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Preventive dentistry, also called preventative dentistry, is the branch of dentistry aimed at preventing tooth decay, damage or disease and maintaining proper functioning of the mastication or chewing process. This is accomplished primarily through good oral hygiene and maintenance practices. Preventive dentistry has three levels: primary, secondary and tertiary.
Brushing and flossing as well as the use of dental rinses and medicinal mouthwashes are by far the most common preventive dentistry practices and are examples of primary preventive dentistry. Brushing or cleaning of teeth has been practiced in almost every culture around the world for centuries. In some areas of the world, primitive people may use the frayed end of a green twig as a rudimentary tooth brush. Brushing and flossing removes debris, reduces the build-up of plaque, and reduces the level of harmful bacteria in the mouth.
Another type of primary preventive dentistry is practiced by many municipal water utilities and is called fluoridation. Fluoridation is the addition of very small amounts of the element fluorine to the water supply in the form of fluorine compounds. It has been shown, in studies conducted by the American Dental Association and other organizations, to reduce the incidence of tooth decay by as much as 40%. Fluoridation has been widely implemented in the United States since its introduction in 1945 and is practiced in many other developed areas around the world as well.
Regular dental exams and tooth cleaning by a dental health care professional are key elements of any preventive dentistry program. Visiting a dentist regularly and having your teeth cleaned are effective and important methods for maintaining oral health. Cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove plaque that is not removed by regular brushing and flossing. Plaque is a build-up of microbes and bacteria that can cause tooth decay and gum disease, both of which can lead to tooth loss.
Secondary preventive dentistry may include such procedures as the filling of cavities, root canals, tooth restoration, application of dental sealants or installation of caps and crowns. Removal of broken or impacted teeth, especially the rear molars known as wisdom teeth, is a very common type of secondary preventive dentistry. All of these practices are aimed at preventing further damage, disease or infection by repairing or removing the damaged tooth or tissue. Repairs of dental prostheses such as a broken bridges are considered tertiary preventions.