When people play sports, or work around the house, or do practically anything else, and they injure themselves, most of the time they know about it right away, because something hurts. If we even just scrape our shinbone against a coffee-table, it will hurt us even before we see any evidence of the injury.
That’s Nature’s way of protecting us – we have pain, and we do something about it.
But, Nature didn’t build-in that kind of defensive mechanism when it comes to our teeth, gums, and jaws. Most of the time, diseases or injuries, or problems in the mouth do not produce pain or any other notice to the individual. And that’s why the absence of pain – or even any other subject symptom – can be very misleading, and fool a person that everything is just fine.
How can anyone know, for sure, just how healthy their teeth, gums, and jawbones are by themselves?
The absence of symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that all is well.
A thorough dental examination by a dental health professional is the best way to know that everything is well, or if it isn’t. And if things aren’t the way they should be, the dental health professional can make recommendations about how to correct anything that isn’t the way it should be.
There are several categories of dental health professionals:
a) Dentist: A dentist (sometimes also called a dental surgeon) is a person who was specially-trained at a recognized Dental School or Faculty of a University. The training involves four post-graduate years of study, clinical experience under the supervision of dentists, and successful completion of arduous examinations. The government then issues a license for the dentist to practice within a certain geographical jurisdiction. [For example, the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario is the licensing body that regulates dentists in Ontario. Every dentist that practices in Ontario must have a license, and must renew that license every year. To practice dentistry without a License is illegal.]
b) Dental Hygienist: A hygienist is a person who was specially-trained at a recognized School of Dental Hygiene of a College. The training usually involves two years of study, and clinical experience under supervision of dentists and supervising hygienists. Hygienists are also governed by a licensing body. [Example: Fanshawe College trains dental hygienists in a two-year program.]
c) Dental Assistants: An assistant is a person who was specially-trained at a recognized College in a one or two-year program. Some are additionally-trained to provide certain defined treatments in patients’ mouths.
Typically, a dental examination includes:
a) Visual examination of the teeth and soft tissues of the mouth by either a dentist or a hygienist.
b) X-ray images of the entire mouth, including the teeth and jaw bones.
c) Assessment of the state of the gums: measurement of the spaces between the teeth and the gums.
d) Thorough cleaning of the teeth to remove any accumulated tartar (we call it calculus), plaque, and stain – this is usually done by a hygienist.
e) Photographs are often taken to provide a visual record of the findings.
f) Models of the mouth are sometimes made, either via impressions of the upper and lower arches, or by means of digital imaging.
g) Finally, the dentist, reviews all the data gathered during the examination, and does another examination of all the teeth and soft tissues, and discusses the findings with the patient (and/or the parent, etc.) and makes recommendations based upon the findings. This process can take between 45 and 90 minutes. And, sometimes, a patient’s entire mouth cannot be thoroughly cleaned in just one session.
What is the benefit of all of this? There are two main benefits:
a) The patient now has been fully informed about what is going on in their mouth: they will know just how well their oral health is, and also if there are any issues that could be improved, corrected, or eliminated. “When we know better, we can do better.” This is a saying that has many applications, but it also applies to our attitude to our own oral health. When we know what is going on in our mouth, we are better equipped to do whatever is required to maintain our good health, or to return our mouths to good health.
b) Thoroughly cleaning our patients’ teeth is one of the best services that we can provide. We should not think about it like we think about having our car washed. A car wash is primarily to make our car look good – it doesn’t change the way it functions. But, having our teeth cleaned by a hygienist, who is trained to clean teeth, is fundamental to maintaining our soft tissues and gums in optimal health. Disease of the gums is the first step in the deterioration of the complicated mechanism that supports the teeth in the mouth. The accumulation of plaque and tartar that people cannot remove by themselves, is the beginning of gum disease. Gum disease is the primary reason that adults lose their teeth. Everything that can be done to prevent gum disease, is a step to preventing tooth loss. And who really wants to lose their teeth?
Dentistry is the only “industry” that is trying to put itself out-of-business.
a) We stress and recommend preventive measures that make treatment avoidable.
b) We provide services that prevent dental diseases from occurring.
c) We provide implements (toothbrushes, floss, etc.) to our patients at their check-up appointments so they can do their “homework.”
d) We maintain our patients on a regular recare program, so that they have a checkup and cleaning on a regular basis every 6 month, or 9 month, or other regular interval.
When our examinations reveal that treatment is required, we are able to offer a full range of services. The investment in a dental examination and cleaning repays itself many times over in good health, a winning smile, and avoidance of issues that may be costly to treat.
Who should visit a dentist?
a) Children: Contrary to what some people think, the baby teeth play a very important role in the eventual dental health of each of us. Tooth decay in baby teeth can lead to serious infections and premature loss of some teeth, and that can have a serious impact on what happens when the permanent teeth erupt into the mouth. So children should be seen by a dentist not later than age 3. And, regular visits after that help to develop good relationships whose benefits last a lifetime.
b) Adolescents: Children between 8 and 12 are in an active growing stage; their mouths are developing and growing too; potential problems can often be detected and intercepted before they become more complicated and harder to treat.
c) Teenagers: Teenagers are often very concerned with how they look, and want to have and maintain the most beautiful smiles possible.
d) Adults: While tooth decay is largely a disease in children and teenagers, adults also are prone to decay and also to periodontal (gum) disease: both of the gums and the jawbones. So it is important to have regular checkups and cleanings.
e) Seniors: Seniors have different kinds of issues. Sometimes there are difficulties with hand-coordination that makes oral hygiene problematic. Then too, with decreased home-hygiene, there can be decay or periodontal issues.
In short: Everyone should visit a dentist on a regular basis their entire lives. And, while everywhere else in the body, pain is the first sign that something needs attention, in the mouth that is usually not the case, and when pain develops and persists, it is a sign that something is seriously wrong. It is best not to let that happen.