Defensive Dentistry: How to Avoid Expensive Dental Problems

by Kentin Waits on 5 September 2012 1 comment
Photo: tamakisono

It seems like the first thing to go in a tight economy is dental and vision benefits. Either employers cut back or employees want to reduce all but the most essential paycheck deductions. Add root canal horror stories and the near-universal anxiety that comes with visit to the dentist, and it’s clear to see that we could all use some tips on defensive dentistry. (See also: Open Wide: 5 Ways to Score Discount Dental Care)

If you’d like stay out of dentist’s chair (except for regular check-ups, of course), here are a few dental hygiene habits to brush up on.

Brush

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that we brush our teeth at least twice a day and that one of those times should before bed. Thorough brushing removes plaque and that helps avoid two things everyone can do without — cavities and gum disease. Though it’s usually a good idea to brush after every meal, avoid it if you’ve been eating or drinking anything acidic. Acid weakens the tooth enamel and brushing within 30 minutes of consuming an acidic food or beverage risks damage to the tooth’s enamel. For a quick refresher on good brushing technique, check out the ADA's brushing guidelines (PDF).

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, don’t forget to make brushing your tongue as part of your routine too. Brushing the tongue, especially before bed, helps cut down on the amount of bacteria that’s at work in your mouth during those long hours of sleep.

Floss

In the world of dentistry, there’s a difference of opinion about rinsing with a good oral mouth rinse and flossing. Some studies show that rinsing is as equally effective as flossing; other studies refute it. But when it comes to dental health, it’s always good to err on the side of caution. Floss at least once each day to remove the finer food particles that can lodge between teeth and lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash reduces the bacteria that may irritate gums during brushing and flossing. And adding a fluoride rinse as the final step in your routine helps strengthen and protect the teeth. The ADA has a quick flossing guide (PDF) too.

Rinse

An antibacterial mouthwash is an essential part of a proactive dental routine. Whether you decide to use a pre-rinse, a post-rinse, or both, mouthwash helps keep your breath fresh, your teeth plaque-free, and your gums healthy.

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Reduce Stress

Stress can really do a number on oral health. Besides generally weakening our immune systems, stress usually goes hand-in-hand with bad eating habits and inconsistent dental routines. Unaddressed stress and anxiety can also cause teeth clenching or nighttime teeth grinding, which may eventually weaken enamel or produce tooth fractures. Explore ways to reduce and manage stress through exercise, meditation, or broader lifestyle changes.

Eat Right

As with any health issue, diet plays a major role in maintaining good dental health. A well-balanced diet that’s low in sugar can help prevent the bacterial buildup that’s responsible for plaque and tooth decay. Also, to protect tooth enamel, limit or avoid acidic foods and beverages like citrus fruits, soda, and canned sweet teas.

Be More Aware

Knowing the early warning signs of dental problems can help minimize long-term damage, prevent the need for drastic corrective procedures, and keep your dental costs down. Watch for red flags like receding, inflamed, or bleeding gums (a sign of potential gum disease), tooth pain, or pain while chewing (a sign of potential cavities or an abscessed tooth). Signs of chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, oral cancer, and HIV can also first manifest in our mouths. If you have any oral or dental condition that’s unusual, unexplained, or lasting, see your doctor.

Defensive dentistry isn’t about trying to avoid the dentist at all costs. Nothing can or should replace regular check-ups and cleanings. Instead, a bit of dental defense now can help keep your appointments routine and prevent the surprises that stress our budgets and tax our nerves later. That’s a pretty good payoff for a few small investments of toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, and time.

What does defensive dentistry mean to you? How has establishing a healthier routine helped you stay out of the dentist’s chair?

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I'm with you on everything except the fluoride. Do some research on that-- it's becoming controversial. Fluoride was an industrial manufacturing leftover that got a second life from early studies on its effect on tooth decay; however, more recent studies suggest that the benefits may have been overrated (now that it's in almost everyone's drinking water whether they want it or not) and there may be some negative consequences.