The bacteria in plaque react with foods we eat to produce acids that can attack and weaken tooth enamel (the hard, protective covering on our teeth), opening the way for cavities to develop. Plaque can also irritate the gums, leading to gum disease, which, in its early stage, is called gingivitis
Yes, gum disease can affect you at any age; however, it most often affects adults. In fact, about three out of four adults over the age of 35 have gum disease now or have had it in the past. Fortunately, with regular dental visits and proper oral care every day, gingivitis can be prevented or reversed, because no permanent damage has been done.
Left untreated, gingivitis may progress to a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis, where the bone and gums that support your teeth become damaged. If something isn’t done about it, the inflammation can eventually spread to the bones in the jaw that keep teeth in place. Gradually teeth can become loose and may fall out. Once periodontitis develops, the damage can’t be reversed- only a professional treatment program and improved daily oral care at home can keep it from getting worse.
Factors that can increase your risk of periodontal disease
The main cause of periodontal disease is plaque build-up; and brushing and flossing are the best ways to remove plaque. The following factors put you at greater risk of periodontal disease, so make brushing and flossing even more important.
You may have gum disease if you notice that:
Visit your dentist right away for a cleaning and exam. In most cases, gum disease can be reversed or controlled if caught and treated early enough. Better yet, by cleaning your teeth properly every day and making regular dental visits you can help prevent gum disease from ever developing.
Maintaining the health of your teeth and gums is simple if you get into the habit of cleaning them properly every day and visiting your dentists regularly.
Brush thoroughly twice a day, preferably in the morning and before bed. If you allow plaque to build up, it can harden into tartar (also called calculus), which can then only be removed by your dentist or hygienist.
Use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride is proven to help prevent cavities. In addition, fluoride mouth rinses are available.
Clean between teeth daily to remove the plaque from areas your toothbrush can’t reach.
Proper brushing is the first step to maintaining health teeth and gums. It takes at least two minutes using a recommended technique to do a good job of brushing your teeth. You should spend 30 seconds brushing each section of your mouth (upper right and left, lower right and left).
There are many ways to brush your teeth. Here’s one frequently recommended method:
Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if the bristles begin to look worn out.
Using an electric toothbrush
Refer to the brushing instructions supplied with your electric toothbrush. Here’s an example:
Brushing is important, but it’s only part of the program.
It is important to clean in between your teeth daily- to get to the areas beyond the reach of your toothbrush. A two-step process of brushing and interdental cleaning is important in helping maintain healthy teeth and gums throughout your life.
There are many different techniques to floss, depending on personal choice. However, a good example is as follows:
Take about 50cm of floss and loosely wrap most of it around each index finger (wrapping more around one finger than the other) leaving 5cm of floss in between. With your thumbs or middle fingers, holding the floss taut, gently slide it down between your teeth, while being careful not to snap it down on your gums. Curve the floss around each tooth in a “C” shape and gently move it up and down the sides of each tooth, including under the gumline. Unroll a new section of floss as you move from tooth to tooth.
Teeth can be sensitive to hot and cold temperature, or to very sugary or acidic foods and drinks. This may be due to gum recession, where softer parts of the tooth have been exposed. Your dentist or hygienist can recommend a treatment or products that can alleviate the problem.
Alternatively, sensitive teeth can be a sign of decay or other problems with your teeth. It is best to contact your dentist to clarify the matter for you.
Choose a toothbrush with a brush-head design that helps you get to the hard-to-reach places of your mouth.
Your toothbrush should also have soft bristles that are gentle on your gums.
You might also want to consider trying an electric toothbrush. Look for modern designs that are safe and gentle to use. Many incorporate advanced technology that allows them to remove plaque more effectively than ordinary manual toothbrushes.
Pick a toothbrush with a comfortable handle. Many have non-slip grips which make them easy to use even if wet.
While check-ups can vary, your dentist will most likely examine your teeth and gums for any visible problems. He or she may also take x-rays to make sure there aren’t any hidden problems. Your dentist or hygienist may also professionally clean your teeth to remove hardened plaque (tartar) from above and below the gumline, as well as polish them (also called a prophylaxis) to remove hardened plaque and stains from the tooth surface. You should plan to see your dentist and hygienist twice a year for check-ups. And don’t forget, your dentist and hygienist can also provide expert instruction on brushing and flossing.
Brushing with Braces
If you look in the mirror at your new braces, you will see the brackets and wires have many nooks and crannies for food particles and plaque to become trapped in. When cleaning your mouth, you should pay special attention not only to your teeth and gums, but also to the brackets and wires.
Here are eight simple steps for keeping your teeth and braces in great shape:
Permanent damage to your teeth can occur if the teeth and brackets are not kept clean. Your tooth enamel can decalcify leaving unsightly white marks and you may also develop gingivitis (gum disease).
Yes. Specifically, designed floss such as Colgate Periogard Periodontal Dental Floss- Special Purpose Use or Oral-B Superfloss is ideal for braces as you can guide the stiff plastic threader between the teeth and under braces. Ask our friendly staff for advice on how to use these products.
