If you have dental issues and have tried doing some online research to determine your best options, or have taken a look at the medical billing codes used for your latest trip to the dentist, you may have happened across an unfamiliar term: “prophylaxis.” It certainly seems important, but what does it mean?

Simply put, a prophylaxis in dentistry is a preventative measure you can take to avoid dental problems, as well as prevent existing issues from getting worse. It’s a term often used by professionals to describe dental cleanings, but you can take some actions yourself at home. These include regular maintenance, such as:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day
  • Using an antiseptic mouth rinse daily
  • Eating a balanced diet (including avoiding foods that can damage your teeth)
  • Avoiding the use of tobacco

As you can see, many prophylactic steps you can take are simply healthy, common-sense habits. But did you know that taking these steps not only protects your teeth for years to come but can actually prevent life-threatening issues?

The Importance of Preventive Dental Care

It’s all a part of preventive dental care: focusing on preventing problems before they start and catching small issues before they get worse. Preventive dental care, along with other forms of medical care, can be the difference between life and death.

For one, a cleaning is never just a cleaning. During annual (or semiannual) dental cleanings, dentists can look for many signs of possible conditions or diseases that you could be unaware of. For instance, persistently sore, bleeding gums — despite regular brushing and flossing — could be a sign of something far worse than gingivitis: It could be a symptom of an autoimmune disease. Other conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, can be detected during cleanings as well. Learning about and managing these conditions as soon as possible is vital to your health, so it’s essential to get regular cleanings.

Conversely, bad teeth can be the source of greater health issues. Bacteria, left unchecked, can enter your bloodstream through your gums and cause heart diseases to develop. It can enter your lungs as you breath, causing respiratory infections. Substances that develop on inflamed gums can lead to the destruction of brain cells, leading to memory problems and dementia. There is even a connection between oral health and eye health, as these same substances have been linked to vision problems — so good oral care is an essential part of your vision care plan as you age. These are only a few examples of the havoc that poor dental health can have on your body. Preventive care is key to avoiding such issues.

Forming a Healthy Relationship With Food

As noted above, you need to consume a well-balanced diet in order to take care of your teeth. Sifting through the sheer amount of (often conflicting) dieting advice online would take a lifetime, so let’s discuss some basic helpful tips:

  • Avoid “comfort foods”:  As noted on Top Consumer Reviews, “Consuming ‘comfort food’ can make us relive fond memories and experience a variety of emotions from just a single bite.” As such, it’s easy to develop an addiction to these foods. Avoid becoming an emotional eater; plan your meals logically or invest in a meal kit delivery service in order to avoid eating just to satisfy a psychological craving.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables: Not only is fresh produce (especially green leafy veggies) good for your body, it is an excellent part of a preventive health plan. They are beneficial to dental health and can even prevent the development of issues such as cancer.
  • Do your research before sticking to fad diets: Fad diets are often designed to sell a specific product and/or are often based on little to no scientific evidence. As a result, they could harm you. For example, the ketogenic diet has become extremely popular in recent years, but it could have dangerous side effects.

Seeking Help

There’s no shame in seeking help in order to meet your dental needs — especially if you live in a rural area, where two-thirds of the uninsured population do not have access to Medicaid. Here are some resources you should seek out if you need help with preventive dental care:

  • Check your local health departments: Depending on where you live, local federally funded community health centers have resources (including free or low-cost services) for those who are financially unable to follow a preventive dental care plan.
  • United Way: You’ll also want to check your local United Way chapter for additional resources. They also offer information on free or low-cost services.
  • Dental schools: Dental students can usually perform dental procedures, including prophylaxis, for a reduced fee. Don’t let fear of going to the doctor keep you from exploring this option; procedures are supervised by licensed, experienced professionals.  

These are some resources you can use to follow an effective preventive health plan.

Self-care means doing what’s right for you. It means preserving your health, from your teeth to your overall well-being. As you assess and reshape your life — for a brighter smile and healthier life — keep in mind that every part of your body is interconnected. Dental prophylactic measures will improve your well-being in countless ways.

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