How Your Dental Team Helps You Maintain Oral Health
It’s a Tuesday at 10pm. You’ve just finished brushing your teeth and you feel your floss staring at you from your bathroom counter. What’s one more night without flossing? Of course, one missed night may not make a major difference, but your oral health routine is one that you should strive to stick with. In fact, maintaining the health of your gums, teeth, and oral microbiome is directly connected with systemic health. After all, the mouth is a pathway to the rest of the body.
Recent studies are showing that now more than ever we need to support this crucial bi-dirctional connection between oral and whole-body health. One such study discusses that “periodontal disease has been associated with metabolic syndrome, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and cancer,” for instance. While scientists are still researching precisely what this connection could mean, they propose that people experiencing certain health issues may be predisposed to “the onset of periodontal disease.”1
Whether you’re currently experiencing existing health hardships or not, your dentist could be a key player in helping you get ahead of your oral healthcare plan and supporting your overall wellness. Here’s what you should expect from your oral health team and how each role can help you sustain your pearly whites.
Who is on your oral health team? Think of them as the 3 Ds.
Your dentist. Licensed as a DDS or DMD, your dentist will have trained for at least four years in dental school and is typically responsible for identifying the onset of periodontal disease and carrying out a treatment plan. Your dentist can help:
Support your dental hygiene goals with regular cleanings
Remove plaque or decay from your teeth
Review X-rays and diagnostics and direct the course of action
While your dentist is considered the leader, your oral health requires a team approach. Here’s who else you might expect to see at your next dentist visit.2
Your dental hygienist. Also a licensed professional, your dental hygienist will have trained for two to four years at a dental hygiene school to earn their RDH or LDH. Prevention is key to optimal oral health, and your hygienist will be sure to screen for redflags like oral cancer or gum disease.
Your dental therapist. Focused on preventative and restorative dental care, dental therapists are a newer addition to the profession and their role can vary depending on their educational background and dental regulations in each state. You can think of them as the physician assistant-equivalent in dentistry.3
You may be wondering what the difference is between a dental hygienist and dental therapist. There is some crossover, which is why it’s common that individuals are sometimes trained as both. As we covered above, dental hygienists typically focus on prevention and helping support your teeth and gum health with professional cleanings. Dental therapists can do this as well, but are also able to tackle common dental procedures like fillings, or baby tooth extraction. They truly are a midlevel provider that can help aid your dentist in giving you the care you deserve.
Comparing types of dentistry
When it comes to dentistry, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. From restorative to holistic dentistry, here are some of the different specialities you may encounter:
Restorative dentistry: This encompasses procedures that are considered preventive or corrective care. Think dental fillings, implants, and crowns. A general dentist typically performs these procedures to keep your oral health in tip top shape.
Cosmetic dentistry: Once your restorative needs are cared for, cosmetic dentistry can help you improve the aesthetics of your smile. Fixing chipped teeth, teeth whitening, and contouring are all considered cosmetic procedures.
Holistic dentist or biological dentistry: Holistic or biological dentistry attempts to diagnose or prevent periodontal disease by treating the root cause. They typically focus on using natural or non-toxic materials during procedures and take a minimally invasive approach when possible.
Orthodontist: Going beyond preventative care, an orthodontist focuses on identifying and correcting teeth and jaw irregularities. This is the type of specialist that uses braces or retainers to improve such things as crooked teeth, overbites, or crowded teeth.
So what should your oral health plan look like?
In addition to brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day, you should plan to see your dentist once every six months, at minimum. Keeping this regular cadence increases your chances that your dental team can effectively uphold a preventative approach and stop periodontal disease in its tracks before it accelerates.
If you are genetically predisposed to oral health issues or are experiencing other systemic health issues, your dentist may suggest checking in more often than every six months. Ultimately, your dental team will work with you to help you understand exactly what your goals should be based on your unique needs.
1 Kapila, Y. L. (2021, October). Oral Health's inextricable connection to systemic health: Special populations bring to bear multimodal relationships and factors connecting periodontal disease to systemic diseases and conditions. Periodontology 2000. Retrieved October 12, 2022
2 WebMD. (n.d.). What is a dentist? what they do, when to see one, and what to expect. WebMD. Retrieved October 12, 2022
3 Corr, A. (2019, October 9). What are dental therapists? The Pew Charitable Trusts. Retrieved October 16, 2022