What is an Oral Health Assessment?


What is an Oral Health Assessment?

 

An oral health assessment helps individuals determine how likely they or their children are to develop problems like tooth decay, oral infections, or similar situations. Depending on where you live, some schools require that all first-time students have an oral health assessment performed before starting classes.   

Some types of dental assessments are conducted in a survey format, such as a “risk assessment” you might fill out in the doctor’s office during your checkup, to identify any potential risk factors that predispose you to other health conditions.   

Other oral assessments are performed through a simple screening process, such as during a free dental clinic, your child’s first trip to the dentist, or by a trained professional at a health fair.   

School-based oral health assessments typically categorize students into one of three categories: 1) No obvious dental problems; 2) Suspected dental problems that need follow up care at the earliest convenience; or 3) Obvious dental problems are noted and the child is in need of immediate care.   

What an oral health assessment is not, is a comprehensive examination with a dentist. The assessment simply serves to identify warning signs or habits that need to be addressed through follow up care with your dental professional.   

Your “Caries Risk” (Likeliness to Develop Cavities)  

There are a few different ways to find out how “at risk” you are of developing cavities. In a dentist office, some providers even offer laboratory readings or saliva samples to determine the levels of different types of bacteria in your mouth, to see if potential dental disease can be avoided.   

But if you’re evaluating your cavity-risk through a simple survey, you might answer questions like:   

  1. Do you have crooked teeth? 
  2. Is there visible plaque or tartar buildup on your tooth enamel? 
  3. Are your gums inflamed, red, or bleeding? 
  4. Do you have visible cavities? 
  5. How long has it been since you last saw a dentist? 
  6. How often do you brush? 
  7. How often do you floss?  
  8. Do you drink tap water or use supplemental fluoride? 
  9. Do you have bad breath?  

Gum Disease Screening  

Many of the same questions asked during your cavity risk assessment will also involve the health of your gums. While many people do not realize that their gums matter as much as their teeth, it’s important to know that your gingival health may be even more significant than that of your tooth enamel.   

Here’s why:  

Swollen, bleeding gums are an indication of an underlying bacterial infection. If untreated, gingivitis evolves into periodontal disease, which destroys the attachment tissues (both gums and bone) that keep your teeth anchored in place. Consequently, those same bacteria can spread directly into your cardiovascular system and lodge within blood vessels, weakening your immune system.   

We now know that untreated gum disease significantly impacts medical problems like: 

  • Stroke 
  • Diabetes 
  • Cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, heart attack, etc.) 
  • Pneumonia 
  • Fertility (men and women) 
  • Erectile dysfunction 
  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Premature labor, preeclampsia, and low infant birth weight 

Healthy gums have more to do with a reflection of overall health than you thought!   

Dietary Habits  

Sugar isn’t the only thing to avoid when you’re hoping to reduce your risk of dental problems. In truth, it’s ok in moderation. It’s more of your daily habits and go-to foods/beverages that you need to pay attention to.   

For instance, snacking frequently throughout the day produces more cavity-causing acids than if you only ate a few times a day. Sipping on a diet soda every afternoon may be worse on your enamel than having a regularly sweetened soda with your meal.   

Making a few changes to your diet can have a big impact on your overall smile as the months and years go by.    

Your Oral Hygiene Routine 

Here’s where we get to the part where most people start to squirm. But don’t lie about it. Your dentist and hygienist can always tell if you haven’t been flossing. But if you are and there are still symptoms of gum infection, they need to know how often you’re cleaning those areas. You’ll also answer questions about the type of toothbrush and toothpaste that you use, and how long you brush (is it really two minutes?)  

Online Dental Health Assessment Surveys  

One example of an online oral assessment is a free form published by The American Academy of Pediatrics. It focuses on family history, environmental factors (such as water source,) dietary habits, oral hygiene, age of the child, and images of warning signs to look for. This allows parents to self-assess their child’s oral health in order to prioritize appropriate dental care.   

Similar assessment tools are available online for adults. In addition to reviewing the above information, you might also answer questions like “how many cavities have you had in the past five years?” or “have you ever had a dental crown?” WebMD offers a free assessment tool here. 

If you have a slight risk of developing oral health problems, it’s important to see a dentist sooner rather than later. But if you don’t have dental insurance through your employer, you may be wondering how you can afford it. At Cigna Dental Plans, we offer affordable insurance alternatives. Enroll in a Cigna dental savings plan to save 15-50% on treatments like fillings, crowns, and more. Contact us today to find out how.  

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