Oral Health Care

The term “oral health care” covers a range of practices that have the common aim of keeping the teeth, gums and mouth healthy. Good oral health care means that a person has a better chance of having healthy teeth and is less likely to need dental procedures. They are also less vulnerable to tooth decay and loss, gum disease and other unpleasant effects of not taking care of their oral health.

The exact type and combination of oral health care offered will depend on the patient’s individual issue or issues. For instance, a patient in the early stages of gum disease may receive a scale and clean along with oral health education to ensure the problem doesn’t recur.

It’s important to know that many practices are interlinked and are part of a bigger picture. This involves the patient being proactive about their oral health and maintaining great oral hygiene practices, such as regular brushing and flossing and reducing sugar in their diet.

Here’s a look at some of the practices that dentists carry out as part of their oral health care service, with the goal of keeping their patients’ smiles attractive and healthy.

Scale and cleans

A scale and clean is a procedure a dentist carries out to remove any build-up of plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from teeth that even meticulous brushing and flossing can’t manage.

This is not something that can be carried out at home and can only be done by a dental professional (a dentist or dental hygienist) with the correct equipment.

That’s why it’s so important to go for a regular scale and clean. Many dentists recommend it to be done twice a year as part of a regular oral care routine.

For a scale and clean, the dentist or dental hygienist starts by removing stubborn plaque on the teeth. They can do this with an ultrasonic scaler, which uses high-frequency vibration to dislodge the plaque. The patient’s mouth is then flushed through with water spray to ensure that all the plaque and small particles of food are washed from the mouth.

Next comes the scaling procedure. The dental professional uses a scaler to gently scrape away plaque and tartar from the teeth. Then teeth are polished with a special paste to help get rid of bacteria.

As part of the procedure, the patient may be offered a fluoride treatment. The dental professional applies a fluoride gel to the teeth to protect them against harmful bacteria and acid.

The result is a fresh and clean set of teeth ready for the next six months!

Periodontal care

Periodontal care focuses on keeping the gums and bones that support the teeth healthy and treating periodontal disease, also known as gum disease.

Gum disease is generally caused by inadequate oral hygiene, often in combination with a poor diet. In the early stages, known as gingivitis, gums appear red or swollen and can bleed. If gingivitis is left untreated, it can lead to the more serious stage of gum disease known as periodontitis. This is when the gums recede from the teeth, there may be bone loss, and the teeth may become loose or fall out entirely.

Periodontal care for gingivitis involves a scale and clean to thoroughly clean the mouth and minimise plaque, tartar and bacteria. This may be accompanied by root planing, where rough patches on the roots of teeth are smoothed so that they are less likely to trap bacteria.

The dentist may also correct any misaligned teeth, badly fitting crowns, bridges or other restorative work.

Patients will also be advised on a good oral hygiene routine, which may include using special toothpaste and mouthwash and flossing. Treatment for gingivitis means that the condition can be reversed.

However, treatment for periodontitis is more complex. The patient may be offered a scale and clean, root planing and antibiotics as the first line of treatment. They may require a surgical procedure such as bone grafting to hold damaged teeth in place, soft tissue grafting to replace lost tissue or pocket reduction surgery. This is to reduce the size of the pockets between the teeth and gums where bacteria can accumulate.

Unfortunately, periodontitis cannot be reversed but only slowed down.

Taking radiographs

There are many reasons why a dentist may take radiographs or X-rays as part of their treatment.

Radiographs will give a picture of a patient’s oral health and help identify issues such as tooth decay, cavities and impacted teeth.

In children, radiographs can show how their adult teeth are developing. And in adolescence and early adulthood, they can give information about wisdom teeth, the third and final set of molars.

Dental radiographs are also very useful if a patient has gum disease as they can help the dentist assess bone loss. They can also guide dentists in planning restorative work such as implants or bridges and identify cysts, tumours and abscesses.

Taking radiographs is a quick and painless procedure. The patient will put on a lead apron to protect against radiation.

Depending on the type of radiograph, the patient may stand while a machine moves around their head or bite on a block inside the mouth.

The dentist can then study the images to help plan their patient’s course of treatment.

Fillings and extractions

Fillings and extractions are a way to treat decayed or damaged teeth.

Fillings are exactly as the name suggests — they replace or fill in cavities due to decay or accidents. This helps prevent further damage and dental issues for the patient.

Amalgam, a mercury and metal alloy mixture, may be used as the filling material. The alternative filling is a tooth-coloured composite that blends naturally with the teeth, although this is not considered as strong or durable as amalgam.

This means amalgam may be used for areas that are not noticeable, while composite is preferred for teeth nearer the front of the mouth that are more visible.

