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Everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens should have regular dental checkups so that dental problems can be treated early — or prevented entirely. If you are experiencing tooth pain or have any concerns related to your oral health, your general dentist’s office should be the first place you call. Your dentist will examine you and recommend dental treatments that can help you achieve the best possible oral health. Let’s take a look at some common dental treatments and why they might be necessary.
Routine Dental Procedures
Your general dentist will let you know how often to come in for regular preventive visits; twice per year is usually recommended, though some people have conditions (such as gum disease) that make more frequent visits advisable. At your routine visit, you will receive a professional teeth cleaning to remove hardened bacterial plaque (called calculus or tartar) that can’t be cleaned at home with a toothbrush or floss. This will help you avoid tooth decay, gum disease — and the pain, expense and eventual tooth loss that can result. Your dentist will examine you for cavities, sometimes with the help of dental x-rays, and screen you for oral cancer. If any suspicious lesions are found, a biopsy may be recommended.
If any cavities are found at a routine dental visit, your general dentist will fill them (usually at a second appointment). The procedure involves removing the decayed area of the tooth with a dental drill and restoring the tooth with either a metal or tooth-colored filling material. This is necessary to prevent the decay, which is actually a bacterial infection of the tooth, from spreading further. If a relatively large amount of the tooth is decayed, you may need a dental crown or a root canal procedure. Sometimes your general dentist will provide these treatments; it’s also possible you will be referred to a dental specialist.
There is some overlap between what a general dentist does and what a dental specialist does. Many of the treatments listed below may be provided by your regular dentist, depending on the scope of his or her practice. However, there are dentists who specialize in the following areas:
Endodontic (Root Canal) Treatment. There are a lot of myths about root canal treatment, but the most important thing to know is that it saves teeth! Root canal treatment becomes necessary when the inner pulp (nerve) tissue of a tooth becomes infected with bacteria. The procedure to treat this problem involves using tiny instruments to remove all diseased tissue for the inside of the tooth, filling the passageways inside the tooth (called canals), and then sealing the tooth against re-infection. The dental specialist for root canal treatment is called an endodontist.
Gum Treatment. The dentist who specializes in the gums and other tissues that surround and support teeth is called a periodontist. Like tooth decay, gum disease is a bacterial infection that must be prevented from spreading into other tissues. This can be done with or without surgery, depending on how far the disease has progressed. Non-surgical gum treatments include deep cleanings known as root-planing, and topical antibiotics. Surgical treatments can include opening the gum tissue to gain access to the roots or laser treatment to remove diseased tissue, and grafting procedures to replace it.
Oral Surgery. Oral surgeons have hospital-based training to treat all kinds of traumatic injuries to the mouth and face, as well as more difficult tooth extractions. If you need your wisdom teeth removed because they are impacted (blocked from growing in properly by other teeth), it will likely be an oral surgeon who performs this procedure. Oral surgeons also treat obstructive sleep apnea, and place dental implants to replace missing teeth. Dental implants can also be placed by periodontists or general dentists who have received advanced training.
Orthodontics. Dental treatments to straighten teeth and correct maloclussions (bad bites) are usually performed by orthodontists — especially if the patients are children. Orthodontists have extensive training in the growth and development of the teeth and jaws. An orthodontist can sometimes intervene in the years before puberty to favorably guide a child’s jaw growth so that more complex orthodontic problems can be avoided. They do this with appliances known as palatal expanders (which widen the upper jaw) and headgear (which can pull the lower jaw forward or push it back). Traditional braces or clear orthodontic aligners are used to straighten teeth. No matter what type of orthodontic treatment is performed, the patient usually needs to wear an orthodontic retainer to make sure the teeth stay in their new and improved alignment.
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