making sure to curve the floss around the gum line.
Dental insurance is offered by most employers to offset the cost of dental care. Patients can also register for their own independent insurance if they are not offered a plan by their employer, or would prefer a different policy. Most dental offices accept a number of insurance plans, and some even work with labor union members to provide affordable dental care.
As insurance does not always cover the full cost of treatment, or cosmetic dentistry treatments, patients may be asked to pay the balance immediately before or after their visit, or may be billed at a later date, according to the dental office's policy. While many dentists and their staff are happy to inform patients of what is and is not covered by their insurance, this is a courtesy--they are not required to find or provide this information. For a full disclosure of what a policy covers, the policy holder must contact the insurance company directly.
In many cases, dental insurance does not cover the total cost of treatment. This is especially the case with elective procedures, such as restorative and cosmetic work. In these situations, most dentists offer dentistry financing through Care Credit® or a similar dentistry financing company. When patients work with a financing company to cover any remaining costs, they are able to make monthly payments rather than pay a lump sum. This removes much of the financial burden from more extensive treatments.
Dental Guide for Babies and Toddlers
While most children do not visit the dentist for the first time until they are three years old or older, parents should be aware that young teeth and gums need just as much attention as adult teeth and gums do. However, the development of strong and healthy tooth and mouth structure is very important to a baby's appearance, biting, chewing, and speech development. While there is no need to "brush" a baby's teeth, parents should wipe baby teeth and gums with a warm cloth to dislodge any potential bacteria.
As young children begin to develop teeth, it is important for parents to discourage thumb sucking, which can interfere with the growth and placement of new teeth and even the formation of important structures in the mouth.
Dental Guide for Children
Children should be encouraged to brush their own teeth sometime between the ages of two and three. Most pediatric and family dentists advise that parents begin by brushing the child's teeth, and then gradually encourage the child to brush on his or her own. Even though the results may not be perfect, it is important that children be encouraged to develop healthy oral hygiene routines. Parents can always help with the more difficult spots to ensure a thorough cleaning.
Many dentists recommend that children make their first dental visit at roughly the age of three. During a child's first exam, a general examination of the teeth and gums will be performed and X-rays will be taken. When children are between the ages of 7 and 12, parents may choose to begin working with an orthodontist to plan any necessary treatment.
As your children grow older, your pediatric dentist will monitor developing permanent teeth to be sure they come in healthy and straight. If, because of genetics or another reason, permanent teeth do not come in properly, your pediatric dentist will guide you to orthodontic solutions for aligning teeth, including braces, so that your children's teeth develop into a beautiful smile. For children who have extreme dental anxiety, a pediatric dentist can recommend safe sedation dentistry procedures.
Dental Guide for Teens
Many parents find that as their children enter their teenage years, they become less vigilant about maintaining a healthy oral hygiene routine. Teens tend to eat more sugary snacks and drink more soda than younger children do, so it is especially important that they brush and floss regularly. Furthermore, many teenagers keep irregular schedules, and may not be as dedicated to regular brushing and flossing as younger children or adults.
This lack of brushing may lead to periodontal disease, tooth decay requiring root canal therapy, tooth extraction, and a host of other serious problems. It is important, therefore, that parents and dental professionals work together to educate teens as to why oral hygiene is important and about the best ways to preserve the health of the teeth and gums.
- Orthodontic Treatment for Teens: Many teenagers undergo orthodontic treatment to straighten teeth, properly align the jaw, and correct bite abnormalities. While orthodontic care for teenagers is very common in the United States, many self-conscious teenagers dread the prospect of having a silver braces. Fortunately, advanced technology in the form of invisible braces such as the Invisalign® system and natural-looking porcelain veneers enable patients to correct the appearance of their teeth relatively discreetly.
