It may be that time of year – time for a dental check up. This particular type of office visit may fill some individuals with dread and despair. As a result of their fear of the dentist, these patients may put off their visit to the dentist until absolutely necessary. While dentists understand that dental phobia is a very real thing, all dentists would agree that a trip to the dentist is one of the most important things to safeguard the health of the mouth and the body.
At regular dental cleanings, dentists are able to help patients prevent cavities by physically cleaning teeth to remove plaque. Plaque is the sticky, white film that builds up on the teeth and other structures of the mouth in between brushing. Plaque is a biofilm, which means it is a host for a wide range of bacteria, both good and bad. Plaque is the leading cause of gingivitis and tooth decay, and if left untreated will calcify into tartar. Tartar fills in the spaces between the teeth and grows below the gum line. Tartar cannot be brushed away; it has to be physically removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.
Removing dental plaque to prevent decay and gingivitis also helps to prevent tooth loss. When tooth decay occurs, patients are at risk for tooth infections and degradation of the tooth than can be so severe, patients must have the tooth extracted. Untreated gingivitis leads to gum disease and periodontal infections that may become severe. These infections may lead to shrinking gums and bone loss, and allow the teeth to loosen and fall out. Dentists look for the signs of gingivitis, tooth decay and gum disease as part of the dental checkup, and if found, will begin to formulate a treatment plan with the patient to stop tooth loss and infection.
Dental cleaning during regular examinations can also help to bright smiles. Teeth become stained as a result of diet; drinking dark beverage, eating certain foods, smoking and using tobacco products all leave stains on the teeth. When teeth become stained, smiles are diminished. Some patients become very self-conscious about their stained smiles, and as a result, may avoid having their picture taken and or taking part in social situations. During dental cleanings, the teeth are cleaned and polished, which leaves a whiter and brighter smile. Many dentists also offer in-office whitening as well as take home whitening kits to brighten and whiten the teeth.
During a dental checkup, a dentist also asks questions regarding the patient’s recent health and health history. Symptoms like persistent bad breath and sore throats indicate health issues that may be more serious. Patients discuss health history as part of regular checkups. In some cases, people see their dentist more regularly than their doctors, and in many situations dentists are the first to suspect or diagnose a more serious health condition is happening with the patient.
Regular and routine trips to the dentist have been linked to improved overall health, too. Seeing the dentist regularly for cleanings reduces bacteria and helps to lower risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. For example, the Centers for Disease Control link poor oral hygiene and bacteria pneumonia infections. Patients that skip their regular checkups have an 80 percent higher risk of contracting pneumonia than their peers who keep their dental appointments. Other risks of skipping dental appointments low birth weight babies and babies born premature.
“The risks associated with skipping dental appointments are great and do compound,” Dr. Stefania Caracioni said. “Regular and routine dental checkups are a great way to make sure that the mouth is healthy and the patient is healthy.”
Caracioni is a Topeka, Kansas, dentist who understands dental phobia is serious for some individuals, but stresses that dental health is also serious.
“Patients with concerns about being comfortable or relaxed at the dentist should schedule a consultation with a provider to discuss their concerns.”
Many dentists are aware that dental phobia is a very serious condition and work with their patients to help provide a better experience. This includes dimming lights, minimizing the use of certain tools and allowing patient breaks during procedures.