To begin the procedure, the dentist will numb the area so the patient doesn’t experience any pain. Then they will clean out the cavity and prepare the tooth before applying the filling material. Finally, they will smooth the area to ensure that the filling material doesn’t interfere with the patient’s bite.

Sometimes a tooth will be decayed or damaged so much that it needs to be completely removed. This is referred to as an extraction.

Baby teeth may be extracted if they are stopping a permanent tooth coming through, or wisdom teeth may have to be removed if they are impacted — when there isn’t enough space in the jaw for them to emerge fully — causing pain. A dentist may also have to extract teeth that have been damaged by gum disease.

A simple extraction at a dental surgery starts with a local anaesthetic to numb the affected and surrounding area. The dentist then gently pulls out the affected tooth and rinses the socket with a saline solution, which encourages healing.

A surgical extraction is necessary for more complex cases, such as when a tooth has broken at the gum or to remove impacted wisdom teeth. The patient may receive local or general anaesthesia. The dentist will use surgical procedures and instruments to remove the tooth and may stitch the wound afterwards.

Removal of braces

Fixed braces are made up of brackets glued to teeth and joined with wire to straighten the teeth. They can’t be taken off by the patient and must be worn constantly until the course of treatment is finished.

An orthodontist will remove the braces. The procedure usually takes around an hour.

The orthodontist will squeeze each bracket with pliers to weaken the bond with the tooth. The brackets will be removed, and any of the remaining glue will be cleaned off.

Most people will need to wear a retainer, a tray custom-made to fit their teeth, after the removal of braces. This ensures that the teeth stay in their new positions as they have a natural tendency to shift after orthodontic treatment. Patients may wear a retainer only at night or for 24 hours for a set period of time, depending on their individual case.

An orthodontist will take impressions of the teeth once the braces have been removed. This involves inserting a tray in the mouth filled with an elastic-like material that hardens in the mouth. In this way, a retainer can be made to fit the patient’s teeth exactly.

A full scale and clean may be offered after removal of braces to get rid of any deposits of plaque and tartar that have built up.

Oral health / hygiene education

Prevention is better than cure, so many dentists and dental hygienists offer oral health education to their patients to empower them to keep their teeth and mouth in great condition.

This is especially important for children to create good habits that last a lifetime.

Dentists may offer tuition on how to brush and floss teeth effectively, including a comparison of electric and manual toothbrushes. They can also advise on diet, what food and drinks to avoid and suggest alternatives. Additionally, oral health education may include how to prevent and treat bad breath and guard against tooth decay.

Oral health education may be given on a one-to-one basis at a dental surgery. Dental professionals also visit schools to offer oral health education to young children.

Pain-free dentistry

Pain-free dentistry describes an approach to minimise pain and discomfort to dental patients as much as possible. It’s especially useful when treating children, nervous adults or anyone who has a phobia of going to the dentist.

In pain-free dentistry, numbing gel may be offered before any injections to make the experience as comfortable as possible.

A higher-than-usual level of sedation may be used so that the patient stays awake but relaxed and free of fear during their dental procedure. This sedation is administered intravenously (through a vein) so that it enters the bloodstream quickly. The patient’s oxygen will be monitored throughout the procedure.

The drugs used may actually cause memory loss so the patient may feel that the experience passes quickly and won’t remember a lot about it. This helps to minimise negative feelings about dental procedures and prevent putting off visiting the dentist in the future.

In addition, lasers are increasingly being utilised instead of traditional surgical instruments, particularly for gum surgery. Using lasers involves less cutting and blood loss and can mean a speedier healing process for patients.

The sound of the dentist’s drill is commonly regarded as unpleasant, particularly if patients are nervous or dentist-phobic. That’s why nowadays dentists may use electric — as opposed to air-driven — drills, which vibrate less and make less noise.

Dentists who practise pain-free dentistry may also take care to provide a calming waiting environment for their patients. It may be painted in soothing colours or include touches such as plants and floral displays, which are known to have a calming effect.

After the procedure, patients will be offered appropriate pain-relieving medication if required to keep them comfortable and pain-free as their mouth heals.

Great oral health care is a partnership

Great oral health care means offering a whole range of services to treat issues concerning the teeth, gums and mouth.

But treatment is only part of the offer. Prevention in the form of regular scale and cleans, taking radiographs to identify any areas that may develop problems and oral health education, to name just a few practices, is just as important.

So a great dentist will not only fix their patients’ teeth but offer treatments to help prevent problems in the future.

The patient has their part to play too in keeping their mouth and teeth healthy. Without a doubt, excellent oral health care is a partnership between the dentist and the patient, with a shared goal of achieving and maintaining a happy and healthy smile.