Caring for your oral health requires regular dental check-ups and a solid, consistent homecare program.
Good oral health does not just mean you have a “great smile” or “pretty teeth”. Your whole mouth needs care to be in good health. The word “oral” refers to the mouth, which includes your teeth, gums, jawbone, and supporting tissues. Taking good care of your teeth and gums is considered good oral hygiene, and can prevent disease in your mouth. Primarily, the aim of good oral hygiene is the efficient, effective and most importantly, the regular removal of plaque bacteria. Oral health can also affect the health of your body. Poor oral hygiene has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, and more recently with some forms of cancer and low birth weight pregnancy outcomes. It is easy to take your oral health for granted, but good oral health is key to your overall health.
To help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, brush your teeth twice daily. If you’ve been using the same toothbrush for more than 3 months, get a new one. Always use a soft bristle brush. Avoid sugary foods and between-meal snacks and choose fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots instead. For optimum oral hygiene, floss your teeth everyday. Tooth decay-causing bacteria linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can’t reach. Flossing helps remove the resulting sticky film, or plaque bacteria, as well as food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line. During regular dental checkups, dentists look for signs of disease, infections, injuries, and oral cancer.
The most common oral health problems are tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease. Cavities and gum disease are the major causes of tooth loss. If oral hygiene is poor, we are at risk of tooth decay, and also gum disease, which affects 90% of the population. Bacteria naturally live in our mouths and use sugar in foods to make acids. Over time, the acid destroys the outside layer of your teeth, damaging the tooth surface (enamel), and a cavity forms. The tooth then becomes weak and breaks. The nerve may become damaged. Bacteria also cause gum disease, along with mucus and food particles that form the sticky plaque on your teeth. Plaque bacteria must be removed daily through brushing and flossing. After 48 hours of growth, these bacteria start to release toxins which irritate the gums and initiate inflammation. This plaque that is left on the teeth hardens and forms tarter, which is a calcified version of plaque. Tartar attracts even more plaque bacteria to the gums, causing further irritation. The longer plaque and tarter stay on your teeth, the more harm they do. Without regular professional cleanings, tartar builds up and gum disease, or gingivitis (jin-juh-VEYE-tuhss) occurs. There are four stages of gum disease. Gingivitis is the mildest stage causing red, swollen gums. It can also cause the gums to bleed easily.
Most gingivitis can be treated with daily brushing and flossing, and regular professional cleanings. With treatment, gingivitis is a reversible condition and no long term damage is sustained. This stage of gum disease does not lead to the loss of bone or surrounding tissue that holds teeth in place. If the disease is not treated, however, it can advance to periodontitis (pair-ee-oh-don-TEYE-tuhss). At this more advanced stage of gum disease, the gums pull away from the teeth and form infected “pockets” between the teeth and gums. Bone supporting the teeth may become infected and start to weaken. Over time, your teeth may loosen and need to be removed. These diseases must be treated by a dentist to avoid possible tooth loss. This may involve a series of appointments or a one-time office visit, depending on the severity of the condition.
Schedule an appointment with your dentist right away if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- bleeding gums with brushing or flossing
- red or white patches on the gums, tongue, or floor of the mouth
- mouth or jaw pain that won’t go away
- sores that do not heal within two weeks
- problems swallowing or chewing.
If you have not had your teeth checked and professionally cleaned in the last 4 to 6 months, make an appointment today. A cleaning is recommended to remove the calculus and plaque deposits that may develop in the areas of the mouth that are hard to access, even with good oral hygiene. Remember, caring for your oral health involves both daily hygiene practices and regular visits to your dentist.