From the time you were a little boy, you've been hearing about how important it is to brush your teeth and floss every day. But caring for your teeth and gums does more than improve your smile and your breath. In fact, good dental hygiene may actually reduce your risk of ulcers, pneumonia, digestive problems, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A healthy mouth doesn't just happen by itself - you need to take on an active role by making dental hygiene a part of your everyday routine. By working with your dentist and following some suggestions below, you'll improve your chances of keeping your teeth -- and your health -- for a lifetime.
What's Really Going on in Your Mouth?
Although you can't see them, there are literally millions of bacteria in your mouth. Some are harmless and help break down the food you eat so it can be more easily digested. Other bacteria are quite harmful. They clump together to create plaque, a sticky, acidic substance that builds up on the teeth. Having plaque on your teeth is perfectly normal-everyone does-and if it's regularly removed (by brushing and flossing every day), plaque is harmless. But if it's not removed, plaque begins eating away and decaying your teeth and will ultimately cause cavities and gum disease. Over time, the bones and tissue that hold your teeth can be destroyed. Your teeth may become loose and/or fall out.
In fact, good dental hygiene may actually reduce your risk of ulcers, pneumonia,
digestive problems, heart disease, stroke and diabetes . Approximately 75 percent
of adults over 35 will have some form of gum disease at some point in their life.
Here are some of the risk factors:
• Being male. Men are more likely to suffer from gum disease than women.
• Being African-American. Black men are more likely than white men to develop gum disease.
• Being poor or uninsured. People at the lowest socio-economic levels tend to have the most severe gum disease. This is largely because they don't have access to (or can't afford) regular dental care.
• Age. As we get older, our gums gradually recede, exposing the roots of the teeth to plaque. We also produce less saliva, which plays an important role in rinsing plaque out of the mouth.
• Genetics. If your parents lost teeth to gum disease, you are at greater risk.
• Not brushing and flossing regularly.
• Poor diet.
• Clenching, grinding teeth.
Symptoms of Gum Disease:
In the early stages, gum disease is painless and you might not even notice if you have it. But if you notice any of the following symptoms, you should see a dentist as soon as you can.
• Red, swollen, tender gums.
• Gums that bleed when you brush or floss.
• Gums that have receded (pulled away) from the teeth.
• Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth.
• Pockets of pus around teeth or gums.
• Loose teeth, changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
• Pain when chewing or difficulty chewing certain kinds of foods (usually crunchy foods).
Prevention and Treatment:
Fortunately, most cavities can be prevented and early gum disease can almost always be reversed-but you'll have to make a commitment to taking better care of your teeth. Here are some important steps to take:
• Have your teeth checked and cleaned at least twice a year-more often if your dentist suggests it.
• Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste-if possible after every meal. Use a soft bristled brush. Be sure to clean the inside surfaces of the teeth (the side closest to your tongue) as well as the outside surfaces. Replace your brush every three months or whenever the bristles fray.
• Floss every day. Plaque usually builds up along the gumline (where the teeth and gums meet) and in-between the teeth. Your toothbrush can take care of the gumline, but it can't get to the spaces between the teeth. Dental floss can. If you aren't sure how to floss, your dentist or hygienist can show you.
• Brush your tongue or use a scraper to remove the bacteria that gathers towards the back of your tongue.
• Eat crunchy foods like apples and carrots. They actually help reduce plaque buildup on the surfaces of the teeth and may even help reduce coffee stains.
• Avoid sugary snacks and soft drinks between meals. These foods quickly convert to plaque. If you crave something sweet, try a piece of fruit instead.
• Drink lots of water. Saliva helps reduce plaque by washing it away. But age and some medications may make your mouth dry and more susceptible to plaque buildup, tooth decay and gum disease. Chewing sugarless gum is one way to stimulate saliva.
• Don't smoke or chew tobacco. Besides staining your teeth, it can cause bad breath and lead to oral cancer.
• Avoid chewing hard candies or anything else that might damage your teeth.
• Protect yourself. In many sports there's a risk of mouth injuries (from pucks, balls, racquets and elbows). You can reduce the chance of doing long-term damage to your teeth by always wearing a mouth guard.
• If you have dentures, most of the suggestions above apply to dentures as well as your natural teeth.
Other Possible Dental Problems:
• Sensitivity to hot or cold. When gums recede, they expose some of the root of the tooth, which can be extremely sensitive to temperature changes.
• Bad breath (also called halitosis). Bad breath can be caused by smoking, eating spicy or smelly foods, or poor brushing. However, if you have bad breath that won't go away no matter how much you brush your teeth or how much mouthwash you use, you may have a serious dental or medical problem. See your dentist right away.