Health & Safety

December 6, 2013

Exam keeps eye on enamel

Airmen are informed they have a dental appointment once a year. Some show up to this appointment not knowing what to expect. Well, it’s time to shed some light on Airmen’s annual dental appointments.

Before poking around mouths, there are a few things the dental squadron needs to know. This is where the medical history form comes into play. You fill this out to let clinicians and dentists know what medications you’re taking as well as any allergies you may have, which is vital to keeping you safe in case of an emergency.

Upon completing this form, Airmen may be sent to take X-rays to provide the dentist a view of the teeth that cannot be seen with the eyes. Teeth have a strong outside shell called enamel. This shell protects the vital parts of the teeth. On an X-ray, the enamel shows up bright white because of its density. When the whiteness is compromised, a dark shadow appears which means the enamel is less dense and decayed.

Once the shadow passes through the shell into the vital part of the tooth, a filling needs to be done to prevent the decay from reaching the nerve of the tooth. In some cases, the decay can be reversed. This is done through remineralizing the enamel by applying fluoride.

Once the dentist reviews the X-rays and checks for cavities, it’s time for the real work to begin. Anyone from an airman first class to a technical sergeant or a civilian hygienist may clean your teeth. Regardless of rank, all technicians are well trained and fully qualified to complete the job. They will begin with some scraping and a water-spraying cleaning machine to remove hard deposits from teeth that a toothbrush cannot. It does this by vibrating at ultra-sonic speeds to loosen material that doesn’t belong on the tooth. The water keeps it from overheating. This contraption will not cause harm to teeth or gums.

The next step for some is polishing, which has only one purpose: to remove staining that is too large to scrape with hand instruments. A common misunderstanding is that it makes your teeth whiter. Someone who has no staining will not benefit from polishing and unneeded polishing can actually cause damage to the enamel. Think of it as using very fine sand paper on the tooth. If there is no stain to remove, only microlayers of enamel are being removed. This can add up after years of polishing and may eventually cause sensitivity.

The final step to the appointment is flossing and rinsing. Though it may seem uncomfortable, this process is relatively quick and easy.

At this point your appointment is over and you have successfully fulfilled your annual requirement. With regular brushing and flossing you can maintain your oral health.




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