Some people think tooth decay is just for children, but did you know you are at risk your whole life? Untreated dental disease can lead to serious health problems such as infection, damage to bone or nerve and tooth loss. Dental infections that are left untreated can even spread to other parts of the body and, in very rare cases, can be life threatening.
Dental disease is preventable
The good news is that dental disease is preventable. You can practice preventive dentistry on yourself by adopting these healthy habits: Always remember to brush your teeth twice a day, floss between teeth once a day, eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks. And don't forget to schedule regular dental visits. By following a healthy dental routine and making smart food choices, you can lower your risk for tooth decay.
Brushing - Brushing your teeth is the cornerstone of any good oral hygiene routine. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, always be sure to brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush. The size and shape of your brush should fit your mouth allowing you to reach all areas easily. Also, don't forget to replace your toothbrush every three or four months or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won't do a good job of cleaning your teeth. Finally, make sure to use an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste. It makes no difference whether you choose a manual or powered toothbrush just make sure to brush twice a day, every day!
Flossing - Flossing goes hand in hand with brushing. By flossing once a day, you help to remove plaque from between your teeth in areas where the toothbrush can't reach. This is extremely important because plaque that is not removed by brushing and flossing can eventually harden into calculus or tartar. Once tartar has formed, it can only be removed by a professional cleaning.
Gum Disease - Gum disease is an inflammation of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. If it is severe, it can destroy the tissue and bone, leading to tooth loss. Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth. When plaque is not removed it can harden into calculus (tartar). When tartar forms above and below the gumline, it becomes harder to brush and clean well between teeth. That buildup of plaque and tartar can harbor bacteria that lead to gum disease. The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, which is the only stage that is reversible.
If not treated, gingivitis may lead to a more serious, destructive form of gum/periodontal disease called periodontitis. It is possible to have periodontal disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are so important. Treatment methods depend upon the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed. Good oral hygiene at home is essential to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring. Brush twice a day, clean between your teeth daily, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Teeth Grinding - Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, often occurs unconsciously while you sleep. It can cause serious damage to your teeth and jaw. Although it is often considered to be stress-related, teeth grinding can also be caused by sleep disorders. Your dentist's choice of treatment will depend on the cause of your grinding, but you may be fitted with a mouthguard to protect your teeth while you sleep.
TMJ - The temporomandibular joints, or TMJ, are among the more complex joints in your body. Any problem that prevents the TMJ from working properly may result in a painful disorder, also referred to as TMJ disorders or sometimes TMD. The exact cause of a TMJ disorder is often unclear, but possible causes can include arthritis, dislocation, injury and/or problems related to alignment or teeth grinding from stress.
Symptoms can include:
- pain in or around the ear
- tenderness of the jaw
- clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth
If you're regularly experiencing facial or jaw pain, see your dentist. Exercise, muscle relaxants or physical therapy may help.
Root Canals - Sometimes a cavity is just too deep to be fixed and may require a root canal. Root canal procedures are used to treat problems of the tooth's soft core, otherwise known as dental pulp. The pulp contains the blood vessels and the nerves of the tooth, which run like a thread down into the root. The pulp tissue can die when it's infected or injured. If you don't remove it, your tooth gets infected and you could lose it. During a root canal treatment, the dentist removes the pulp, and the root canal is cleaned and sealed off to protect it. Your dentist may then place a crown over the tooth to help make it stronger and protect it.
Sensitive teeth - If hot or cold foods make you wince, you may have a common dental problem sensitive teeth. Sensitivity in your teeth can happen for several reasons, including:
- tooth decay (cavities)
- fractured teeth
- worn fillings
- gum disease
- worn tooth enamel
- exposed tooth root
Sensitive teeth can be treated. Your dentist may recommend desensitizing toothpaste or an alternative treatment based on the cause of your sensitivity. Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing tooth pain. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine or concerns about tooth sensitivity.
Whitening - At some point, you may consider tooth whitening to help brighten your smile. Before using whitening products, talk to your dentist to determine the most appropriate treatment for you and if your teeth and gums are healthy enough to undergo a whitening procedure. This is especially important if you have fillings, crowns and/or extremely dark stains on your teeth.
Some popular whitening methods include:
- In-office bleaching - A bleaching agent is applied to teeth and a light may be used to enhance the action of the agent. In-office bleaching products typically contain a higher percentage of peroxide than at-home formulations. The procedure is usually completed in less than two hours.
- At-home bleaching - Peroxide-containing whiteners that bleach the tooth enamel. They typically come in a gel and are placed in a custom mouth tray. The bleaching trays are worn for short periods of time over a few days to gradually whiten the teeth.
- Whitening toothpastes - Although all toothpastes help remove surface stains "whitening" toothpastes that carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance have special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal effectiveness. They do not alter the intrinsic color of teeth like bleaching agents do.
"Keep a stiff upper lip" or "get a grip!" That's often the advice we get and give on how to cope with stress. If you take it literally, the result could be grinding your teeth or clenching your jaws. It's called bruxism, and often it happens as you sleep.
Teeth grinding can be caused not just by stress and anxiety but by sleep disorders, an abnormal bite or teeth that are missing or crooked. The symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- dull headaches
- jaw soreness
- teeth that are painful or loose
- fractured teeth
Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth during sleep. In some cases, your dentist or physician may recommend taking a muscle relaxant before bedtime. If stress is the cause you need to find a way to relax. Meditation, counseling and exercise can all help reduce stress and anxiety.
