5 How to prevent tooth decay and early tooth loss​

Dr Wendy Tseng has encountered many patients who needed to get their teeth extracted and wished they could have prevented this.

Here she shares her experience and thoughts on tooth decay and early tooth loss and how this can be prevented.

1. Education starts early!

As dentists, we must educate our patients about oral health as early as possible, so they adopt the right habits from an early stage. I believe that prevention is always better than cure. 

Currently, there seems to be a lack of simple dental knowledge in the general population. Throughout my years of practice, I have noticed that many patients don’t even know the proper technique for brushing their teeth as they were never taught this since they were young. As dentists, I believe we have a duty to pass this knowledge onto our patients as this can make a massive difference to their lives and the lives of their families and friends. 

Gum disease is influenced by a combination of genetic factors (approximately 50% of gum disease can be credited to genetic factors) and environmental factors, whereas caries (dental decay) is mostly affected by environmental factors. Thus, we can target and control many environmental aspects to prevent dental problems, for example, diet, smoking and saliva flow. Patients could prevent early tooth loss if they were educated about these aspects.

2. Dental problems in different populations

There are also ways to prevent dental decay and early tooth loss in different populations.
As a mobile dentist, I saw that when children in schools start visiting a dentist at a young age (such as when their first tooth erupts at the age of 6 months), this enables them to get into the habit of regular visits early, which sets them up well for life. Furthermore, because infants are prone to early childhood caries when bottle feeding, it’s vital to educate mothers on frequently lifting their child’s upper lip to check for decay. It’s also crucial that the infant isn’t left to fall asleep with the bottle in their mouth and mothers should also try to wean their child off bottle-feeding when they are around one year old, to reduce caries risk as well.
In the instance of prisoners, drug use is a prime factor which leads to eventual tooth loss. I found that many prisoners were not aware of how large an impact the drugs would have on the future prognosis of their teeth. Thus early dental education would have been beneficial.

For the elderly in aged care facilities, Xerostomia or reduced saliva flow caused by polypharmacy (taking multiple medications) can play a big role in dental problems such as decay. Diet control and the prescription of saliva substitutes could help in this case. Furthermore, carers could be better educated on how to more effectively brush the teeth of the elderly under their care. This would make a world of difference as poor oral hygiene is a significant problem in this population.

3. The key to avoiding tooth decay and early tooth loss

An issue I’ve commonly seen which is especially prevalent in Asian populations is that patients tend to only present to a clinic when they are in a large amount of pain or are already in an advanced stage of dental disease.

As dentists, we should continuously educate patients on getting into the habit of regular, 6-12 monthly checkups. This will enable the dental disease to be detected and diagnosed as early as possible, to prevent the further deterioration of teeth. It also provides opportunities for us to regularly educate our patients to partner with us in the care of their teeth.

Remember that early diagnosis is vital! The earlier we pick up a problem, the more likely we can prevent an extraction!

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