While there are some individuals who experience “dental phobia” to the point where they sacrifice their oral health by choosing not to visit the dentist, there may be little for them to fear. The fact is that modern dental techniques have reduced pain to a barely perceptible level. When nearly 52,000 people were recently surveyed on the matter of dental procedures they had undergone during the past five years, only six percent reported severe pain during tooth extraction. Only five percent reported severe pain associated with root canal therapy (it is the infection and inflammation that hurts, not the procedure to alleviate the pain of an abscessed nerve root), and only one percent experienced severe pain associated with a dental filling.
Flossing between teeth may get second billing to tooth brushing, but it is equally important. Unless you floss between teeth regularly, decay-causing bacteria can accumulate in places where toothbrush bristles cannot adequately penetrate. Yet, only 12% of Americans floss daily. In recognition of the fact that any method of removing bacteria-laden plaque from between teeth is better than none at all, dentists now have an alternative to flossing that is nearly as effective. A widely available handheld device quite similar to an electronic toothbrush effectively cleans between teeth, by shooting microbursts of water accelerated by pressurized air with the press of a button. Users will find that this device cleans between teeth in less than a minute.
Dental floss is the most effective tool for cleaning the tight spaces between the teeth. A water pick can help remove food particles from your teeth and may help reduce bleeding and gum disease, but isn’t commonly considered an alternative for brushing and flossing.
If you are only brushing your teeth and not flossing, you are only cleaning about 60 percent of your teeth, which makes you susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.
Cavities At Early Ages
While tooth decay has been on the decline over the past few decades, dentists are discovering a worrisome new uptick in cavities. It seems that a number of preschoolers all over the country, in all income levels, are developing so many cavities that they must undergo general anesthesia to treat them all. In such cases, it is not uncommon to see preschoolers with six to ten cavities or more at one time. This growing problem is likely due to increase use of bottled water (which does not contain fluoride) and increased snacking on sugary food and drinks at bedtime. Making matters worse, many parents do not insist that their toddlers brush before going to bed. Children are paying the price.
Cavities in baby teeth can be prevented with attentive, consistent dental care. It is good to begin regular dental visits when your child is about 3 years old. The dentist will not only be able to find problems that you did not, but a good cleaning will help ensure that plaque and tartar do not build up.
Due to the incidents of multiple cavities among preschoolers, it is important that your child visits the dentist before his or her first birthday to assess cavity risk and establish good oral health habits.
“Dry mouth,” which is technically known as “xerostomia,” is characterized by a persistent lack of saliva production. This problem is not as minor as it may seem since saliva helps prevent tooth decay (by washing away food and plaque). Saliva, which neutralized acids in the mouth, also limits bacterial growth that can dissolve tooth enamel or lead to infections. For all these reasons, cases of dry mouth should be brought to the dentist’s attention. Dry mouth was once thought to be a part of aging, but it is now recognized that xerostomia is actually related to the medications taken by older individuals, and not to age.
If you have dry mouth, you need to be extra careful to keep your teeth healthy. Make sure you brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss your teeth everyday, and visit your dentist for a check-up at least twice a year. Your dentist might also recommend you use a prescription-strength fluoride gel to help prevent dental decay.
Among the many drugs that cause dry mouth are those prescribed for high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, allergies, weight loss, Parkinson’s disease, and pain.
Oddly enough, adults may share a tooth-decay problem that is normally associated with infants. The common denominator is the behavior of bathing teeth for long periods in sugary liquids. In the case of babies, “bottle mouth” is the decay that occurs as a result of bathing their teeth in bottle-fed sugary liquids (fruit juices, milk, and formula) as they sleep or latch on to their bottles. In the cases of adults, “latte decay” occurs as a result of nursing either lattes or cups of coffee mixed with milk and/or sugar throughout the day. In either case, the constant exposure to sugar provides food for the bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) responsible for metabolizing carbohydrates and sugar into enamel-eating acid.
To prevent tooth decay, see your dentist at least twice each year for a cleaning and oral exam. At home, you should brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush after each meal and floss daily.
If you drink a good deal of sugary beverages or snack on carbohydrate-rich foods, you may want to ask the dentist about fluoride rinses.
Reducing Premature Birth Risk
Research shows that pregnant women with periodontal (gum) disease may be seven times more likely to deliver a premature baby of low birth weight. What can be done to prevent this outcome? The answer is simple. If they haven’t already done so as part of their oral health maintenance strategy, women should schedule regular appointments with their dentist. These checkups, which involve professional cleanings and assessment of periodontal health, help uncover any problems and initiate treatment. Recent research also shows that expecting mothers who have gum disease are less likely to deliver babies prematurely if they use alcohol free mouthwash throughout their pregnancies. This appears to cut the risk of premature birth by about three-quarters.
While dental health is related to your overall health, dental care is important to the health of your baby. It’s tremendously important to take care of your teeth during pregnancy, as some dental issues can increase the risk of complications.
Dental patients have many reasons to prevent periodontal (gum) disease before it exerts far-ranging adverse effects. Aside from the more immediate potential consequences of gum disease, which include inflammation and possible tooth loss, research links gum disease with heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, and premature low-weight babies. Fortunately, early stages of gum disease can be reversed with professional cleanings and at home brushing and flossing. In the more severe cases that involve buildup of hardened tartar, a professional scaling and root planning may be needed to remove unwanted deposits above and below the gumline.
Gum disease can be tricky, sometimes causing little or no pain before permanent damage is done to your teeth. That’s why regular dental visits are imperative.
Both smokers and non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke may come in contact with toxins in the smoke that increase inflammation and oxidative stress.
Periodontal disease has been linked with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
Reduce Heart-Disease Risk
The more we learn about the connection between oral health and general heath, the more we understand the importance of healthy gums and teeth. The underlying factor seems to be inflammation-causing bacteria that can travel from diseased gums to other parts of the body through the blood stream. Thus, keeping your teeth clean and your gums healthy may help reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, recent research has found that people who have their teeth professionally cleaned had a 24% lower risk of heart attack and a 13% lower risk of stroke compared to those who never had a dental cleaning.
Oral Cancer Prevention
The good news is that deaths from mouth and throat cancer have declined since the early 1990s. Unfortunately, this benefit has largely been limited to non-smokers and those with access to timely health care. In the interest of more widespread cancer prevention, be advised to give up the smoking habit if you are currently a smoker. Beyond that, everyone should know that a simple visual check of the mouth during a regular dental exam can prove very useful in detecting oral cancers when they are most treatable. Oral cancer causes symptoms such as persistent sore throat, ear pain, trouble swallowing, and/or a lump in the throat that lasts longer than a couple of weeks.
Oral cancer can spread quickly, therefore early detection is important. Be sure to tell your dentist if you notice changes in your mouth or throat, such as sore, swelling, or numbness, or if you have difficulty eating or swallowing.
Aside from smoking, alcohol abuse and the human papillomavirus (HPV) have been linked to oral and throat cancers.