Wednesday, March 30 2022 11:36

Being Well: Time to Return for Routine Dental Care

Written by Dr. Peter Patellis, Kennett Center for Advanced Dentistry

Your dentist missed you.

Although we’re still focused on being safe in year two of the pandemic, the good news is that things are beginning to improve. Some semblance of normal life and regular routines are returning.

So, it’s time to return to scheduling regular medical checkups, including at your dentist’s office. Sometimes these routine tasks are the last items on our to-do lists. Yet some—like visiting the dentist—should be among the first.

Your oral health is a gateway to your overall health. Often it’s your family dentist who first notices a change in your oral health that has implications for heart disease, cancer, diabetes or other important health issues. That’s just one reason six-month checkups are essential to good health.

Pandemic Impacts

Delaying routine dental care during the pandemic has resulted in a range of problems. Small problems can become big problems over time without proper care. That tiny cavity can grow and become a big headache as well as a toothache.

Changes in our routines can also affect our oral health. For example, long-term mask wearing may cause some people to change their breathing patterns and water consumption. These changes can cause dry mouth, which affects our mouth’s bacteria and can lead to increased plaque buildup. The decreased moisture from drinking less changes our salvia and allows bacteria to grow and affect our gums and teeth, contributing to an increased potential for periodontal disease.

To help avoid problems, take small sips of liquid throughout the day, maintain daily brushing and flossing, and limit sugary foods. But the most important way to reduce cavities and gum disease is see your dental professional regularly. And while vigilance about preventing the spread of Covid remains, long-term mask wearing makes regular dental exams even more essential.

Make That Appointment

One silver lining of the Covid era has been to highlight how safe visits to your dentist’s office are. Covid required the healthcare community to take a hard look at their infection controls involving patients and to make adjustments. Most dentists were routinely wearing PPE, working in spaces with aerosol control, and ensuring settings were thoroughly disinfected between patients. In addition, the past two years have seen new equipment and technology used to reduce contamination and increase patient safety.

When you return to your dentist’s office, here are some things to remember. Bring an updated list of medications along with dates and types of vaccines you’ve received. Write down any medical changes—surgeries, conditions, illness—you’ve experienced since your last visit. Note any changes, pain or discomfort you’ve had with your teeth or mouth, however slight. Dental health often gives a warning before serious medical trouble begins.

If you’re returning after an extended absence, your dentist may have to update your records with x-rays along with a thorough clinical evaluation and periodontal screening. These procedures are needed to gauge your overall oral health because a simple visual inspection and teeth cleaning are not a complete visit. Your dentist can’t see between your teeth or at the root level of the teeth, which why the x-rays are needed.

A complete examination of your teeth and gums, under your tongue and inside your cheeks and lips is needed to look for signs of oral cancer. Periodontal screening measures the gums around the teeth for pockets that might contain bacteria and can lead to disease if not addressed properly.

Proper health begins with the ability to eat food and drink fluids. If your teeth or gums give you discomfort or interfere with consuming proper nutrients, your overall health will suffer.

Teeth are more than a beautiful accessory—they’re a necessary tool to maintaining a long and healthy life.

Dr. Patellis has been helping patients regain their smiles since earning his degree in dentistry in 1989 from the University of Pittsburgh. A highly regarded educator and nationally recognized leader in the fields of CEREC and CAD-CAM Dentistry, he’s a current faculty member with The Misch-Resnik International Implant Institute and a former faculty member at the U. of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.