As Seen in Metropolitan Health
By Charles W. Martin, D.D.S.
Long gone are the days of dentistry when the visit to the dentist’s office was synonymous with pain. Yet, many people still live with the false impression that dentists are like those seen in the Laurel and Hardy movies with outdated equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today, the word gentle is actually being applied to many dental practices as a result of modern technological advancements. In fact, even the philosophy behind dentistry has transformed into one of “Comprehensive Dentistry.”
Back in the old days you only called the dentist when you had a problem. Today the modern dentist and the patient are working together to develop a personalized program that will improve the patient’s ability to chew, smile and feel healthy forever. That’s the basis behind comprehensive dentistry and it begins with a complete dental examination. We underline the word complete, because this initial exam is not a quick “look-see” by your dentist.
A comprehensive examination is designed to discover the factors causing the breakdown of a person’s teeth, gums and supporting bone, and jaw joints (also called TMJ). During this exam you will have a review of your medical and dental history, an exam of the head and neck to note any facial problems related to dental concerns, an exam of the soft tissues of the mouth, an oral cancer screening, testing for gum disease, a complete set of dental x-rays, a thorough check for dental decay, a bite analysis, and a cosmetic analysis of the person’s smile. This type of exam won’t occur every time you visit your dentist, but it should occur on your first examination date. Subsequent checkups that are part of your overall comprehensive dental program will note changes from the findings of your initial exam.
During this “complete initial exam,” the dentist is looking for those factors that cause the deterioration of the mouth and ways to improve your mouth’s function and hence your appearance. What are some of the things the dentist is looking for? For most people, the major causes of dental problems are micro-organisms and stress of bite.
Micro-organisms cause dental decay and gum disease. In fact, gum disease is the major reason that adults over the age of 25 lose their teeth. While it is not difficult to remove the sticky plaque that forms on the teeth and their roots, it does take some time and effort on a daily basis. This plaque is composed of microbes of material and it’s easy to neglect the small deposits that may be causing you great damage. It’s important that you clean your teeth by brushing and flossing every day to reduce this damage.
One of the things dentists look for in your comprehensive exam is any condition that prevents the thorough cleaning of any tooth surface. Each individual responds differently to the bacterial plaque. Some people have more “resistance” to it than others, but the key is that everyone needs to take whatever steps are necessary to remove this destructive material from their teeth.
During your exam, you will be checked for your “bite” and whether it is mis-matched. This is misunderstood by many people, yet can cause the breakdown of the entire chewing mechanism, including the teeth. The unusual thing is that many people don’t know that their bite is mis-matched. While their “mis-matched bite” can feel normal, it can actually be causing: excessive wear of the teeth, loosening of the teeth, jaw joint pain, jaw joint click and pops, fractured teeth, muscle spasms in the face and neck, breakdown of the gums, clenching of the teeth, grinding of the teeth; or it may make your teeth sensitive to cold and hot substances or sweets.
Oddly enough, it doesn’t take a lot of bite to be thrown off. There are many reasons for a mis-matched bite, including unreplaced missing teeth, crowding of the teeth, worn-out fillings, orthodontic problems, or a “blow” to the mouth (trauma)- to name a few of the major causes. Have you ever seen a person who has worn down his or her front teeth to a nub? This is probably caused by a mis-matched bite. Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in a person’s body and should last a lifetime under healthy conditions.
Computers are now used in many cases to help diagnose bite problems. One system we have in our office actually allows people to see when their teeth come together, in which order, and with how much force.
Once your comprehensive exam is complete the dentist will work with you to design a program that will eliminate the destruction of your teeth, help restore any lost dental functions and improve your appearance. There are many new ways to improve the looks of failing teeth.
Dental implants now offer people the ability to enjoy chewing, smiling and laughing, and improve their confidence over what dentures or partials have offered in the past. Today’s modern scientific techniques and materials, like those we use in our office, have allowed patients to regain the feeling and look of their natural teeth through dental implants. In fact, the advancements in the restoration of teeth through implants have caused medical textbooks to be rewritten to include these dramatic improvements in dentistry.
New orthodontic techniques are combining the best of American and European schools of training to improve results with fewer extractions of teeth for braces. In the past, approximately 85 percent of orthodontic cases required tooth extractions; now that figure is down to 30 percent. Aesthetic ceramic brackets are also now available for adults and children who are concerned about the appearance of braces.