Preventative dental care is an important part of a general dental practice. That’s why we offer a full array of services dedicated to the prevention of dental problems. Follow the links below to see detailed information as to preventative dental services offered at our office:
Helping Patients Maintain Good Oral Health
Dr. Albers encourages his patients to maintain good oral health not only to prevent future dental problems, but because it contributes to a patient’s overall health. We start this process by scheduling all patients for a comprehensive initial exam with Dr. Albers, even if they have been under the care of another dentist. Sometimes we see a patient for the first time because of a dental emergency. When this happens, we treat the tooth or teeth causing pain and fix the immediate problem. Afterwards, though, we schedule a new patient exam with Dr. Albers before additional routine care takes place.
Comprehensive New Patient Exam
During a new patient exam, Dr. Albers carefully evaluates a patient’s overall dental and oral health. This is what patients can expect the first time they visit our office:
- All new patients fill out a general information and medical history form. Although our office treats dental conditions, an understanding of each patient’s medical status helps us determine proper dental care and treatment.
- Necessary digital x-rays are taken. In some cases, this means a full series of x-rays (18). In other cases, especially if the patient has received regular dental care including x-rays, we obtain copies from the prior dentist or take a limited number during this visit. X-rays help us establish a baseline of oral health. Depending on the patient, Dr. Albers might recommend a panoramic x-ray or 3D Image. Digital dental images can show us early decay not visible during examination, evidence of infection, or evidence of bone loss associated with gum disease.
- After reviewing the medical history, x-rays, and asking the patient to identify areas of concern, Dr. Albers performs a thorough examination of each tooth. With the help of his assistant, they chart all restorations such as fillings or crowns, and they chart all missing teeth. They make notes about defective crowns or fillings, any areas of decay, and cracks in the teeth that need monitoring. Sometimes these problems need immediate attention, while other times, Dr. Albers monitors the teeth, especially if they are asymptomatic.
- Next, Dr. Albers evaluates gum health using a periodontal probe. His assistant records these measurements and we refer to them during future visits. Dr. Albers also evaluates your jaw and your temporal mandibular joint (TMJ). He looks for signs of clicking, popping, or other dysfunction in the joint. He measures the opening of your mouth and evaluates your bite.
- The examination concludes with an oral cancer screening. Dr. Albers examines the throat, cheeks, and base of the tongue, looking for any unusual swelling or discolorations. He palpates the lips, cheeks, and lymph notes around the jaw, also looking for any unusual swelling or lumps. If he finds anything suspicious, he refers patients to an oral surgeon or other specialist for further workup.
After completing the examination and oral cancer screening, Dr. Albers reviews his overall findings and recommendations for future care with the patient. Using an intra-oral camera, which projects an image of what Dr. Albers sees onto a screen for the patient to see, he can show them areas that concern him. Dr. Albers also discusses how patients can practice good oral care at home.
Generally, Dr. Albers recommends that patients get their teeth cleaned twice a year. These cleaning appointments are important for several reasons. First, regular cleanings remove plaque and tartar from teeth. This helps patients maintain healthy gums and helps prevent decay from starting. Second, our team of experienced hygienists, along with Dr. Albers, carefully examine teeth and gums during cleaning appointments for evidence of decay, cracks, or periodontal disease. When these issues are identified and fixed early, more costly and involved procedures can often times be avoided.
Our goal is to provide good quality dental care, educate patients about their role in maintaining good oral health, and prevent problems before they arise. Our comprehensive initial exam is our baseline for future care. Prevention is key!
Cleaning and Exam
Maintaining Good Oral Health
Why do we place so much emphasis on having patients schedule regular dental cleanings and exams? Because they constitute our front line defense in preventing dental problems. We cannot stress this enough – maintaining good oral health helps prevent costly dental problems from arising in the first place.
For patients without gum disease, Dr. Albers generally recommends dental cleanings twice a year. These appointments are important for several reasons. First, regular dental cleanings remove plaque and tartar from teeth. This helps maintain healthy teeth and gums. Second, our hygienists, along with Dr. Albers, carefully examine teeth and gums during cleaning appointments, looking for evidence of decay, cracks, or periodontal disease. When these issues are identified and fixed early, more costly and involved procedures can often be avoided.
