Your mouth and your teeth form your smile – one of the first things people notice about you. And of course your teeth, together with your lips and tongue, are essential for speech and for eating. Obviously, it’s well worth taking good care of those pearly whites.
Whatever we put in our mouths, especially foods and drinks containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), leaves traces on the teeth which are turned into acids as the digestive process begins. These acids can erode the teeth’s protective enamel, and if untreated the decay process progresses to the inner layer of dentin, eventually causing a cavity and infection.
Indications of tooth decay include toothache pain and an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Loose fillings or a broken or sensitive tooth should also alert you to a possible problem. Untreated tooth decay can cause severe pain and even loss of teeth, affecting how you look and feel about yourself as well as your ability to chew and speak. See your dentist as soon as you feel the first twinge!
You can cut down on the risks by brushing your teeth after every meal, or at least rinsing your mouth thoroughly with water or mouthwash. Avoid sugary snacks and drinks between meals, and make sure you have dental checkups twice a year so that any problems can be nipped in the bud.
Gum disease affects the gums and the tissues supporting the teeth, and is usually caused when the layer of bacteria – plaque – which coats the teeth accumulates and hardens into tartar. If your healthy pink gums become red, spongy and swollen or bleed when you brush or floss your teeth, you may be suffering from gingivitis. The infection can develop into the more serious periodontitis which could ultimately damage the supporting bone and result in loss of teeth. It’s far preferable to prevent gum disease from spreading or even reverse it in the early stages by improving your brushing and flossing habits. Your dentist may also recommend the use of an anti-bacterial mouthwash.
Sensitive teeth can cause discomfort or pain when you eat or drink, or when you breathe cold air in through your mouth. Sensitivity is usually caused by the erosion of the protective outer layer of enamel, which in turn is caused by poor oral hygiene, grinding or clenching the teeth, too many acidic drinks, excessive use of mouthwash, or by brushing your teeth too long, too hard, or too often. Your dentist may be able to cover the exposed surfaces, or you can use a toothpaste which is specially formulated to desensitise the teeth.
Avoid dental problems
Most dental problems can be avoided by following a careful oral health routine. Brush at least twice a day using a good toothbrush (the bristles mustn’t be too hard) and toothpaste containing fluoride. Floss thoroughly at least once a day. Maintain a healthy diet and don’t smoke, and make sure you visit your dentist and oral hygienist every six months for regular cleaning and maintenance. And then – keep smiling!