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Dental Care Basics

Your mouth works hard for you. It makes it possible to speak, eat, drink and smile, not to mention whistle, sing and kiss. In addition to these essential functions, the condition of your mouth plays a vital role in your overall health, serving as the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, explains Mayo Clinic. This makes good oral hygiene practices at home and regular visits with your dental care provider essential for keeping your teeth and gums healthy. It also helps to reduce your risk of various conditions, including cardiovascular disease, pneumonia and certain types of cancers.

You should become familiar with the following important aspects of dental care to help keep everyone in your family smiling brightly.

Understanding Plaque Attacks

Plaque has a justifiably bad reputation. This sticky, clear film that’s constantly forming on your teeth harbors the bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.

After you eat a snack or meal containing starch or sugar, the bacteria in plaque release acids that attack your tooth’s enamel, its thin outer covering. Although enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body, repeated attacks from plaque acids can weaken it, leaving the tooth susceptible to cavities.

Plaque that isn’t removed with daily brushing and flossing builds up on the teeth and along the gumline, where it hardens into calculus or tartar deposits. This process is the perfect setup for developing gum inflammation, also known as gingivitis.

Learning to Spot Gingivitis

Gingivitis is a common condition that affects about 75% of all Americans to some degree in their lifetime. It’s also the leading cause of bleeding gums in adults. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum (periodontal) disease, but it’s reversible with proper dental care if caught early.

Gingivitis often doesn’t cause pain, so many people don’t know they have it. That’s why regular dental checkups are so important for prevention. If gingivitis goes untreated and the plaque continues to accumulate on the teeth and gumline, it can advance into a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis. This is a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

The toxins in plaque irritate and inflame the gum tissue surrounding the teeth. Symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Gums that are sore or tender to the touch
  • Puffy, dark red or purple gums
  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing
  • Foul-smelling breath that doesn’t go away
  • Tooth sensitivity when exposed to hot and cold
  • Loose teeth
  • A change in your bite

The key to preventing gingivitis is eliminating as much plaque from your teeth and gums as possible. If you notice signs of the condition, treat it early by scheduling a dental appointment as soon as possible. Your hygienist will use special tools to remove plaque or tartar buildup from your teeth.

All About Cavities

Tooth decay, also called dental caries or cavities, is also caused by the bacteria found in dental plaque. The bacteria release acids when you eat and drink, which dissolve the hard tissues of the teeth, known as the enamel and dentin. These permanently damaged areas develop tiny holes. If left untreated, cavities get larger and affect deeper layers of your teeth, often resulting in severe toothache, infection and tooth loss.

Cavities and tooth decay are among the world’s most common health problems, according to Mayo Clinic. The American Dental Association (ADA) calls tooth decay the single most common chronic childhood disease, but even older adults and infants can get cavities. The good news is that tooth decay is entirely preventable. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain when you bite down or chew
  • Sensitivity to sweet, hot or cold foods or beverages
  • Spontaneous toothache that occurs suddenly without cause
  • Visible pits or holes in your teeth

But you may not even be aware that a cavity is forming, which is another reason why it’s important to have regular dental checkups and cleanings. Not only can an untreated cavity destroy the tooth, if the bacterial infection spreads to the root, but a painful abscess can also form that can cause serious, even life-threatening, complications.

Best Practices for At-Home Dental Care

Observing good oral hygiene habits at home is the key to keeping your teeth and gums healthy. Be sure you’ve got the following bases covered.

Brushing: Although the ADA recommends brushing teeth twice a day, using a soft-bristle brush or an electric toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, your dentist may create a personalized treatment plan to fit your dental needs.

Other suggestions include:

  • Brushing your teeth for at least two minutes
  • Brushing your tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria
  • Replacing your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are worn
  • Changing your toothbrush immediately after having the flu, a cold or any mouth infection to prevent a return of the infection

Flossing: When done properly, flossing removes the plaque and food particles from places your toothbrush can’t easily reach, such as between teeth and under the gumline. Daily flossing helps prevent tartar buildup, tooth decay and bad breath. You’ll enjoy long-lasting benefits from the few moments you spend flossing.

Mouthwash: Consider using antibacterial mouth rinses to remove any food particles remaining after you’ve brushed and flossed. Be sure to swish the rinse around for at least 30 seconds to reduce the levels of bacteria that cause gingivitis, tooth decay and halitosis. Look for products with the American Dental Association seal on the label to ensure there’s scientific proof of the product’s efficacy. The ADA recognizes some organic, natural, generic and store brands, so you’ve got plenty of choices.

Healthy eating and drinking: A poor diet can take a big toll on your oral health and lead to gum disease and tooth decay, according to the ADA. Foods and beverages high in carbohydrates, sugars and starches encourage the production of plaque acids that attack tooth enamel and inflame and infect gums. The ADA recommends a balanced diet that includes dairy products, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and nuts. The ADA also suggests drinking tap water with fluoride to help prevent tooth decay.

Why You Need to Develop a Personal Relationship With a Dentist

Having a family dentist who knows your complete medical and dental history is invaluable. Building a good relationship with one dental care provider can save you time, money, stress — and hopefully, your teeth — since consistent dental visits lead to early detection of potential problems.

For complete dental care, the ADA recommends twice-a-year checkups and professional cleanings to remove built-up plaque and tartar, although your dentist may want to see you more frequently if you have special oral care needs. Your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for early signs of tooth decay and gingivitis. Your dentist may also look for signs of bruxism (teeth grinding), changes in your bite and indications of TMJ.

Depending on your age, symptoms, risks of oral disease and length of time since your last visit, your dentist may recommend X-rays. X-rays can detect problems that might otherwise go unnoticed, such as bone loss in the jaw, decay between the teeth, tooth fractures, abscesses and cysts or tumors.

Another important reason to see your dentist at least twice a year is for an oral cancer screening. Dentists are often a patient’s first line of defense in spotting cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat. Oral cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers diagnosed annually in the United States, or about 49,700 new cases each year, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as women, making it the sixth most common cancer among men, reports Cleveland Clinic. People who smoke and drink alcohol have an even higher risk of oral cancer.

Go the Distance With Good Dental Care

Losing teeth as you age is not inevitable. With proper home care, routine dental checkups and regular professional cleaning, your teeth can last a lifetime.

We’re proud to offer gentle, compassionate and affordable dental care. Call us today or make an appointment online. We look forward to serving you.

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