Dental prophylaxis or preventive dentistry is a set of procedures that aim to prevent the occurrence of tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Preventive oral care strategies include a number of in-office and home care procedures.
Dental plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth after every meal. If not removed, plaque can build up and produce dental tartar. Dental plaque and tartar are the main cause of tooth decay and periodontal diseases.
When carbohydrates in the food are left on teeth after every meal or snack, the amount of bacterial plaque increases.
The purpose of oral hygiene is to minimize any etiologic (causative) agents of disease in the mouth. The primary focus of brushing and flossing is to remove and prevent the formation of dental plaque.
Regular dental visits
Regular dental visits are essential for the maintenance of healthy teeth and gums. Since most dental conditions are painless at first, patients may not be aware of dental problems until they cause significant damage.
During the regular checkups, the dentist can find early signs of decay or gum disease and treat any other oral health problems found. Moreover, some of the existing restorations may need repair or conditioning.
The dentist can also perform oral cancer screenings to check for signs of abnormal tissues. As a general rule, the earlier a problem is found, the more manageable it is.
Regular dental checkups should be conducted at least two times every year and even more often if there is a higher risk for oral diseases.
Professional teeth cleaning
Professional teeth cleaning is recommended every six months to remove dental plaque, calculus, and stains. A professional cleaning can thoroughly clean the teeth and remove the hardened plaque.
The professional cleaning can be performed during the regular dental visits.
A dental sealant is a thin composite-like coating applied to the chewing surfaces of the molars to prevent food from being trapped inside pits and fissures. This prevents the formation of plaque inside pits and fissures which is a site that provides good microscopic retention for bacteria from the plaque.
Sealants are usually applied on the teeth of children, as soon as the tooth erupts, but adults are receiving them if not previously performed. Sealants can wear out and need to be replaced so they must be checked regularly by dental professionals.
Foods with sugars and carbohydrates feed the bacteria that produce dental plaque (see tooth decay causes). For dental health, frequency of sugar intake is more important than the amount of sugar consumed.
Therefore, minimizing snacking is recommended, since snacking creates a continuous supply of nutrition for acid-creating bacteria in the mouth.
In addition, a calcium-poor diet increases the chances of developing gum and periodontal diseases and jaw deterioration.
Fluoride strengthens teeth and prevents tooth decay. Fluoride treatments are provided in dental offices, and at home, using fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinses.
Mechanism of fluoride action
Fluoride is absorbed easily into tooth enamel, especially in children's growing teeth. Once it is absorbed, fluoride binds to the hydroxyapatite crystals in enamel, strengthening tooth structure.
Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to decay and can also repair or remineralize areas in which decay has already begun, reversing the process and creating a decay-resistant tooth surface.
Types of fluoride
Fluoride is available in two forms : systemic and topical
Systemic fluorides are ingested into the body and incorporated into forming tooth structures.
Systemic fluorides include public water fluoridation (which can vary from area to area) or dietary fluoride supplements in the form of tablets or drops.
Topical fluorides strengthen existing teeth, making them more resistant to decays. Topical fluorides include toothpaste, mouth rinses and fluoride therapies applied at the dental office.
Many dental professionals include an application of topical fluoride solutions or gels as part of routine visits. The gels can be placed in common trays that are applied over the teeth.
topical fluoride application
Other preventive measures
Smoking, chewing tobacco and alcohol consumption can negatively affect oral health. Smoking can cause tooth discoloration and plaque buildup, gum disease, tooth loss and even oral cancer.
A bad bite can impair eating and speaking, and crooked teeth are hard to keep clean. It is advisable to correct these conditions with orthodontic procedures.
Calcium, as found in food such as milk and green vegetables, is often recommended to protect against dental caries. The incorporated calcium makes enamel more resistant to demineralization and decay.
Last review and update: January 2021