Dental cleaning appointment
Teeth cleaning has several names: prophylaxis or prophy, dental hygiene appointment, or just plain appointment to get your teeth cleaned. Regardless of the name, patients can expect the following when they come to our office for a routine dental cleaning:
- We start our cleaning appointments by having patients use a special anti-bacterial rinse. This rinse kills bacteria in the mouth before our hygienists start their work.
- We review medical histories with patients, paying special attention to any changes since a prior appointment. Blood pressure readings are also taken as part of our assessment of a patient’s overall health. Although infrequent, we sometimes get a blood pressure reading so high that we cannot safely treat a patient. When this happens, we recommend immediate follow up with their primary medical doctor.
- After these initial tasks, your hygienist cleans your teeth. When they do this, they are removing plaque and tartar from the teeth. Plaque is a colorless biofilm that constantly forms on the teeth. If not removed with regular brushing, flossing, and cleanings, plaque can harden into tartar. Tartar and plaque can lead to cavities, gingivitis (gum disease), or even bone loss associated with periodontal disease. (See Dr. Albers’ blog post titled “Should you Brush Your Teeth? Yes, But…” which talks about foods that can help or hurt with plaque formation.)
- In addition to cleaning your teeth, our hygienists floss and polish them. Flossing helps remove plaque from between the teeth and from under the gum line. Polishing helps remove any lingering plaque, helps remove staining from the teeth, and results in that nice smooth feeling you notice after a cleaning appointment.
- Once a year, or more frequently if a problem is suspected, our hygienists perform a periodontal assessment similar to the one Dr. Albers performs on all new patients. Our hygienists chart the results, and our dental software allows us to compare assessments from year to year.
Close up of a perio probe used to assess gum health
- Our hygienists perform an oral cancer screening during your cleaning appointment.
- During your appointment, Dr. Albers will come into the hygiene room and conduct a routine oral examination. He will look for any obvious problem areas, receive a report from the hygienist about any areas of concern, and do his own oral cancer screening. If Dr. Albers finds a problem, he discusses it with the patient, and also discusses proposed treatment.
- Sometimes x-rays are taken to look for cavities or to diagnose a problem area noted on examination. This does not happen every visit as the need for x-rays depends on each patient and their oral health status.
The procedures outlined above generally require an hour to complete. At the end of the appointment, our hygienists and Dr. Albers will review findings with patients and will also review proper brushing and home care techniques.
As noted above, these appointments are our front line defense in helping patients maintain good oral health. Remember, prevention is key!
Oral Cancer Screening
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is a serious disease and catching it early is important, which is why our patients receive regular oral cancer screenings. Mouth Healthy, a website of the American Dental Association (ADA), has an article on oral cancer which lists the following signs and symptoms to look for:
- A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
- Red or white patches
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in the mouth or lips
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
- Some people complain of a sore throat, feeling like something is caught in their throat, numbness, hoarseness or a change in voice. If you have any of these symptoms, let your dentist know, especially if you’ve had them for two weeks or more.
Oral Cancer Screening
Dr. Albers performs an oral cancer screening during our comprehensive new patient exam. These screenings continue when patients come to the office for twice yearly cleaning appointments. Both our hygiene staff and Dr. Albers perform this screening. They examine the throat, cheeks, and base of the tongue, looking for any unusual swelling or discolorations. They palpate the lips, cheeks, and lymph nodes around the jaw, also looking for any unusual swelling or lumps. If anything suspicious is found, we refer patients to an oral surgeon or other specialist for further workup.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Patients should also be aware of certain behaviors that are risk factors for oral cancer. Research shows that men are more likely than women to have oral cancer. Smokers and heavy drinkers are also at increased risk of developing oral cancer. Finally, there has been an increase of oral cancers related to the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted. If you have any of these risk factors, make sure you have regular visits with your dentist to screen for this cancer.
What is Gum Disease?
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, affects the tissue surrounding your teeth. The earliest stage of gum disease, gingivitis, presents as swollen or red gums that bleed when teeth are cleaned. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease, a condition where the gums may pull away from the teeth, bone may be lost in the jaw, and teeth can become loose and fall out.
