You've no doubt heard it said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In dentistry, you might say it's worth two pounds. Maybe even thousands of dollars. That's because dental problems can become exponentially more expensive — and painful — the longer they go unaddressed. Fortunately, modern dentistry has many easy and relatively inexpensive ways to make sure that today's minor annoyance does not turn into tomorrow's major headache.

Preventive dentistry describes all the procedures used to arrest tooth decay and other diseases in the earliest stages. The goal is to keep you as healthy as possible and maintain your natural teeth for life.

Good Diet = Healthy Teeth

Healthy eating habits lead to healthy teeth. Like the rest of the body, the teeth, bones and the soft tissues of the mouth need a well-balanced diet. Children should eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups. Most snacks that children eat can lead to cavity formation. The more frequently a child snacks, the greater the chance for tooth decay. How long food remains in the mouth also plays a role. For example, hard candy and breath mints stay in the mouth a long time, which cause longer acid attacks on tooth enamel. If your child must snack, choose nutritious foods such as vegetables, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese, which are healthier and better for children’s teeth.

How Do I Prevent Cavities?

Good oral hygiene removes bacteria and the left over food particles that combine to create cavities. For infants, use a wet gauze or clean washcloth to wipe the plaque from teeth and gums. Gradually move to a soft bristle toothbrush and a non-fluoridated toothpaste. Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with anything other than water.

For older children, brush their teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. Also, watch the number of snacks containing sugar that you give your children.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends visits every six months to the pediatric dentist, beginning at your child’s first birthday. Routine visits will start your child on a lifetime of good dental health. Your pediatric dentist may also recommend protective sealants or home fluoride treatments for your child. Sealants can be applied to your child’s molars to help prevent decay on hard to clean surfaces.

Seal Out Decay

A sealant is a clear or shaded plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces (grooves) of the back teeth (premolars and molars), where four out of five cavities in children are found. This sealant acts as a barrier to food, plaque and acid, thus protecting the decay-prone areas of the teeth.

Fluoride

Fluoride is an element, which has been shown to be beneficial to teeth. However, too little or too much fluoride can be detrimental to the teeth. Little or no fluoride will not strengthen the teeth to help them resist cavities. Excessive fluoride ingestion by preschool-aged children can lead to dental fluorosis, which is a chalky white to even brown discoloration of the permanent teeth. Many children often get more fluoride than their parents realize. Being aware of a child’s potential sources of fluoride can help parents prevent the possibility of dental fluorosis.

Some of these sources are:

  • Too much fluoridated toothpaste at an early age.
  • The inappropriate use of fluoride supplements.
  • Hidden sources of fluoride in the child’s diet.


Two and three year olds may not be able to expectorate (spit out) fluoridecontaining toothpaste when brushing. As a result, these youngsters may ingest an excessive amount of fluoride during tooth brushing. Toothpaste ingestion during this critical period of permanent tooth development is the greatest risk factor in the development of fluorosis.

Excessive and inappropriate intake of fluoride supplements may also contribute to fluorosis. Fluoride drops and tablets, as well as fluoride fortified vitamins should not be given to infants younger than six months of age. After that time, fluoride supplements should only be given to children after all of the sources of ingested fluoride have been accounted for and upon the recommendation of your pediatrician or pediatric dentist.

Certain foods contain high levels of fluoride, especially powdered concentrate infant formula, soy-based infant formula, infant dry cereals, creamed spinach, and infant chicken products. Please read the label or contact the manufacturer. Some beverages also contain high levels of fluoride, especially decaffeinated teas, white grape juices, and juice drinks manufactured in fluoridated cities.

Parents can take the following steps to decrease the risk of fluorosis in their children’s teeth:

  • Use non-fluoridated toothpaste on the toothbrush of the very young child or only a smear of fluoride toothpaste can be used for children at higher risk of developing caries.
  • Place only a pea size amount of fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush of older children.
  • Account for all of the sources of ingested fluoride before requesting fluoride supplements from your child’s physician or pediatric dentist.
  • Avoid giving any fluoride-containing supplements to infants until they are at least 6 months old.
  • Obtain fluoride level test results for your drinking water before giving fluoride supplements to your child (check with local water utilities).