There are many other dental aids that you might find useful. Special interdental cleaners, such as interdental brushes or piksters, are recommended as are fluoride mouth rinses during your orthodontic treatment.
Habits such as nail biting, unnatural tongue thrusting, pencil chewing and nervous picking at your wires can also break braces. Be aware of these habits and try to stop them.
Remember that damaged braces mean extra appointments, inconvenience, and extended treatment time. If you do break your braces, be sure to make an appointment with your orthodontist immediately. Broken braces will not correct your teeth.
Yes. It is important to visit your general dental professional for regular check-ups and routine cleans whilst undergoing orthodontic care. By practicing good oral hygiene, watching your diet, and following the advice of your dental professionals, you can be assured that your orthodontic treatment will be as successful as possible. And once your braces are off, you can look forward to showing off your new smile!
Pregnancy and Oral health
It is important to establish good oral hygiene practices now so that when you become pregnant you will have already established a daily routine.
Dental plaque (bacteria) needs to be cleaned from the teeth and gumline by brushing and flossing every day. Brush twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Use dental floss daily to clean between your teeth where the toothbrush cannot reach. You can check how well you remove plaque by using special plaque disclosing tablets or solution.
It is a good idea to have a thorough examination and clean (including x-rays) prior to planned pregnancies to ensure optimal dental health. X-rays are not recommended during pregnancy, so having them before any planned pregnancies will ensure your teeth are healthy during your pregnancy.
Morning sickness (nausea and vomiting) may be experienced during the first term of your pregnancy. The stomach contents are acidic and may dissolve some of the tooth enamel. To avoid tooth damage after vomiting or gastric reflux, don’t brush your teeth if you have just vomited. Instead wipe a smear of fluoride toothpaste over the teeth and rinse with water and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing.
Gagging can often occur whilst brushing your teeth. If this makes you feel sick, try to concentrate on your breathing as you clean the back teeth. Brushing without toothpaste can also help but return to using a fluoridated toothpaste as soon as possible.
Cravings may be experienced for certain foods. Frequent snacks and drinks, especially sweet ones, can lead to dental caries (decay). Choose a wide variety of snacks which are low in sugar, fat, and salt and high in fibre. Drinks such as milk and water are recommended.
Your gums may be easily irritated by dental plaque. When you become pregnant, the hormones in your body change. These hormones can cause your gums to become inflamed, and bleed. Clean your teeth and gums by brushing and flossing each day to reduce the irritation and keep the gums healthy.
During your pregnancy, ask you dental professional to check the condition of your gums and advise you further on how to care for them.
Brushing is important. To avoid plaque build-up, it is important to thoroughly clean your teeth and gums twice a day. Remember, each tooth has five surfaces- a front, a back, two sides and a top. The only one sure way to prevent dental disease is to clean every surface.
Fluoride strengthens the teeth and helps prevent decay. Fluoride is found in most toothpastes and your dental professional may recommend you also use a fluoride mouth rinse or have a professional topical fluoride treatment.
If you are pregnant or suspect that you are, it is important to tell your doctor or dental professional when you visit. Practitioners are careful in prescribing medication to pregnant women and only prescribe those which are really needed. Certain medication such as the tetracycline antibiotics can affect your baby’s developing teeth. If possible, dental x-rays should be avoided during pregnancy. However, if your dental professional considers it essential for you to have an x-ray, special care and protection will be taken.
When you are four months pregnant, your baby’s teeth and bones begin to calcify. The calcium and phosphorus needed comes from what you eat and, if necessary, from your bones. These minerals do not come from your teeth.
When you are 7-9 months pregnant, your baby needs more calcium and phosphorus. These minerals are best obtained by eating more dairy foods.
Milk and milk products are an excellent source of calcium. Choose those that are low in fat and sugar. If you don’t drink milk or eat milk products such as cheese and yoghurt, choose other products that are high in calcium. If you are having difficulty, see your doctor or dietician for advice. They may recommend calcium supplements.
At first, your newborn baby does not have decay causing bacteria in their mouth. As the teeth come through the gums, the bacteria that causes decay is passed to the baby by the main carer, through kissing, food tasting or by cleaning the dummy in their own mouth.
It is important that carers thoroughly clean their own teeth and have all their own decayed teeth treated so that they will have low levels of bacteria. This will reduce or greatly delay the transfer of these bacteria to the baby.
Oral Care for Older Adults
As you get older, you may find that some prescribed medications, or an illness, may cause decreased salivary flow, causing a dry mouth.
Saliva is important because it helps combat tooth decay by washing away the acids produced when plaque interacts with sugar. Having a dry mouth makes your teeth more susceptible to decay. It can also cause an increase in the incidence of gum problems. The use of an artificial saliva replacement may help lubricate your mouth at mealtimes and can also be used between meals when you feel any discomfort from dry mouth. You may also consider the use of a dry mouth gel recommended by your dentist.
Recession – “Long in the tooth”
You have probably heard of the expression “getting long in the tooth”. As many of us get older, our gums start receding making the teeth appear longer. When your gums recede, the root of the tooth is then exposed which, unfortunately, is not as resistant to tooth decay as the rest of the tooth. Decay that occurs on the roots of the tooth is known as root caries. Your dental professional can often apply a fluoride treatment to make the roots of your teeth more resistant to decay.
