Every year I have a physical and my cholesterol checked. It always seems to run about 125. I really do not deserve a score that low, but you cannot beat genetics and clean living! Keeping you teeth in good shape is similar. Some have good genetics and are immune to dental problems, and some are not. If you are in the 99% of the population who are not genetically gifted, this weeks “skinny” on dental health should prove helpful.

I can identify four main areas of dental health. All are related, yet each has its own causes and treatment. These areas are greatly simplified for clarity and space limitations.

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How you feel about the appearance of your smile has a lot to do with dental health. Dental health is mostly a function of care and maintenance, and the better you feel about your teeth, the better you will take care of them. Increased pride of ownership leads to better care. This may seem odd to you, but I see this everyday. Allow me to make an analogy to a rental car. Has anybody ever washed a rental car before they return it? This never happens because there is no ownership. Now, let’s say that you get in a minor wreck with your new car. All of a sudden you are not interested in washing it because you are disappointed in the way it looks. The reverse is also true. There is a big interest in care and maintenance when someone has their smile improved. Pride of ownership and level of care go hand in hand.

Occlusal Disease:

You have heard this described in many different ways: TMJ, TMD, clenching, grinding, etc. This is basically a bite problem that causes too much pressure in your dental structures (teeth, muscles, and joints). If the pressure overwhelms your muscles, you will get headaches. If it localizes on your teeth, you get wear, breakage, increased gum disease, and an increase in the need for root canals (due to increased sensitivity). Joint pressure leads to joint noise, earaches, and limited range of movement. Much dentistry is done each year to fix other problems, which are really just symptoms of occlusal disease. Today, occlusal problems are easily treated.

Periodontal (Gum) Disease:

Gum disease is responsible for a majority of tooth loss, and it is easily preventable. The best line of prevention involves good homecare, and the best homecare is regular flossing and an electronic toothbrush (Soicare). If you have your teeth cleaned and checked by a responsible dentist you are well on your way to preventing this problem. Your cleanings should be thorough, and you need periodic “gum tests.” That is when the dentist or hygienist is measuring the attachment level (bone) by measuring the depth of the “pockets” around each tooth. Ideally, each tooth has 6 measurements, and when you look at trends in the numbers over time you can tell if you are loosing bone around the teeth, which is the end result of gum disease. As mentioned earlier, bite problems can lead to increased gum problems, so if you are diagnosed with gum problems, the bite should also be analyzed.

Problems with individual teeth: This is a category in itself, and involves either restoring a tooth structurally or dealing with a damaged nerve (root canal). When it comes to fixing a damaged tooth, you have several options beyond the simple filling or crown. The newest technology involves tooth colored (and laboratory made) restorations composed of porcelain like material. These are conservative, strong, lifelike, and promise to be the best choice when desiring a lifelong restoration.

And now a word about dentures for those of you who have already lost your teeth. New technology is available to the dentist to allow him to make dentures that are better than ever before. They fit better, look better, and function better than ever before. This is a welcome relief for those who suffer from less than ideal dentures.

Now you have a simple plan to improve your dental health. If you like your smile, you will take better care of it, and, you have three other areas of dental health to concentrate on: your bite, gums and teeth. New techniques are available to help you keep your teeth for a lifetime, and for those who have already lost your teeth, the same technology can help you obtain lifelike replacements. Knowledge is power!