A STRIKING statement made by a well-known, qualified man in the area of medical education brings to focus the importance of maintaining the health and integrity of the teeth, gums, and adjacent tissue. Charles Mayo, one of the founders of the medical center bearing his name, is quoted as saying, "Preventive dentistry can extend human life ten years."
Without going into the less-frequent pathological conditions, and there are many, we find that nearly 100 percent of our population have experienced dental decay by the age of 20, and disease of the gums by the age of 40.
A report given in 1960 by the Commission on the Survey of Dentistry estimated that there were 700 million untreated cavities in the United States, and that 50 percent of the population had chronic destructive disease of the bone and gums by the age of 50.
The age-old method of solving dental problems by drilling, filling, and billing is becoming more and more inadequate to cope with the continual increase of decay and bone and gum disease. The growing concern of the general public with regard to how the laymen may cooperate to improve and maintain the health of his mouth is encouraging, however.
Dental disease can have many causes. Important among these are diet, hygiene, other systemic diseases, heredity, age, and ethnic influences.
In the area of preventive dentistry, however, emphasis is on ways to avoid disease rather than on how to treat it after it is established. The two chief ways of preventing oral disease are through proper nutrition and by good oral hygiene.
Diet Is a Factor
Diet is one of the most important means of effectively controlling dental caries. Points to bear in mind are (1) avoid between-meal snacks, (2) avoid refined carbohydrates, sticky foods, candies, and large amounts of sugar, and (3) eat a wholesome diet, which includes plenty of whole-grain breads and cereals.
Control Oral Environment
It is important to control lodgement of food particles around and on the teeth. This is particularly applicable to young children. For instance, after his teeth have erupted, a baby should not be put to bed with a bottle. The milk will lodge around the gum line of his teeth, giving ever-present bacteria the food they need to pursue their destructive job. Adults, too, should be sure their mouths are cleansed of food, especially at bedtime.
The control of dental plaque will contribute to the reduction of caries and to the prevention of gingivitis which, if untreated, leads to bone and gum disease and tooth loss. Plaque is a soft accumulation of food particles and multiplying bacteria in a sticky substance that adheres to the tooth surface. It should be removed daily by thorough brushing and flossing. Plaque control is the key to prevention of bone and gum diseases. Proper tooth-brushing methods and the use of other aids such as dental floss, rubber tips, wooden points, and water irrigation aid in this prevention.
In areas where the fluoride level of the public drinking water is adjusted to approximately one part per million, the protection thus afforded amount to about a 40 percent to 60 percent reduction in caries compared with the caries incidence in a similar community lacking any fluoridation. This adjustment can be made at a very low cost of approximately 15 cents per person per year and affords many dollars in savings,to say nothing of the possible discomfort that may come from visits to the dentist.
Topical application of fluoride is of value as a caries-preventive agent and is most strongly advised in areas lacking fluoride in the public water system. If fluoride is not in the water supply, it can be obtained through fluoride tablets, vitamin fluoride tablets, or bottled fluoridated drinking water, and is a great aid in increasing the resistance to decay.
Have Fissures Filled
Often when posterior teeth erupt, they have deep pits and fissures where the enamel failed to fuse adequately. For preventive measures, it is well to have these areas filled as soon as possible before they become decayed. The dentist can now do this with a tooth-colored material.
Visit Dentist Regularly
Regular visits to the dentist for routine examination, cleaning, and home-care instructions will complete the steps an individual can take to guide him to good dental health.