Beyond the Basics:
Is Your Dentist Taking Shortcuts?
By Sheila Wolf, RDH
Most people think of a routine
dental appointment as a checkup for cavities and an opportunity
to get their teeth polished for a brighter smile. Indeed,
those two items are standard. However, you can give your dental
professional an A+ for competence if your dental visit goes
beyond the basics.
There is growing evidence that chronic bacterial
infections of the mouth are linked to a number of life-threatening
illnesses. According to the American Academy of Periodontology,
Researchers have found that people with periodontal
disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary
artery disease as those without periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is an infection, and all
infections are dangerous. Researchers have found that mouth
bacteria can be aspirated into the lung to cause respiratory
diseases, such as pneumonia. Gum infections may make it more
difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood
sugar, therefore increasing diabetic complications. Heart
attack and stroke become more of a threat for a person with
a chronic mouth infection.
Pregnant women are at risk too because a chronic
mouth infection for them could mean a threat to the health
of the baby. Mothers-to-be with a severe periodontal infection
are almost eight times more likely to have a pre-term, low
birth weight baby.
The Surgeon General of the United States in
his Report in May 2000 spoke of a healthy mouth being more
than just healthy teeth and the absence of disease. You
cannot be healthy without oral health. Oral health and general
health should not be interpreted as separate entities.
We know now that cavities and gum disease are
bacterial infections that can be prevented. An open wound
such as bleeding gums, is a perfect source for specific bacteria,
hiding between the teeth and gums, to enter the blood stream
and make their way to major organs to begin new infections.
So, you can see the importance of a very thorough
oral checkup. It isnt just about having a pretty smile
or even chewing those steak bones into old age. It is about
detecting other problems and ultimately having the healthiest
body that we can possibly have.
Beyond the Basics:
||A thorough review of your medical
history including any new medications, hospitalizations
and other health concerns.
||In addition to the obvious
your teeth a soft tissue exam should be
performed that includes your cheeks, your tongue, your
palates, (hard and soft) and your throat.
||An assessment of your gums
(color, texture, contour, bleeding, pus) and probing of
||An external exam of your neck
and palpation of your glands and lymph nodes.
||A visual exam of your head,
neck, lips and face for any crusty, discolored or lingering
sore that has been there for 2 weeks or longer.
||Checking for a change in your
bite, or any obvious clicking when you open your mouth
||An assessment of your oral
hygiene effectiveness and a review of techniques that
will help you improve.
And if you are lucky enough to be going
to a dentist who has a microscope, he/she will evaluate
bacteria levels in your mouth that not only threaten
your teeth and gums but also your full body health.
It is in our best interest
to see our dental professional several times a year. It is
the responsibility of our dentist and hygienist to check our
teeth and restore the luster in our smile, but it is also
our responsibility to make sure we get a thorough checkup.
Besides the obvious inside our mouth all the
areas of our face, head and neck need to be examined to make
sure there is nothing lurking that threatens our long-term
If your dentist is taking
short cuts, show him or her the checklist above and ask for
a more complete exam. If you get an objection or a blank stare,
then run to the nearest phone book or ask a friend about their
dentist and find someone who will go beyond the basics. We
need to be partners with all our health professionals to make
sure we are actually around to smile for a long, long time.
This article appeared online in OraMedia
Dental Self Sufficiency.
Sheila Wolf, RDH, affectionately called Mama Gums, has been a registered dental hygienist since 1971. She is currently retired from clinical practice but enjoys writing, speaking, and consulting on various oral health issues. She has authored two award-winning books, Pregnancy and Oral Health: The critical connection between your mouth and your baby, and Your Mouth Could Be KILLING You. Both are available on her website, http://www.mamagums.com/about_book.html, through Amazon, and at finer bookstores everywhere. Sheila also works with people privately as an oral wellness coach, educating and empowering people to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime, avoid gum surgery, and just possibly add years to their lives. You may reach Sheila through her website, www.mamagums.com or in San Diego at 866-MAMA-GUMs.
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