With more than 19 million biomedical articles on PubMed (a medical literature database that healthcare providers use), it's no wonder that clinicians face a constant challenge to keep up on the quickly changing world of science. In fact, because science evolves so fast and frequently, a clinician's knowledge of best practices and treatment can actually decline over time -- and unfortunately, they may be largely unaware of gaps in their knowledge. Like all healthcare professionals, your dentist should be striving to update her professional knowledge on a regular basis.
Science comes in different levels of quality, with "expert opinion," "animal studies" and "laboratory data" being the lowest quality. The highest is called a "systematic review," and certain organizations (such as EBD.ADA.org and www.Cochrane.org) specialize in making this type of research easily accessible and understandable to both dentists and their patients. High-quality science, balanced with your preferences and your dentist's expertise, form the foundation of good healthcare decisions.
Risk assessment tools evaluate a person's risk of developing a disease. Risk assessment is a fairly new concept in dentistry but has been established in medicine for decades. Once a dentist has determined your level of risk for developing a disease, he then can use preventive techniques to treat you conservatively, potentially avoiding invasive and costly treatment later. Numerous such tools are available to help dentists evaluate your risk of decay, gum disease and even oral cancer.
No two patients are alike. In the past, all patients, regardless of their disease status, were advised to have a six-month dental exam and cleaning of their teeth and gums. Now with the use of risk assessment tools, a dentist may recommend you come in less frequently if you are very healthy, or more frequently if you are at a high risk for developing disease or have had significant disease in the past.
With the understanding that nearly all decay is preventable, national organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend that babies have their first dental visits by age 1, or whenever the first tooth erupts. Similar to well baby checkups with your child's medical doctor, early preventive visits with the dentist are proven to thwart future disease. In fact, many children with proper disease-preventing interventions never develop tooth decay.
Based on your individual risk for developing a disease, your dentist can recommend conservative therapies. Examples include prescription fluoridated toothpaste use, xylitol gum therapy, dental sealants, hard night guards, smoking cessation and diet modification. Remember: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
A caring and genuine heart is important in any profession, including dentistry. Volunteerism and social responsibility are indicators of character, of course. Seeking out and supporting those who give back to their profession, society or those living in challenging circumstances also help build healthy communities and a stronger nation.
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