Give yourself the best gift this year — a healthy mouth! Go for regular hygiene cleanings with the most advanced preventive techniques. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re a “big fat zero!”
“We rate oral health from zero to four, with zero being most healthy,” says Dr. Daniel Deutsch, at the Washington Center for Dentistry. “We are aggressive when it comes to prevention. With many patients already aware of the oral-health-body-health-connection, we work hard to knock that number down as low as we can. Patients love a clear message they can really relate to. No one wants to be a five—when zero is the best!”
Dr. Deutsch says that in the new world of modern dentistry finding out your dental number is the first step in making sure you’re on the right path to health. “The latest science is clear,” he says. “We can’t be healthy without a healthy mouth! Every organ of the body is affected by oral health. The good news is that with excellent oral hygiene and excellent overall care, gum disease is preventable and your teeth can last a lifetime. Taking proper care of your mouth is just as important as taking care of the rest of your body.”
Here’s how the rating system works:
0 – A healthy mouth with no bleeding, small, tight space between teeth and gum, no bone loss on X-Ray.
1 – Gingivitis, gum inflammation, with bleeding, unhealthy space or gap between teeth and gum tissue, no bone loss on X-Ray.
2 – Early gum disease, with bleeding, unhealthy space or gap between teeth and gum, slight bone loss on X-Ray.
3 – Moderate gum disease, with bleeding, large gaps between teeth and gum, moderate bone loss.
4 – Severe gum disease, bleeding, large space between gum and teeth, severe bone loss.
So, what should patients expect from a top-notch hygiene cleaning visit?
Check for healthy pink gums. Gum tissue should fit tightly around each tooth, no bleeding when probing with an instrument. Bleeding is a big deal. The culprit is bacteria growing around the gums. It can turn into a sandpaper-like substance called plaque. If it is not removed, the plaque irritates, and gums become inflamed. Getting to it soon prevents infection from getting severe, a key factor in optimal care—and keeping your teeth.
“Using results from the oral exam and X-Rays, we diagnose problems well before they are visible or painful,” says Dr. Deutsch. “That’s why we say dental hygiene visits are the least invasive, least expensive, most important, clinical appointments in dentistry. And since current findings have changed protocols, no bleeding is tolerated. Bleeding means infection. And that means we need to eliminate it. “
He also notes the theme in modern medicine is tracking inflammation in the body. Inflammation is related to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and many other medical problems. Inflamed, red gum tissue is now a serious issue.
While gum disease is often silent, warning signs can be swollen or tender gums, bleeding while brushing, flossing or eating hard foods; gums that are receding or pulling away from teeth, causing teeth to look longer than before; loose or separating teeth; persistent bad breath.
Check blood pressure. As a service to their patients, Dr. Deutsch and his team routinely take blood pressure readings at regular visits. This might seem trivial, but abnormal blood pressure can have serious consequences if certain dental procedures are performed on a patient with elevated blood pressure. Excessive bleeding and dangerous continued elevation of blood pressure during treatment are complications that might increase risk for heart attack and stroke. Since many patients visit the dentist more than they visit their physician, more and more dentists are checking blood pressure.
Check for oral cancer. Did you know that about four percent of all cancers are oral cancers? And did you know that oral cancer is considered to be among the more dangerous cancers, with some of the lowest rates of cure. That’s why oral cancer screening at the dentist is essential. Early detection is key. Hygienists routinely check for irregularities and lesions in the entire mouth, including the tongue and salivary glands.
Check muscles of the jaw. The TMJ or tempramandibular joint is located where the mandible (jaw) meets the temporal section of the skull. “It is the most unique joint in the body,” says Dr. Deutsch. “Not only does it have a hinge, but it moves in every direction—forward, backward, sideways. No other joint in the body does that.” He notes that the TMJ performs powerful as well as delicate movements, bringing almost 300 pounds of pressure to chew, while using subtle muscular action to remove an eyelash from the tongue. Dysfunction in the muscle leads to headaches, stiffness, ear aches; Dysfunction in the joint leads to popping or clicking or tenderness; Dysfunction in the teeth leads to more than normal wear and tear.
Apply Fluoride treatment. In the past, fluoride treatments were used to protect children’s teeth from decay. But research over the last 10 years has shown that fluoride treatments not only strengthen and protect the teeth of adults, but fluoride is more than 85 percent effective in decreasing bacteria and making teeth more resistant to decay. “Being able to offer fluoride to adults with such exemplary results is one of the significant changes in routine dental treatments over the last eight years,” says Dr. Deutsch.
Diagnodent – Laser Decay Finder! In the past, a dentist looking for cavities had only a pointy “explorer instrument” to probe the surface of the tooth for “soft” areas that might mean a cavity lurks there—a highly subjective method. Enter the mighty laser light! Attached by a wire to a small digital screen, the point of the pen-like laser-probe is placed on the surface of the tooth to measure penetration of decay through the outer enamel layer. In a few seconds, a number appears on the screen, showing the beginning of decay, before it even affects the tooth! The dentist quickly “zaps” it away with a painless laser and seals it off with a liquid tooth-colored filling. In a few seconds, the filling hardens under a special light.
“This is the new standard of care, to preserve as much tooth structure as possible,” says Dr. Deutsch. “In the past, we placed “sealants” on the biting surfaces of molars of children. Now we do the same for adults. Instead of drilling a traditional cavity, we simply remove the surface decay, and seal the tooth to preserve the tooth forever! The smaller the fillings, the more natural your teeth, the less chance of problems in the future. Mother Nature does it best. We can’t improve on Mother Nature.”
Dr. Daniel J. Deutsch, practices at the Washington Center for Dentistry, in Washington, DC.