- Wisdom Teeth Removal and Teenagers: The wisdom teeth typically begin to come in between the ages of 17 and 25, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. If the wisdom teeth are not extracted before they grow in, they can affect the placement of other teeth and cause crowding. Further, as the wisdom teeth come in, the roots become longer and make the removal process more complicated. In order to maintain proper alignment of the teeth and avoid wisdom teeth impaction, dentists recommend that teens have their wisdom teeth removed before they have a chance to grow in. Indeed, many teenagers have their wisdom teeth extracted during their early teens. It is important that teenagers undergo a dental exam and have X-rays of their wisdom teeth taken; a dentist can help teens and their parents decide if and when wisdom teeth should be removed.
Dental Care Guide for Adults
Unfortunately, it is very common for adults to neglect proper care of their teeth and gums, and many of these adults fail to seek the dental treatment they need. While most parents work to impress upon their children the importance of good dental health, many forget this vital lesson as adults, often waiting until a minor dental problem develops into a dental emergency before they solicit treatment. The truth is that it is highly important for people of all ages to be proactive in preserving their oral health. The following are the types of dental work most commonly performed on adults:
- Cosmetic Dentistry: Many adult dental patients have teeth that are discolored, chipped, or otherwise aesthetically flawed. For this reason, cosmetic dentistry treatments such as teeth whitening and the placement of porcelain veneers are becoming increasingly popular.
- Restorative Dentistry: As we age, our teeth may become brittle and weak, especially in the absence of a strong oral hygiene routine. Many adult patients are now finding that years of neglecting their teeth and gums have lead to tooth loss, weakened teeth, and decay. When patients are missing teeth, a good restorative dentist may recommend a crown, dentures, or even dental implants to restore health and beauty to their smiles. For patients who require more extensive smile rehabilitation, a highly skilled restorative dentist can provide a full mouth reconstruction to mend a variety of problems in as few visits as possible.
- Adult Orthodontics: Many adults with misaligned teeth have avoided orthodontic treatment because of the inconvenience and conspicuous appearance of traditional metal braces. Fortunately, these adults can now straighten their teeth with Invisalign®, the clear alternative to metal braces. With the Invisalign® system, patients wear a series of clear plastic aligners that gradually shift the teeth into proper alignment. Invisalign® aligners, often referred to as "invisible braces," are virtually undetectable and can be removed for eating and cleaning. In just about the same amount of time it takes for traditional braces to work, patients can discreetly and comfortably realign their teeth with Invisalign®.
Dental Guide for Seniors
As is the case with every part of the human body, teeth tend to decay, weaken, and break more often with the progression of time. For this and a host of other reasons, senior citizens often require more extensive reconstructive dental care than younger patients. Since some seniors may be limited in activity or unable to get around on their own, these patients may forego regular dental checkups and even routine maintenance at home. It is important for senior citizens to know that it is never too late to preserve and protect the health of one's teeth and gums. Although teeth may weaken with time, modern dentistry offers a number of solutions to ensure that even senior citizens can enjoy a healthy and beautiful smile for life.
- Restorative Dentistry: Some restorative dentistry treatments commonly sought by seniors include dental crowns, bridges, the replacement of traditional fillings with metal-free fillings, and the use of dentures or dental implants to fill gaps left by missing teeth. If a patient has a number of teeth that are extensively damaged, his or her restorative dentist may recommend a full mouth reconstruction.
- Dentures and Dental Implants: For many seniors, their main dental goal is to replace teeth that have been lost, for whatever reason. Missing teeth pose more than an aesthetic issue; surrounding teeth may shift out of position toward gaps, bacteria is more likely to grow in food trapped in these gaps, and the ability to chew and speak can be severely compromised. While a dental crown or a crown and bridge system may be used to replace one or two teeth, many seniors need a more comprehensive solution such as dentures or dental implants. Dentures are custom-made, removable replacement teeth. They can be constructed to replace just a few teeth or an entire set, depending on the patient's needs.
- Periodontics and Gum Disease: Another common dental issue faced by senior citizens is periodontal, or gum disease. As gum disease has been tied to heart disease and some types of cancer, it is very important that patients of all ages undergo regular periodontal screening.
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