Changes in eating habits
Some adults may adopt new eating habits that increase the quantity and frequency of consuming sugary food and drinks e.g. sugared tea and coffee throughout the day. These habits can also have major effects on the teeth, increasing the chance of dental decay.
Wearing away of teeth
In some older adults, the appearance and function of teeth can suffer because of a continuous wearing away of the teeth. This can be the result of erosion, reflux, aggressive tooth brushing, using a hard toothbrush or using very abrasive toothpaste. It is best that you see your dental professional about these problems.
All surfaces of adult teeth, including the root surfaces, need fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoride acts with minerals in the saliva to restore tooth surfaces damaged by the early stages of tooth decay and leaves surfaces more resistant to tooth decay.
It is important to use a fluoridated toothpaste twice a day. The use of a fluoride mouth rinse is another way of applying fluoride to teeth. Some older adults, particularly those who need constant care, may find it difficult to rinse. The fluoride mouth rinse can also be sprayed onto the teeth using an atomiser. A non-abrasive fluoride gel can also be used as a daily brush-on gel.
If plaque is left on your teeth and along the gumline, the gums will become inflamed, swollen and red. This condition is known as gingivitis and a tell-tale sign is bleeding when brushing.
Gingivitis left untreated can lead to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. This disease leads to the destruction of the ligament and bone that hold the teeth in place. Unless managed appropriately, the teeth may become loose, fall out or require removal.
You may require dental treatment to help resolve your gum problems. Your dental professional will be able to advise you about the most suitable brushing and flossing technique for you.
It is important that if you feel any unusual lumps, swellings, oral sores, or ulcers that aren’t healing, you should see your dentist immediately.
Your dentist is trained to examine your mouth to detect early signs of oral cancer. Whether you have your own natural teeth or wear dentures, you should visit your dental professionals on a regular basis, to have the soft tissues of your mouth examined.
It is important to brush or rinse your dentures are every meal. The following advice may be useful when brushing dentures:
Firstly, place a small hand towel in the basin or partially full the basin with water. Once this is done, you should, hold your dentures over the basin whilst brushing them. If your dentures accidentally slip out of your hands, they will land on a soft surface reducing the chance of breakage. Ensure you brush your dentures with a separate toothbrush from those you use on your teeth to avoid transferring the different types of bacteria to one another. You can either use a mild toothpaste or a gentle soap to brush your dentures daily and consider a specially designed denture cleaning agent to clean the dentures on a regular basis also. Also remember to keep your dentures in a glass of water when asleep, not leaving them in your mouth.
It is also a good idea to get your dental professional to mark your initials into your new dentures. This will help avoid any confusion should you have to spend any time in hospital.
Thrush is caused by a fungus that likes to grow where there is little oxygen. The best way to prevent thrush is to remove your denture overnight, and store in a glass of cool water. This allows your gums to “breathe” and remain healthy.
Plaque and food retention
Dentures can trap plaque and food that will cause bad breath and gum problems. Dentures should be removed after meals and brushed or rinsed. Many dentures have a soft lining, so it is important to use only a soft toothbrush when cleaning them.
Sore spots and looseness
As we get older, the soft tissues in our mouth are continually undergoing changes which may result in loose or ill-fitting dentures. Your dental professional can adjust dentures to relieve any sore spots caused by your dentures and improve their fit.
Diabetes and Oral Care
People with diabetes have narrower than normal blood vessels as they develop a thicker lining as well as developing fatty deposits by a process called atherosclerosis. As a result, the gums receive a decreased blood supply with less oxygen, fewer nutrients and with less efficient removal of waste products.
People with diabetes are more prone to developing infections including gingivitis and periodontitis. They have a defective immune system which makes them more susceptible to disease. This means they develop more bleeding gums, pocketing, calculus (tartar) and bone loss than people without the condition. Infections and wounds also take longer to heal.
People with diabetes may suffer from decreased saliva flow, which in turn leads to increased dental plaque build-up and calculus (tartar) deposits. This increases the chances of developing periodontal disease.
Evidence suggests that periodontal disease may not only be a complication of diabetes, but it may also result in poor control of diabetes. It has been recognised that severe periodontitis was a risk for poor blood sugar control.
People with diabetes can prevent periodontal disease by being aware of their condition and working hard to regulate it. People with diabetes can have normal healthy gums provided their glucose levels are regularly monitored and kept well controlled and their oral hygiene is good.
Good oral hygiene is a must
To maintain good oral hygiene, it is essential to remove dental plaque from your teeth every day by brushing and flossing. It is important to use a toothbrush that has a small head and soft bristles so that plaque can be removed from all areas of the mouth without causing damage to teeth and gums. Your dental professional may also recommend the use of an antibacterial mouthrinse or gel to help keep teeth plaque-free.
People with diabetes need to be more motivated and dedicated to care for their teeth and gums. Do not be discouraged when you don’t see immediate results. You only have one set of teeth for life, so it is worth the effort.