Preventive dentistry emphasizes the importance of ongoing hygiene procedures and daily practices to prevent tooth decay and other dental diseases and conditions. Effective preventive dentistry combines at-home oral care by patients with chairside treatments and counseling by dental professionals.

For example, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a minimum of two dental checkups each year for professional cleaning and management of any developing conditions. Adhering to this recommendation can help your dentist stop dental disease in its earliest stages, protecting your smile and limiting your expense.

Early Prevention

Begin daily tooth cleaning as soon as your child’s first tooth erupts. Visit a pediatric dentist when the first tooth erupts, or no later than 12 months of age, to establish a comprehensive oral health prevention program for your child.

Preventive Dentistry Strategies

Preventive oral care strategies for children and adults include a number of in-office and home care activities, including:

At-home oral hygiene. The most important prevention technique is brushing and flossing at least twice a day (or after every meal) to remove dental plaque, a film-like coating that forms on your teeth. If not removed, plaque can build up and produce dental tartar, a hardened, sticky substance with acid-producing bacteria that cause tooth decay and lead to gum disease.

Fluoride use. Fluoride strengthens teeth and prevents tooth decay. Fluoride treatments are provided in dental offices, and dentists recommend using fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses at home.

Diet. A balanced diet is a dental health essential. Foods with sugars and carbohydrates feed the bacteria that produce dental plaque, while calcium-poor diets increase your chances of developing gum (periodontal) disease and jaw deterioration.

Regular dental visits. Since most dental conditions are painless at first, if you don’t regularly visit your dentist, you may not be aware of dental problems until they cause significant damage. For best results, schedule regular dental check-ups every six months; more often if you’re at higher risk for oral diseases. Your dentist should also perform oral cancer screenings to check for signs of abnormal tissues. Especially for children, checking oral growth and development (including an assessment for caries development) should be part of dental evaluations.

Dental cleanings and screenings. A dental cleaning (prophylaxis) is recommended every six months to remove dental plaque and stains you’re unable to remove yourself, as well as to check for signs of tooth decay.

X-rays. X-rays enable dentists to look for signs of dental problems that are not visible to the naked eye, such as cavities between teeth and problems below the gum line.

Mouth guards. Mouth guards – particularly a custom-made mouth guard prescribed by your dentist to provide a better fit – can be worn during sports activities to protect against broken teeth. Mouth guards also are used to treat teeth grinding (bruxism), which can wear down teeth and contribute to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

Orthodontics. A bad bite (malocclusion) can impair eating and speaking, and crooked teeth are hard to keep clean. Correcting an improper bite with orthodontics that may include the use of dental braces or clear teeth aligners (invisible braces), such as Invisalign or Invisalign Teen, limits the possibility of future dental problems.

Sealants. Sealants are thin composite coatings placed on the chewing surfaces of back permanent teeth to protect your child from tooth decay.

Avoid smoking and drinking. Smoking, chewing tobacco and alcohol consumption can negatively affect your oral health. Apart from dry mouth, tooth discoloration and plaque buildup, smoking causes gum disease, tooth loss and even oral cancer.

Oral health management. Consistent dental care for chronic dental diseases/conditions is essential for arresting or reversing their harmful effects.

Patient education. Patients who understand the outcome of poor dental health are likelier to see their dentist for preventive dentistry treatments. Instilling excellent oral hygiene habits significantly helps ensure a lifetime of dental health.