What does good oral hygiene mean to you: Flashing a pearly-white smile? Having fresh smelling breath? Feeling that squeaky-clean sensation all around your teeth and tongue? All of these are important indicators about the state of your oral health — and they're often the first thing people notice when they meet you. But getting your teeth, gums and mouth really clean, and maintaining that healthy state throughout the day (and in the months between professional dental cleanings) can be challenging.
Of course, there's much more to oral hygiene than just a bright smile. Take tooth decay, for example: Despite all our efforts, it's still the single most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting two-thirds of U.S. kids aged 12-19. It is 5 times more common than asthma, 7 times more common than hay fever — and it's almost totally preventable. Several other diseases commonly affect the mouth, including periodontitis (gum disease), which, if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss and possibly systemic (whole-body) inflammation.
In many ways, the health of the mouth mirrors the health of the body. Diseases in other parts of the body often cause symptoms we can observe in the mouth; likewise, oral maladies (like tooth loss) not only reduce an individual's quality of life, but may also lead to problems in other areas. That's another reason why maintaining good oral hygiene is so important.
Regular dental visits play a critical role in maintaining your oral health — not only to find and remedy any problems with teeth or gums, but also to assess the general condition of your oral health, point out potential trouble spots, and offer suggestions for preventive care. In between visits, the best way to keep your teeth clean and free of disease, your gums pink and healthy, and your breath fresh, is a program of daily oral hygiene. Your regular routine should include the following:
Brush and Floss. You should brush at least twice a day and floss at least once daily. This will help remove plaque, a bacteria-laden biofilm, from the surfaces of your teeth. The bacteria in plaque can turn sugars from food into acids, which attack the tooth's enamel and cause tooth decay. Some bacteria can also cause gingivitis and other gum diseases.
Make sure you're getting the proper amount of fluoride. Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel — it's essential for children's developing teeth, and helps prevent decay in both kids and adults. Even if your municipal water is fluoridated, you should always use fluoride toothpaste. If more fluoride is needed, it can be applied directly to your teeth here at the dental office.
Limit between-meal snacks. Sugary snacks are the perfect fuel for decay-causing bacteria — and when eaten throughout the day, they keep the acid constantly on the attack. So give your mouth a break, and (if you allow them) limit sugary treats to mealtime.
Use an appropriate mouthrinse — especially if you're at increased risk. Therapeutic mouthrinses do more than temporarily mask bad smells or tastes in your mouth — they can improve your overall oral hygiene. While some over-the counter products offer primarily “cosmetic” benefits, therapeutic rinses contain anti-bacterial and anti-cariogenic (cavity-fighting) ingredients. Using a therapeutic mouthrinse has been proven to control plaque bacteria and prevent cavities better than brushing and flossing alone.
Quit tobacco. Whether smoked or smokeless, tobacco use greatly increases your risk of oral cancer, gum disease, and tooth decay (not to mention heart disease and lung cancer… but you already knew that). If you use tobacco, ask us how to quit now.
Examine your mouth regularly. Once you've established a regular routine, you'll quickly recognize any changes in your mouth — like chipped teeth, red or swollen gums, or unusual sores. If you find something of concern, let us know. Early treatment offers the best chance to remedy many problems.
A major goal of modern dentistry is to help you keep your teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime. By following a conscientious program of oral hygiene, you have the best chance at making this goal a reality.
Tooth decay is often called the second most prevalent human disease, after the common cold. Without effective treatment (as was the case through most of history) it can lead to pain, tooth loss, and sometimes worse illnesses. Even today, it's estimated to affect over a quarter of U.S children from ages two to five, and half of those aged 12-15. But it doesn't necessarily have to! Working together with our office, you can take steps to prevent tooth decay from harming your teeth — or those of your loved ones.
There's one important fact you should understand up front: No single “magic bullet” can stop tooth decay in every case. Instead, fighting decay should be viewed as a process of preventive maintenance, like taking care of your car — except that (unlike a car) your natural teeth, with proper care, can last a whole lifetime. The basic aspects of this process are practicing good oral hygiene at home, and coming in to our office for regular cleanings and checkups.
f you've been coming in for routine visits, you're probably already familiar with the special tools we use to remove buildups of plaque (a bacterial biofilm) and tartar (a hardened deposit, also called calculus) from your teeth. We may use hand-held instruments, ultrasonic scalers, or both to give your teeth a thorough cleaning. Afterwards, we check thoroughly for decay, and treat cavities when necessary.
Yet there's still more we can do to prevent tooth decay. Could your diet be a contributing factor? Is your brushing technique adequate? Could you benefit from additional preventive treatments? Today, with our increased understanding of what causes tooth decay and how to treat it, we can truly focus on decay prevention in your particular case. In fact, it's now possible to assess each individual's risk factors for decay, and concentrate on doing what's most effective for you.
We think of the mouth as a dynamically balanced ecosystem, in which living organisms, including helpful and harmful bacteria, are constantly interacting. When conditions are right — namely, in the presence of certain sugars — some pathogenic (harmful) bacteria produce acids that cause teeth to lose minerals and begin breaking down. Even a diet having excessive acidic foods can influence deminerialization of your teeth. But in more favorable conditions, the damage these pathogens do is undone by the body's own healing mechanisms — which includes your healthy saliva.
Our goal in decay prevention is to tip the balance in favor of the beneficial processes. Keeping up a regular habit of brushing and flossing, getting adequate fluoride, and a diet with limited acidic foods is certainly helpful. Yet even with these measures, some individuals will be more prone to tooth decay than others, and may need extra help and guidance.
If you're one of these individuals, we can demonstrate effective brushing techniques and recommend other steps you can take at home, like using special tooth pastes or rinses. When necessary, in-office treatments such as topical fluoride applications are available. If you aren't getting enough fluoride through drinking water or other sources, this treatment can help prevent tooth decay. Anti-bacterial treatments may also be beneficial in some cases, as is nutritional counseling.
Finally, if your child's teeth are susceptible to tooth decay, we can apply a dental sealant. This is a practically invisible layer of plastic resin that is placed on the top (chewing) surfaces of the back teeth. It's a painless procedure that fills in the natural pits and folds of the tooth, making them much more resistant to bacterial damage.
So, don't think that tooth decay is inevitable — instead, come in and ask us what we can do together to help prevent this disease from affecting you or your loved ones.