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Indiana State Department of Health

Oral Health Home > PREVENTION > Introduction Introduction to Prevention

This section of the website discusses basic concepts about the prevention of oral disease and resources that can provide you with more information on this topic. Many oral diseases have identifiable risk factors that if recognized and addressed can help prevent the development of these diseases. We will use dental decay and gum disease (periodontal disease) as examples of oral diseases that can often be prevented through preventive efforts.

***Some of the links referenced in this section may be duplicated in other sections of the Oral Health Website.***

What is Prevention?

Why do you invest the time to brush your teeth? One major reason you do this is to prevent the development of new cavities. Prevention is any effort to deter the development or continued expansion of oral disease. Brushing your teeth allows you to remove dental plaque, a film on your teeth that contains harmful bacteria. Removing plaque is important, and is considered prevention because plague is known to be involved in the development of cavities. So, in scientific terms, when you brush your teeth you are employing a primary preventive intervention (brushing teeth) to diminish the influence of a known risk factor (dental plaque) in an effort to prevent the occurrence of an oral disease (dental decay).

It is important to appreciate that dental plaque is a risk factor for both dental decay and gum disease. So, by brushing and flossing your teeth you are working to prevent both of these oral diseases.

Risk Factors

As mentioned, many oral diseases have more than one risk factor. For example, risk factors for dental decay include the accumulation of dental plaque, an unhealthy diet high in sugars, and dental enamel that is susceptible to dental decay.

Primary Prevention

It is possible for you to help prevent the occurrence of dental decay by modifying the previously mentioned risk factors. These modfications could include practicing good oral hygiene, eating a healthy diet, and improving the ability of your teeth to resist decay through the application of fluoride. These are all forms of primary preventive interventions.

Screening for Risk Factors

For you to practice prevention you need to know which risk factors you have and the significance of these risks factors. Part of the responsibility of your oral health care provider is to screen you for risk factors and assess their relative importance. A screening is an oral examination, where observations are documented. Once this is done, you will be in a position to discuss what steps can be taken to eliminate or lessen the effects of your risk factors and help prevent the development of oral disease. Therefore, visiting your oral health care provider regularly, to be watch for risk factors, is important!

Sometimes public health officials purposely screen populations for risk factors and provide primary preventive interventions to reduce the burden of oral disease in that population.

The pages that follow provide you with helpful links on risk factors and prevention of several common oral health diseases.