X-rays or radiographs allow the dentist to see between the teeth and to visualize the internal features of the tooth and bone. Often x-rays allow the dentist to see the beginning of dental disease before it becomes a problem to the patient. People who have a history of dental problems such as decay or gum disease will have to have x-rays more often than people without these problems.
Cavities are formed when bacteria in the mouth produce acid from sugars in our food and drinks. These acids dissolve the enamel, and over time, repeated exposure to the acids create holes in the teeth, or cavities.
The most important aspect of preventing cavities is stopping the repeated acid attacks on the enamel. Brushing for two minutes twice a day removes the bacteria-filled plague from the teeth, but cannot reach between the teeth. Flossing is the only way to do that. Fluoride in toothpaste, mouthrinse, and varnish helps strengthen the enamel and can help prevent very small cavities from getting bigger. Diet is also an important factor: avoiding or limiting exposure to sugary and starchy food and drinks prevents the bacteria from forming the acid that attacks the teeth. Repeated, prolonged exposure to sugar and citric acid, such as sipping on soft drinks, is one of the leading causes of cavities.
Fluoride is an element often naturally occurring in drinking water. Fluoride incorporates into tooth enamel to repair the early stages of cavity development and it strengthens enamel to help make it less susceptible to decay. Because too much fluoride can cause tooth discoloration during tooth development, your dentist will evaluate individual risk of decay and exposure to fluoride and prescribe fluoride tablets if appropriate. Decades of research has shown that fluoride is both a safe and effective means of preventing tooth decay.
Over time, the presence of bacteria in plaque and tartar causes inflammation that can destroy the gums and bony attachment of the teeth. This is called periodontal disease. It often starts with puffy, bleeding gums and can progress to loose teeth and infection. The disease is often made worse in the presence of other factors such as smoking and diabetes. Regular cleanings and good home care can help prevent gum disease, but sometimes it can progress with no symptoms. The severity of the disease dictates the treatment, which can vary from more regular cleanings to cleanings with anesthetic below the gumline to referral to a gum and bone specialist for periodontal surgery.