Dental hygiene, also known as oral hygiene, is the process by which preventative dental care is provided to avoid dental emergencies. At the core of dental hygiene is the in-home dental care regimen you perform. Your at-home regimen is supplemented with professional preventative dental care provided by dentists and licensed dental hygienists.
While you are responsible for day-to-day dental maintenance, dental hygienists, along with general dentists, family dentists and cosmetic dentists, play an integral role in preventative oral care.
Tooth brushing is fundamentally important, though it alone will not remove the calculus (also called tartar or dental plaque) that builds up over time. Calculus must be removed to lower your risk of toothaches, cavities, periodontal disease or even the loss of all your teeth. By removing calculus, you can reduce your chances of needing root canals, tooth extractions, dental bridges, crowns and more.
Getting to the Root of Dental Hygiene
Over time, calculus builds up on the teeth. If calculus forms below the gum line, bacteria can invade and create a host of other dental problems. Furthermore, the surfaces and areas between the teeth and under the gum line must be maintained and treated on a regular basis in order to ensure proper dental hygiene. These areas are impossible for you to examine yourself; they require a professional touch.
Dental hygienists are often responsible for performing professional tooth cleaning, scraping hardened plaque (tartar), removing calculus deposits, taking X-rays, identifying changes in the bite (occlusion), investigating components that relate to the bone and setting up the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) that is used, when necessary, to relax people requiring more invasive treatment.
Professional care is necessary to maintain oral health. The AAPD emphasizes the importance of initiating professional oral health intervention in infancy and continuing through adolescence and beyond. Since no single preventive approach or program can be tailored to fit the needs of all patients, the periodicity of professional oral health intervention, services and preventive program is based on a patient’s individual needs and risk indicators.
1. What is preventive dentistry?
Preventive dentistry means a healthy smile. Preventive dental care for children includes:
- Proper nutrition and dietary habits
- Brushing and flossing
- Regular dental check-ups
- Assessing risk for developing cavities
- Evaluating oral growth and development
- Oral health education
- Protection against injuries
- Management of oral habits
- Guidance of erupting teeth
- Interceptive and preventive orthodontics
Your pediatric dentist practices preventive dentistry. Preventive dentistry for children, in addition to regular dental visits, requires parental involvement with daily oral care at home.
2. Why is preventive dentistry important?
Children with a healthy mouths have a better chance of general health. Oral conditions can interfere with eating and adequate nutritional intake, speaking, self-esteem, and daily activities. Severe decay can affect growth and development. Children with dental pain may be unable to concentrate in school. A healthy mouth is more attractive, giving children confidence in their appearance. Finally, preventive dentistry can result in less extensive - and less expensive - treatment for your child.
3. When should preventive dentistry start?
Preventive dentistry begins with the first tooth. Daily cleaning of the teeth should begin as soon as the first tooth erupts. Visit your pediatric dentist at the eruption of the first tooth or no later than 12 months of age to establish a dental home. Early dental visits are the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health. The earlier the dental visit, the better the chance of preventing dental disease and helping your child build a cavity-free smile.
4. What role do parents play in prevention?
After completing a thorough oral examination and assessing your child’s risk for developing cavities, your pediatric dentist will design a personalized preventive program of home care for your child. This program will include brushing and flossing instructions, diet counseling and, if necessary, fluoride recommendations. By following these directions, you can help give your child a lifetime of healthy habits.
5. How can parents help prevent tooth decay?
Parents should take their children to the dentist regularly, beginning with the eruption of the first tooth. Then, the dentist can recommend a specific program of brushing, flossing, and other treatments for parents to supervise and teach to their children. These home treatments, when added to regular dental visits and a balanced diet, will help give your child a lifetime of healthy habits.
6. How do pediatric dentists help prevent dental problems?
Tooth cleaning and polishing and fluoride treatments are all part of your child’s prevention program. However, there is much more. For example, your pediatric dentist can apply sealants to protect your child from tooth decay, help you select a mouthguard to prevent sports injuries to the face and teeth, and provide early diagnosis and care of orthodontic problems. Your pediatric dentist is uniquely trained to develop a combination of office and home preventive care to insure your child a happy smile.