We encourage regular cleaning appointments and provide information about proper home care so that we can hopefully prevent gum disease before it happens. If a patient shows signs of gum disease, especially in the early stages, there are several treatments we offer which can improve overall gum health and prevent the condition from worsening.
Signs, Symptoms, and Risk Factors for Gum Disease
The American Dental Association (ADA) website, Mouth Healthy, has an informative article on periodontal disease. It lists the following warning signs of gum disease:
- gums that bleed easily
- red, swollen, tender gums
- gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- persistent bad breath or bad taste
- permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- any change in the fit of partial dentures
The article also lists the following risk factors for gum disease:
- poor oral hygiene
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- medications, including steroids, certain types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives
Prevention of Gum Disease
Our first line of treatment for your gums involves regularly scheduled dental cleaning appointments and instruction in good home care. Patients at our office receive yearly periodontal assessments and we chart the results so we can monitor any gum issues over time. We use a periodontal probe to measure the depth of the pocket around each tooth. The Mouth Healthy article referenced above includes a short but very informative video on periodontal screenings which illustrates what happens during a periodontal screening.
Measurements of 1-3 mm deep pockets around a tooth are considered normal. In addition to flossing, which helps remove plaque between teeth, we encourage our patients to use a perio-aide. Perio aids have two ends with toothpicks that are used to clean along the gum line. We provide instruction to our patients on how to use them.
Measurements between 4-12 mm indicate some degree of gum disease, with the higher number correlating with more advanced gum disease. When patients have pockets 4-6 mm deep, we typically recommend more frequent cleanings and in some cases, a deep cleaning procedure called root planning and scaling. Because the gum pockets around the teeth are deeper, bacteria have more area to multiply and cleanings need to be more aggressive. Because these treatments can be uncomfortable for patients, we oftentimes anesthetize the area so that our hygienists can clean the teeth throughly.
When periodontal charting reveals multiple pockets over 6 mm, we sometimes recommend that patients be seen by a specialist in gum disease called a periodontist. Staying on top of gum disease is important so that teeth are not lost. Of course, we prefer to prevent gum disease in the first place and highly encourage patients to keep up with regular preventive care. Prevention is key!
Types of Mouth Guards
We suggest patients wear custom mouth guards for several different reasons. For kids or adults who play sports or participate in activities that potentially involve a blow to the mouth or jaw area, we recommend wearing athletic mouth guards. Patients who grind their teeth at night have a condition called bruxism. If bruxing is severe enough, we recommend use of a night guard to protect both the teeth and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Sports Mouth Guards
In high school, our kids were involved in sports and wore sports mouth guards to protect their teeth. Our daughter pitched for her high school softball team, which placed her at risk if the batter hit a pitch straight back at her. Our son played basketball, a very physical sport in the upper grades. While he broke his nose several times, he never broke a tooth!
When kids wear braces, their orthodontist should be consulted about proper mouth guards. We had one patient, a high school softball player, who was hit in the mouth with a ball. After numbing her lips, I spent a long time pulling them out of her braces. Yes, encourage your kids to wear mouth guards! The good news is that we have different colored materials and can often times fashion a mouth guard in school colors. Because we value the importance of athletes wearing mouth guards, we reduce our fee for patients of record.
Sports mouth guards remain important for adults. I played basketball for many years after dental school and always wore a mouth guard, primarily because I know the damage that can be prevented with their use. If you, too, remain active in sports that could pose a danger to your teeth, talk to us about a custom sports mouth guard.
We recommend night guards for patients who experience frequent or long term teeth grinding while sleeping. This condition, called bruxism, wears away the enamel of the teeth. This can lead to cavity formation or other dental problems. In severe cases, bruxing can affect the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ.
The Mouth Healthy website maintained by the American Dental Association (ADA) includes an article and short informative video on teeth grinding, or bruxism. Symptoms include:
- dull headaches
- jaw soreness
- teeth that are painful or loose
- fractured teeth
When you clench and grind your teeth at night, the problems noted above can occur. Additionally, the TMJ and muscles around it can flare up and become painful. In severe cases, the TMJ becomes so painful that patients find it difficult to open their mouths or chew their food.
Sometimes patients go through a period of stress and wake up in the morning with soreness in their teeth or TMJ. While isolated incidents don’t concern us, consistent and long term bruxing issues need to be addressed. A dental night guard helps protect both your teeth and your TMJ.
