Oral Health Is Important to Overall Health
Whether you want whiter teeth, healthier teeth or both, Dr. Sharon Albright, president of the Alameda County Dental Society, has a plan to achieve your goals. A native Southern Californian, practicing in the Bay Area since 2001, shares some common concerns about dental care.
How is dental care different today from a generation ago?
A generation ago dental care was focused primarily on alleviation of pain and preserving as many teeth as possible. We still want to make sure that your pain is relieved, but today we also want to make you look good and make sure your gums, soft tissues, and supporting structures for the teeth are healthy, because we know there’s a strong connection between your oral health and your overall health. A generation ago that connection wasn’t something that was as well understood or well accepted.
What if someone hasn’t been to the dentist consistently since those days?
Even then, they would know that there has been a lot of change in the profession. There has been quite a bit of innovation, new treatments, and new options. I would say to a patient who has not been consistent with professional care, don’t be overwhelmed. Take things one step at a time. Treatment doesn’t need to happen all at once; it can be done in phases.
Start with a comprehensive oral examination and find out everything that you need to have done then plan the treatment in phases. Complete treatment in order of importance—emergency or urgent things first to avoid pain and infection then work on the foundation for your teeth—your gums, bone, and other tooth supporting structures. This is a high priority item because no matter what your goals are or what kinds of cosmetic things you want to accomplish, it won’t last if your teeth don’t have a good foundation because you will lose them.
Once you have strengthened your foundation, start on your restorative work. Eliminate any decay and replace any tooth structure you have lost and any teeth you may have lost. At this point you will be healthy and you can start doing cosmetic things, if you want them.
What are the biggest fears people have about going to the dentist?
Most of the time when people talk about dental procedures, the stories they share are the horrific experiences they’ve heard about. For example: root canal therapy. People say, “Oh my God!, I have to get a root canal; it’s going to be horrible because my friend had one and it was excruciating.” The fact is, if someone seeks treatment while they are in terrible pain because they have an abscessed tooth and the dentist does root canal therapy right away, then yes, it’s probably going to be unpleasant. At times there is no choice when the risks and benefits of immediate treatment are weighed. Generally, however, instead of trying to do a root canal when someone is in that condition the dentist will first get the infection under control with antibiotics. Once the infection is under control, the anesthetics will work the way they’re supposed to and treatment will me much more comfortable. Most procedures don’t have to be painful. Management of the patient is key. Still, people who have had bad experiences or have heard of bad experiences will share them, and that frightens people who need those procedures performed.
What are some typical misconceptions about dental care?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that there are equal alternatives to flossing. People see a commercial on television and they think that this or that mouthwash or device can replace flossing. That’s just not true. Have you ever gotten a piece of meat stuck between your teeth? There’s no mouthwash in the world that will get that out. You have to physically remove it, and floss will do the best job. Most things lodged between your teeth are smaller than pieces of meat, and you don’t feel them at all yet they are still there in your mouth in a 98.6-degree, moist, enzymatic environment where they stay until they either break down into bacteria and acids and create biofilm—which causes gum disease and cavities—or until you floss them out.
Another misconception is that cavities are caused only by sweets. That is not true. Cavities are actually caused by carbohydrates interacting with bacteria on your teeth. Carbohydrates include sweets but they also include breads, crackers, potato chips, and more. You can completely avoid sweets and still develop cavities.
What’s unique about your practice?
Well, every practice is as unique as the doctor in it. One thing I can say about the style of my practice is that it’s collaborative. The first thing I want to know is what, in particular, you want me to focus on during my examination. Before telling you about the things I see that need to be taken care of, I want to know what your concerns are and what your goals are. My primary goal is to satisfy your goal and secondarily to get and/or keep you healthy along the way.
What if a patient is just totally vain and all they want is whiter teeth?
If they’re in good dental health, fine, we can go straight there. If they just want white teeth and they have cavities, then I would tell them that it might not be the best idea to put bleach on teeth that have cavities, because you’re going to be in pain. That’s one of the reasons to do that comprehensive exam—to make sure you’re not going to be doing any harm by doing the things patients ask you to do. Do no harm is still alive and well.
What is the most important thing to do if you want healthy teeth and gums for life?
Consistent good home and professional care. Get started by selecting a dentist and have a comprehensive oral examination done. Find out what, if anything, needs to be done to get you to a healthy state then get professional coaching on how to properly take care of your teeth at home. If you are committed to having healthy teeth and gums for life and you get yourself in good professional hands, you’re home free.
Sharon L. Albright, 6333 Telegraph Ave., Suite 205, Oakland, 510-658-1996, AlbrightDental.com