What Do Dentists Do?

Many Americans today enjoy excellent oral health and are keeping their natural teeth throughout their lives. But this is not the case for everyone. Cavities are still the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood.

Too many people mistakenly believe that they need to see a dentist only if they are in pain or think something is wrong, but they’re missing the bigger picture. A dental visit means being examined by a doctor of oral health capable of diagnosing and treating conditions that can range from routine to extremely complex.

A Team Approach

The team approach to dentistry promotes continuity of care that is comprehensive, convenient, cost effective and efficient. Members of the team include dental assistants, lab technicians and dental hygienists. Leading the team is the dentist, a doctor specializing in oral health who has earned either a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, which are essentially the same.

The Dentist’s Role

Dentists are doctors who specialize in oral health. Their responsibilities include:

  • Diagnosing oral diseases.
  • Promoting oral health and disease prevention.
  • Creating treatment plans to maintain or restore the oral health of their patients.
  • Interpreting x-rays and diagnostic tests.
  • Ensuring the safe administration of anesthetics.
  • Monitoring growth and development of the teeth and jaws.
  • Performing surgical procedures on the teeth, bone and soft tissues of the oral cavity.

Dentists’ oversight of the clinical team is critical to ensuring safe and effective oral care. Even seemingly routine procedures such as tooth extractions, preparing and placing fillings or administering anesthetics carry potential risks of complications such as infection, temporary or even permanent nerve damage, prolonged bleeding, hematomas and pain.

More than Just Teeth and Gums

Dentists’ areas of care include not only their patients’ teeth and gums but also the muscles of the head, neck and jaw, the tongue, salivary glands, the nervous system of the head and neck and other areas. During a comprehensive exam, dentists examine the teeth and gums, but they also look for lumps, swellings, discolorations, ulcerations — any abnormality. When appropriate, they perform procedures such as biopsies, diagnostic tests for chronic or infectious diseases, salivary gland function, and screening tests for oral cancer.

In addition, dentists can spot early warning signs in the mouth that may indicate disease elsewhere in the body. Dentists’ training also enables them to recognize situations that warrant referring patients for care by dental specialists or physicians.

Why Oral Health Matters

Numerous recent scientific studies indicate associations between oral health and a variety of general health conditions — including diabetes and heart disease. In response, the World Health Organization has integrated oral health into its chronic disease prevention efforts “as the risks to health are linked.”

The American Dental Association recommends that dental visits begin no later than a child’s first birthday to establish a “dental home.” Dentists can provide guidance to children and parents, deliver preventive oral health services, and diagnose and treat dental disease in its earliest stages. This ongoing dental care will help both children and adults maintain optimal oral health throughout their lifetimes.

Healthy Teeth Play a Role in a Healthy Heart

Ever think about your heart health while brushing your teeth? Most people do not. But your oral health is more important than you may realize because it can offer clues about your overall health. Problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body and people with gum disease are often more likely to have heart disease than people with healthy gums.

Your mouth, like many areas of the body, is teeming with bacteria — many of which are harmless. The body’s natural defenses and good oral health care can keep these bacteria under control. However, poor oral hygiene can cause bacteria to reach levels that may lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

Gum disease itself is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and that there is a link between clogged arteries and gum disease. Studies have found that bacteria in the mouth, and the inflammation associated with gum disease, play a role in a variety of diseases — including cardiovascular disease. In addition, research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke may be linked to the inflammation and infections caused by bacteria in the mouth.

Although the evidence is not definitive whether preventing gum disease prevents heart disease or that treating gum disease can lessen the buildup of plaque in the arteries, it is nonetheless very important to practice and maintain good oral hygiene.

Try these daily tips for maintaining good oral health:

  • Brush your teeth, twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are worn or frayed
  • Schedule regular dental cleanings and checkups
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks

Caring for your heart may begin with caring for your smile. Giving attention to oral hygiene may not only give you a bright smile, but it may just keep your heart healthy too! WCHN’s Dental Services can help you with your dental needs. Learn more or schedule an appointment with a dentist today.

Dental Emergency Tips

Knocked-Out Tooth: It’s important to retrieve the tooth, hold it by the crown, and rinse off the root of the tooth if it’s dirty. Do not scrub it or remove any attached tissue fragments. If possible, put the tooth back in its socket. If that isn’t possible, put it in a container with milk or water and then get to the dentist as soon as possible.

Broken Tooth: Rinse your mouth with warm water to keep the area clean. Use cold compresses on the area to keep the swelling down and get to your dentist’s office quickly.

Bitten Tongue or Lip: Clean the area gently with a cloth and then apply cold compresses to reduce the swelling. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, go to a hospital emergency room immediately.

Objects Caught Between the Teeth: Try to gently remove the object with dental floss and avoid cutting the gums. Do not use a sharp instrument. If you’re not successful in removing the object, go to the dentist.

Toothache: Rinse the mouth with warm water to clean it out. Make sure food or foreign objects aren’t lodged around the tooth by using dental floss. Don’t ever put aspirin or any painkiller on the gums or around the aching tooth. It can cause a burn on the mouth and do more harm than good.

Knowing how to handle a dental emergency can mean the difference between saving or losing a tooth. Time is important in saving teeth. If your tooth or your child’s tooth has been fractured, or especially if the tooth has been knocked out, you need to get to a dental office or emergency room as quickly as possible.