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oral hygiene

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Site of dental X-rays

Dental X-rays

Alternative Names 
dental hygiene

Dental care has changed a great deal in recent years. Brushing, flossing and regular dental check ups are now common. These practices have helped cut down on oral diseases such as tooth decay (dental caries) and gum disease (gingivitis, periodontitis). Fluoride in water and/or in toothpaste has also played an important role in preventing tooth decay.

The purpose of oral hygiene is to remove dental plaque from the teeth. Plaque is made up mostly of bacteria. It forms continually in the mouth. When not removed promptly, plaque can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. For most people, brushing at least once a day and flossing once a day is enough to remove accumulated plaque. Some people tend to build up plaque more quickly than others. Individuals should consult their own dentist about specific care instructions.

The most important parts of the teeth to clean are also the most difficult to reach. That is why it is important to brush teeth up to the edges of the gums, floss regularly, and even brush the top of the tongue. People who have bridges, orthodontic bands, or other difficult to clean areas of the mouth may need to use special brushing devices. Thorough brushing and flossing has the added benefit of producing fresher breath.

Regular dental examinations and professional cleanings are also critical. The remnants of the bacterial plaque hardens onto the teeth in the form of tartar. The dentist or hygienist can remove this substance. Periodic dental x-rays performed at these visits can uncover evidence of dental disease at an early and treatable stage. For most people, a cleaning and examination twice a year is enough although some people may need more frequent care.

Who is a candidate for the procedure? 
A child's first visit to the dentist should be scheduled when the first few baby teeth appear at around age 6 months. This will be a get-acquainted visit. At about 3 years old, when most of the baby teeth have come in, a child should begin having examinations every 6 months. This allows the child to get used to dental visits. Most children who start this way do not develop lifelong fears of the dentist's office. The dentist will show the parents how to care for a small child's teeth and recommend fluoride supplements when needed. Twice yearly (every six months) dental visits should be continued from childhood through adulthood.

What happens later at home? 
Proper preventative care including brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits can help keep the gums and teeth disease free for a lifetime. Common sense dietary habits, such as limiting the quantity of sugary and starchy foods consumed, are also important to good dental health.

What are the potential complications after the procedure? 
There are no complications from regular dental care. Sometimes, the gums may be sore for a while after a dental cleaning. However, the long-term benefits of removing the remnants of plaque and tartar are worth any minor discomfort.

Author: Marvin Goldfogel, DDS
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 12/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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