Mouth Guards

When a child begins to participate in recreational activities and organized sports, injuries can occur. A properly fitted mouth guard, or mouth protector, is an important piece of athletic gear that can help protect your child’s smile, and should be used during any activity that could result in a blow to the face or mouth.

Mouth guards help prevent broken teeth, and injuries to the lips, tongue, face or jaw. A properly fitted mouth guard will stay in place while your child is wearing it, making it easy for them to talk and breathe.

Ask your pediatric dentist about custom and store-bought mouth protectors.

Xylitol - Reducing Cavities

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recognizes the benefits of xylitol in the oral health of infants, children, adolescents, and persons with special health care needs.

Studies using xylitol as either a sugar substitute or a small dietary addition have demonstrated a dramatic reduction in new tooth decay, along with some reversal of existing dental caries. Xylitol provides additional protection that enhances all existing prevention methods. This xylitol effect is long-lasting and possibly permanent. Low decay rates persist even years after the trials have been completed.

Xylitol is widely distributed throughout nature in small amounts. Some of the best sources are fruits, berries, mushrooms, lettuce and corn cobs. One cup of raspberries contains less than one gram of xylitol.

Studies suggest xylitol intake that consistently produces positive results ranged from 4-20 grams per day, divided into 3-7 consumption periods.Higher results did not result in greater reduction and may lead to diminishing results. Similarly, consumption frequency of less than 3 times per day showed no effect.

To find gum or other products containing xylitol, try visiting your local health food store or search the Internet to find products containing 100% xylitol.

Preventive Dentistry Procedures

Preventive dentistry procedures range from the most basic services that have been used successfully for decades, to recent technological innovations. These procedures include:

  • Cleanings. This is where dental health starts. There's just no substitute for physically removing disease-causing dental plaque and calculus (tartar) from your teeth — especially in hard-to-reach areas near the gum line. That's why regular professional cleanings are so important to your health.
  • Dental sealants video Dental Sealants. These invisible plastic coatings fill the tiny grooves in back teeth so they do not become havens for bacteria. They prevent cavities from forming and the need for fillings later on.
  • Fluoride. This mineral is readily incorporated into the teeth's mineral structure, thereby making them stronger and more decay-resistant. Fluoride can even reverse tiny cavities that are starting to form. If you are not getting enough from your toothpaste and drinking water, it can be applied directly to your teeth at the dental office.
  • Laser Decay Diagnosis. Laser light can be used to detect early tooth decay quickly and easily, right in the dental office — before full-blown cavities form.
  • Mouthguards. Athletic mouthguards are designed to absorb and distribute the forces of impact and minimize traumatic injury to both the hard and soft tissues of the mouth. In fact, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer harm to teeth when not wearing a mouthguard. The best ones are custom-made for you by your dentist.
  • Oral Cancer video Oral Cancer Screenings. Your best chance of surviving oral cancer — a disease that affects not only lifelong smokers but also young non-smokers — is early detection and treatment. Oral cancer screenings are a routine part of every regular dental exam.
  • Salivary Diagnostics. This is an exciting new development in the field of preventive dentistry. While it is in its infancy, it is already possible to detect the presence of certain diseases with a salvia test, and the technology is developing rapidly.
  • X-Rays. For around a century, dentists have been using x-rays to reveal signs of disease not visible to the naked eye. Now, with CAT scans, they have become three-dimensional and are an indispensable tool to diagnose tooth decay, gum disease, bone density, bone volume and tumors.

Your Role in Preventing Dental Disease

There's one more extremely important component of preventive dentistry: you. The procedures mentioned above can only be effective if you come in to the dental office to take advantage of them. Likewise, the importance of maintaining a good oral hygiene routine at home cannot be overstated. Daily effective brushing and flossing will go a long way toward removing the dental plaque responsible for dental disease, tooth loss, and the need for more complex dental treatment.

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