Process to Make Custom Mouth Guards
The process to make a custom athletic mouth guard requires a patient to come to our office for dental impressions. From the impressions, a stone cast is made. Rubberized mouth guard material is heated, placed on top of the stone cast, and sucked down with a vacuformer. We trim away excess materials for a comfortable fit. Finally, the patient returns for a fitting at which time, adjustments can be made.
We use a similar process to make night guards, although different materials are used. If we are worried about TMJ issues, the stone cast will be sent to a dental lab for processing. In this case, we also take an impression of the opposing teeth so that our office and the dental lab can make sure any issues with a patient’s bite are taken into consideration.
Custom mouth guards are much less bulky than store bought versions (which are better than nothing). With kids especially, something that fits better is more likely to be worn. Prevention is key!
Prevention is Key!
Our office encourages patients to maintain good oral health to help prevent dental problems. From regular checkups and cleanings to fluoride treatments and sealants, focusing on prevention furthers our goal of preventing serious dental problems from starting in the first place. Importantly, fluoride treatments help prevent cavities.
Dr. Albers wrote a blog post titled “Fluoride Helps Prevent Cavities,” which talks about the benefits of drinking fluoridated water. When we eat, bacteria in our mouth interact with sugars present in food and produce acid. Over time, this acid can wear away enamel, the hard outer surface of a tooth. If too much enamel wears away, the tooth no longer has enough protection and cavities can start to form. Research shows that fluoride in drinking water helps strengthen teeth when they are forming, which helps prevent cavities.
In addition to drinking fluoridated water, teeth can be strengthened by applying fluoride directly to their surface. During a fluoride treatment, Dr. Albers or one of our hygienists paints a fluoride varnish on the teeth. We have different flavors of varnish available, from bubble gum and fruit flavors (kid favorites) to mint and caramel (adult favorites). Although the treatment does not take long to complete, we recommend not eating crunchy or hot foods for a short period of time to give the varnish a chance to be absorbed by the enamel. Applying fluoride directly to teeth helps strengthen the enamel, which in turn helps prevent cavities from forming. An article written by dental professor who is also a mom provides interesting information about the benefits of fluoride and its safety for kids.
Fluoride Treatments for Adults
Although many people associate fluoride treatments with kids, we also suggest fluoride treatments for some of our adult patients who may be susceptible to cavity formation. As noted in this interesting article about concerns for adults over 60, some adults take medications that cause dry mouth, a condition that can lead to cavity formation. If our adult patients have conditions that make them more susceptible to cavities, fluoride treatments can be a good preventive option to consider.
Dr. Albers has the experience and training to treat many dental conditions and problems. However, we prefer to prevent those problems from happening in the first place. Fluoride treatments help us reach that goal.
Prevention is key
Regular dental visits and good home care (brushing and flossing) help prevent many dental problems before they start. To further protect against dental problems, we also offer dental sealants for teeth that are the most susceptible to decay. Especially when used with fluoride treatments, dental sealants help protect teeth against cavity formation.
Dental sealants are plastic coatings that dentists or hygienists apply to molars. Molars are the teeth in the back of our mouth used to chew. They have a broader, flatter surface than the teeth in the front of your mouth, and include cusps and valleys. Because of their location and function, molars are the teeth most susceptible to cavity formation, especially if not properly cleaned.
In our office, we typically apply sealants on 6 year molars (most children have these molars by age 6) and 12 year molars. All of these molars are permanent, and the sooner they are sealed, the better. An article at Mouth Healthy, a website maintained by the American Dental Association (ADA), explains why sealants are important. The following quote from this article summarizes why we advocate using dental sealants:
… sealants have been shown to reduce the risk of decay by nearly 80% in molars. This is especially important when it comes to your child’s dental health. In October 2016, the Centers for Disease Control released a report on the importance of sealants for school-aged children, of which only 43% of children ages 6-11 have. According to the CDC, “school-age children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children with sealants.”
Over time, sealants wear down or come off, but with proper care, we expect most sealants to last into late childhood. Sometimes, if sealants come off, we recommend that they be replaced. In combination with fluoride treatments, sealants provide important protection for our teeth. Prevention is key!