Teeth grinding is also common in children. However, because their teeth and jaws change and grow so quickly it is not usually a damaging habit that requires treatment and most outgrow it by adolescence.
Although in adults teeth grinding is often the result of stress, the same is not always true with children. Other possible causes of teeth grinding in children include:
- irritation in the mouth
- misaligned teeth
If you're concerned about your child's teeth grinding, ask your child's dentist about the potential causes and, if necessary, the possible solutions.
The temporomandibular joints, called TMJ, are the joints and jaw muscles that make it possible to open and close your mouth. Located on each side of the head, your TMJ work together when you chew, speak or swallow and include muscles and ligaments as well as the jaw bone. They also control the lower jaw (mandible) as it moves forward, backward and side to side.
Each TMJ has a disc between the ball and socket. The disc cushions the load while enabling the jaw to open widely and rotate or glide. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder.
Possible causes of TMJ disorders include:
- tooth and jaw alignment
- stress and teeth grinding
Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. Part of the dental examination includes checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping or difficulty moving. Depending on the diagnosis, the dentist may refer you to a physician or another dentist.
There are several treatments for TMJ disorders. This step-by-step plan from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research allows you to try simple treatment before moving on to more involved treatment. The NIDCR also recommends a "less is often best" approach in treating TMJ disorders, which includes:
- eating softer foods
- avoiding chewing gum and biting your nails
- modifying the pain with heat packs
- practicing relaxation techniques to control jaw tension, such as meditation or biofeedback
If necessary for your symptoms, the following treatments may be advised:
- exercises to strengthen your jaw muscles
- medications prescribed by your dentist; for example, muscle relaxants, analgesics, anti-anxiety drugs or anti-inflammatory medications
- a night guard or bite plate to decrease clenching or grinding of teeth
In some cases, your dentist may recommend fixing an uneven bite by adjusting or reshaping some teeth. Orthodontic treatment may also be recommended. Your dentist can suggest the most appropriate therapy based on the suspected cause.
Many adults suffer from chronic jaw and facial pain. Some common symptoms include pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, pain when biting, or headaches. Many things can cause facial pain, which can make it difficult to diagnose and treat. Your dentist will conduct a thorough exam, which may include X-rays, to determine the cause of the pain.
Possible causes of jaw pain or facial pain include:
- sinus problems
- tooth grinding
- periodontal disease
- problems with your jaw or the temporomandibular joint
Your dentist's plan for treatment will depend on the source of your facial pain, but recommendations may include:
- mouth protector
- muscle relaxants
- anti-inflammatory drugs
- root canal therapy
- periodontal treatment
If you suffer from jaw pain or facial pain, speak with your dentist or physician for diagnosis and treatment.
Root canal treatment is necessary when the pulp (soft tissue inside your teeth containing blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue) becomes inflamed or diseased. During root canal treatment, your dentist or endodontist (a dentist who specializes in treating the insides of teeth) removes the diseased pulp. The pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth are then cleaned and sealed. If the infected pulp is not removed, pain and swelling can result, and your tooth may have to be removed.
Causes of an infected pulp could include:
- a deep cavity
- repeated dental procedures
- a cracked or broken tooth
- injury to the tooth (even if there's not a visible crack or chip)
If you continue to care for your teeth and gums your restored tooth could last a lifetime. However, regular checkups are necessary; a tooth without its nerve can still develop cavities or gum disease. Most of the time, a root canal is a relatively simple procedure with little or no discomfort involving one to three visits. Best of all, it can save your tooth and your smile.
Everybody loves a bright white smile, and there are a variety of products and procedures available to help you improve the look of yours. Many people are satisfied with the sparkle they get from daily oral hygiene and regular cleanings at your dentist's office, but if you decide you would like to go beyond this to make your smile look brighter, you should investigate all of your whitening options.
Start by speaking with your dentist. He or she can tell you whether whitening procedures would be effective for you. Whiteners may not correct all types of discoloration. For example, yellow-ish hued teeth will probably bleach well, brownish-colored teeth may bleach less well, and grayish-hued teeth may not bleach well at all. If you have had bonding or tooth-colored fillings placed in your front teeth the whitener will not affect the color of these materials, and they will stand out in your newly whitened smile. You may want to investigate other options, like porcelain veneers or dental bonding.
If you are a candidate for whitening there are several ways to whiten your smile:
- In-office bleaching - This procedure is called chairside bleaching and usually requires only one office visit. The dentist will apply either a protective gel to your gums or a rubber shield to protect the oral soft tissues. A bleaching agent is then applied to the teeth, and a special light may be used. Lasers have been used during tooth whitening procedures to enhance the action of the whitening agent.
- At-home bleaching - Peroxide-containing whiteners actually bleach the tooth enamel. They typically come in a gel and are placed in a mouthguard. Usage regimens vary. There are potential side effects, such as increased sensitivity or gum irritation. Speak with your dentist if you have any concerns.
- Whitening toothpastes - All toothpastes help remove surface stain through the action of mild abrasives. "Whitening" toothpastes in the ADA Seal of Acceptance program have special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal effectiveness. Unlike bleaches, these ADA Accepted products do not change the color of teeth because they can only remove stains on the surface.
Remember when selecting a whitener or any dental product, be sure to look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance your assurance that they have met ADA standards of safety and effectiveness.