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National Dental Hygiene Month


September 28, 2017

Photo provided

Heather Myre - RDH

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, and while it often means more to hygienists than it does to everyone else, it also gives us dental professionals an opportunity to share our enthusiasm about preventative oral care and disease treatment with our communities. There are multiple roles a hygienist will take on in her/his career to assure we are treating our patients with the most comprehensive care possible. While the most obvious clinical role is front and center, the role of educator is often just as common and equally as important.

How many of you go to your dental office routinely for check-ups and cleanings? For those of you who do, I bet you would agree that the person you spend the most time with is your hygienist, and only end up seeing the dentist for five to 10 minutes.

The time spent with your hygienist builds a relationship between the two of you whether you realize it or not. The trust you have in your hygienist is evident when you start talking with your hygienist about treatment options and procedures. Since you look to your hygienist for information and guidance, it is imperative for us to be a wealth of knowledge ranging from our general preventative care, to more invasive procedures like crowns, root canals, deep cleanings and even what to expect during procedures at specialty offices like gum grafting, flap surgery, extractions, tumor and cyst removal and orthodontics. And if you haven't noticed, us hygienists are an outgoing and chatty bunch, so ask us questions, we like it!

I want to use my opportunity for community outreach this month to talk about the very basics of preventative care, which is the basis of my daily practice. I talk about many things with my patients (not all about teeth, that would be awful!) and usually group my education time into three main segments: homecare, importance of office visits and basic understanding of the disease process.

First off with home care, often like a broken record, I advise brushing two times per day and flossing daily. If patients are not keen on the idea of floss, I recommend using other devices to clean between their teeth which are often accepted easily. Flossing or using other devices cleans 30-40 percent of your tooth structure that is not cleaned with just brushing alone. I often recommend that patients use a mouth rinse which helps your gum tissues fight infection.

Second, I encourage patients to return to the office at regular intervals for in-office treatment and exams. During your dental cleanings, your hygienist can make sure all of the plaque and bacteria that stick to your teeth is removed and help clean areas which are hard for you to access. The dentist will also do an exam and periodically take radiographs to look for bone loss, cavities or other conditions that have appeared since your last exam.

Last, it is important to know why you do these things! Plaque is a collection of bacteria that live on your teeth and gums. When you brush, floss and rinse, you are removing the bacteria from your mouth so they cannot cause issues like cavities and bone loss. If homecare was enough, you wouldn't have to come have your teeth cleaned, but truly, it is not.

Because plaque is bacteria, if you don't get it all cleaned out of your mouth, it creates an infection. That infection starts out as gingivitis, a term most people are familiar with, which simply means an infection of your gum tissue. If it is not controlled, it progresses through the tissue and into the bone and your bone starts to break down. This is called Periodontitis.

In advanced cases of Periodontitis, your teeth may become loose, or even fall out. Both Gingivitis and Periodontitis are considered "Periodontal Disease." Did you know that 50 percent of adults age 30 and over have some form of periodontal disease, with this number jumping to more than 70 percent of adults age 65 and over?

With numbers that high, it should make sense as to why regular dental care is essential! It is also important to note that even if you think your mouth is healthy, both stages of the disease are usually painless and asymptomatic, so patients have no idea they are in a diseased state!

While I understand that access to dental care may be difficult and sometimes costly, I still encourage you to make it a priority, even if you can't come in as often as recommended. Your dental hygienist will appreciate your conscious effort to take an active role in your oral health.

At the end of the day, we just want you to know that with proper home care techniques, cavities and periodontal disease are completely preventable. Even if some disease has occurred, it is never too late to adopt and practice better home care techniques and improve your situation!


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