Plaque is a major cause of gum disease and tooth decay. It is an invisible layer of bacteria that is constantly collecting on teeth and gums. When it comes into contact with sugar or starches, it turns acidic and creates problems. If plaque is not cleaned away daily, it can cause infection and also harden into tartar deposits. Tartar is bad for your teeth and gums and can only be removed by a dentist.Tooth decay
Tooth decay causes cavities which can severely weaken a tooth and damage surrounding nerves. To prevent cavities you need the combination of a healthy diet, plenty of saliva, a regular cleaning program and fluoride. Saliva is nature's way of preventing decay. The bacterial acid that causes decay can be neutralized by saliva. A dry mouth, often caused by caffeine, medications, air-conditioning or dehydration, can also rapidly create dental problems.
If you have the beginnings of a cavity your dentist can treat it by applying fluoride, identifying dietary problems and helping you to improve your oral care regime. In more advanced cases the dentist will have to remove the infected part of the tooth and give you a filling. In more severe cases, the nerve of the tooth will be dead and root canal treatment is required.Smoking and oral cancer
Smoking will increase your risk of gum disease, bad breath and oral cancer. Symptoms of pre-malignant changes or oral cancer include:
- ulcers or sores that don't heal
- a persistently painful, tender or numb part of your mouth
- black spots or velvety red or white areas
- the appearance of a lumpy or wrinkled patch inside your mouth
If you notice any of these symptoms, see your dentist as soon as possible.Gum Problems
Most of us know about sore gums from experience - 19 out of 20 people suffer from gum problems during their life. The two main types of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontal disease. The initial symptoms for these ailments are mild levels of oral discomfort caused by inflamed and infected gums, for example bleeding and bad breath. However periodontal disease soon becomes far more serious. If left untreated it can lead to painful abscesses and tooth loss.
If your gums bleed when you brush them, you probably have gingivitis. Gums affected by gingivitis are usually red and swollen. The reason they are inflamed is due to a bacterial build-up of plaque that has overwhelmed your body's natural defence mechanisms.
The best way to prevent or treat gingivitis is to thoroughly brush and floss every day. The cleaning will ensure plaque build-up is kept at levels your body can naturally cope with. In the first week of treatment, gentle cleaning will often trigger slight bleeding. This is normal and not cause for concern. A good oral health regime will generally fix gingivitis but if the condition persists, see your dentist.
If left untreated, gingivitis leads to gum abscesses and the more serious periodontal disease. This disease attacks the structures supporting your teeth and is one of the major causes of adult tooth loss. It begins in the gums and then progresses by breaking down bones and ligaments holding your teeth in place. People with this condition definitely need professional assistance.
Dentists can check your gums to look for any evidence of periodontal disease and they may also X-ray your mouth and jaw to check for any bone loss. If evidence of periodontal disease is found, dentists have techniques to address the problem. The more advanced the disease is, the harder it becomes to treat.
Signs of periodontal disease:
- Loose teeth
- Receding gums
- Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
- Abscesses between the tooth and the gum
Pregnant women, people with diabetes, smokers and those with stress levels all face greater risk of developing periodontal disease.Bad breath
As many as one in four people suffer from chronic bad breath. It can occasionally be a sign of serious health issues but in most cases it is simply a case of poor oral hygiene habits. A new brushing and flossing regime will quickly solve the problem.
Halitosis is most commonly caused by food particles trapped between the teeth. The tiny pieces of food left languishing in your mouth will start to rot and create unpleasant smelling bacteria. Careful brushing and flossing will usually remove the food scraps and remedy the situation. Dentists recommend brushing the tongue. Mouthwashes or breath fresheners will only mask the situation for a short time and do not offer a genuine solution. Another cause of bad breath is gum disease.How to test yourself for bad breath in 15 seconds
Lick your wrist, wait 10 seconds and then smell the spot where you licked. The scent you inhale will be very similar to your breath odour.
It's generally a good time to test yourself if you have a bad taste in your mouth or if you notice people stepping back slightly when you are talking to them.How to tell someone they have bad breath
At best it is a delicate subject, at worst you could risk seriously offending a friend. Carefully consider how the person might react, how sensitive they are and what kind of relationship you have with them. It might be better to mention it to their partner or close friend. A roundabout or subtle approach often ends up in mutual embarrassment. Probably the best plan is to adopt a direct approach, but remember to discuss it in private.
If you think you have bad breath and regular brushing and flossing have failed to help, the next step is to see your dentist. Oral care professionals will be able to identify teeth you are having difficulty reaching and give them a good clean for you.
Information taken from the Sunbeam Healthy Teeth Handbookhttp://www.sunbeam.com.au