What is Maintenance Therapy?
Periodontal disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults, affecting three out of four people at some point in life. The best way to prevent periodontal disease—and keep your teeth for a lifetime—is to carefully follow the guidelines of your maintenance therapy program.
Protecting your periodontal health brings many benefits. You can chew with more comfort. You can smile and speak with greater confidence. You can keep dental costs down by preventing future problems.
Maintenance therapy is an ongoing program designed to prevent disease in the gum tissues and bone supporting your teeth. The building blocks of this program are simple: conscientious care of your mouth at home and regular maintenance visits with your dentist and periodontist.
Why is Maintenance Therapy Important?
The main cause of gum disease is bacterial plaque, a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth. Toxins (or poisons) produced by the bacteria in plaque constantly attack your gums and teeth. If the plaque is not removed, it hardens into a rough porous deposit called calculus, or tartar. Daily oral hygiene including brushing and flossing will keep the formation of calculus to a minimum, but it won't completely prevent it. No matter how careful you are in cleaning your teeth and gums, bacterial plaque can cause a recurrence of gum disease from two to four months after your last professional cleaning. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, a dental professional must check for potential hidden problems and remove the hardened plaque at a time interval appropriate for you.
Who Should Perform Maintenance Care?
The answer depends upon the patient and the severity of the disease prior to treatment. Generally, the more severe your initial problem, the more the periodontist needs to oversee your care. The responsibility for periodontal maintenance will be worked out between you, your general dentist and your periodontist.
What is Included in a Maintenance Visit?
Your maintenance visit may include:
- discussing any changes in your health history
- examining your mouth tissues for abnormal changes
- measuring the depth of pockets around the teeth
- assessing your oral hygiene habits and providing instruction
- cleaning your teeth to remove bacterial plaque and calculus
- taking necessary x-rays to evaluate the teeth and the bone supporting the teeth
- examining your teeth for decay and other dental problems
- checking the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- applying or prescribing medications to reduce tooth sensitivity or other problems
How Often Should I Have Maintenance Visits?
This decision is based upon your periodontal condition. The interval between maintenance visits varies between patients from every few weeks to every six months. Everyone's situation is different. The frequency of maintenance visits will be influenced by:
- different types of periodontal diseases
- different types of periodontal treatment
- different patient response to treatment
- different rates of plaque growth
Last, but certainly not least, the frequency of your maintenance visits will be influenced by your personal commitment to good oral care at home.
What's the Relationship Between my General Dentist and Periodontist?
Your dentist and periodontist work together as a team to provide you with the best possible care. They combine their experience to formulate the best maintenance plan for you. They keep each other informed about your progress. The periodontist may see you periodically for maintenance therapy, but you will need to see your general dentist as well. Periodontal maintenance appointments are not meant to take the place of regular dental check-ups. For example, if your periodontist detects tooth decay during a maintenance visit, he or she would refer you to your general dentist for treatment. Your general dentist is primarily responsible for your overall dental health, including such dental needs as new or recurrent cavities or changes in fillings, crowns or bridges.
Are Maintenance Visits Worth the Cost?
Without question! Maintenance visits help protect your periodontal health and prevent future dental problems. By treating disease in the early stages, you save dollars—and discomfort—in the long run. Simply put, a maintenance visit is a wise investment in your dental health. If you have dental insurance, it may pay for just one dental examination every six months. 'Because you are susceptible to periodontal disease, you may need to be seen more often. So, you may need to cover the cost personally for some of your maintenance visits.
Will I Be Protected From Unnecessary X-Rays?
Your periodontist takes x-rays (or radiographs) only when essential for the diagnosis of your periodontal health. The x-rays are shared with your general dentist. X-rays shows aspects of your oral health that a visual exam cannot. They aid in early detection of disease, an important part of prevention. In most cases, a periodontist takes a full set of x-rays every two to four years. Special cases may require more frequent x-rays.