Dental Hygiene Tips for Adults
What should you do if you have a toothache?
A toothache is pain around the teeth or jaws caused by cavities, a cracked tooth, tooth sensitivity, gum disease or erupting/impacted molars (wisdom teeth). Toothache pain is usually aggravated by biting, chewing or eating cold and hot food.
See a dentist when:
- The toothache lasts longer than 1-2 days.
- The ache is severe.
- You have fever, earache or pain when opening your mouth wide.
What the dentist will do:
- Exam and x-ray to determine the problem.
Treatment may include:
- Antibiotics for infection.
- Filling a cavity or crack.
- Root canal for infected nerve roots.
- Wisdom teeth extraction.
What are the options for replacing a lost or damaged tooth?
The options for restoring a tooth that has been damaged depend on how damaged it is. The range of restoration options include:
- Veneers are composite coverings which are put around a damaged front tooth to restore its shape and appearance.
- Crowns are fitted over top of a damaged back tooth to restore it to normal shape, size and function. Crowns enhance strength, utility and appearance so you can chew food properly and without pain.
- Bridges fill the gap of a missing tooth with an artificial tooth. Bridges improve chewing, speaking and appearance, but also keep all the other teeth aligned properly thereby helping maintain normal facial shape.
- Dentures are needed when most of a person’s teeth have been lost to decay, injury or periodontal disease. Dentures are a customized row of artificial teeth fitted to a person’s mouth. Dentures allow a person to eat, speak and smile properly and keep their face from sagging due to tooth loss.
- Implants are permanent replacements for missing teeth. Through surgery, a post is implanted in the jaw bone and a crown is screwed onto the post. By fusing to the jaw bone, the implant post provides the strongest, most natural solution for a missing tooth.
When are orthodontics required?
Orthodontics, or braces, are required when teeth are crooked and not functioning properly. Crooked teeth can be caused by tooth irregularities, a jaw that is too small or too large, tooth loss that leaves gaps or impacted teeth that push against others. For maximum effectiveness, orthodontics should be applied between the ages of 9 - 15 years old, when the baby teeth have fallen out, but the jaw is still forming. However, good results can be achieved at any age—adults make up almost 30% of orthodontic patients. When to see an orthodontist:
- Early or late loss of baby teeth.
- Difficulty chewing or biting food.
- Crowded, misplaced or “blocked out” teeth.
- Jaws that shift, protrude or pretrude.
- Speech difficulty.
- Cheek or roof-of-mouth biting.
- Teeth that protrude (“buck” teeth).
- Teeth that don’t align correctly.
- Facial imbalance.
What are the food types most likely to cause tooth decay?
Foods containing sugar contribute most to tooth decay. This is because sugar combines with mouth bacteria (plaque) to make acid which erodes the tooth enamel that protects your teeth. Acid is typically produced for up to 20 minutes after eating or drinking food with sugar. Baby teeth are especially vulnerable to acid erosion. Food that sticks to your teeth e.g., sticky candy, makes the problem worse. To prevent tooth decay from food, here are several things you can do:
- Drink a lot of water to cleanse your mouth—especially after eating sugary food.
- Brush with fluoride toothpaste at least 2x per day.
- Floss at least 1x per day to remove bacteria (plaque) under gums and to remove food particles between teeth.
- Limit sugary snacks between meals to reduce the time acid can affect your teeth.
- Read food labels to purchase foods with less added sugar.
- Visit a dentist regularly for cleanings and check-ups.
What is the effect of tobacco/cigarettes on teeth and gums?
Tobacco products have a very bad effect on a person’s teeth, gums and mouth including:
- The cause of as much as 75% of all periodontal (gum) disease.
- Tooth decay and tooth sensitivity.
- Increasing the risk for mouth and throat cancer.
- Delayed healing after oral surgery.
- Stained teeth and tongue.
- Bad breath.
- Diminished sense of taste and smell.
How can I protect worn teeth?
As tooth enamel wears away, the tooth becomes sensitive and more susceptible to decay. Causes of worn enamel include:
- Age—as a person gets older, their teeth go through wear and tear (attrition).
- Teeth grinding which occurs most often at night while a person is sleeping.
- Abrasion from brushing too hard, nail biting, oral jewelry, etc.
- Erosion from chemical agents such as sugary foods, soda and medicines and drugs that generate enamel eroding acid.
- Eating disorders such as bulimia which allow acidic stomach contents to erode the teeth.
Treatments for worn teeth include:
- Replacing the worn areas with artificial material such as gold alloys or porcelain since these are almost as strong as the original tooth enamel.
- If a tooth is severely damaged and cannot be saved, replacement options include crowns, bridges or implants.
What are the risks of oral piercings?
Oral piercings of the lips or tongue have become popular recently, but they also have risks. The risks include:
- Infection, pain, swelling, increased saliva (spit) and injury to the gums.
- Choking on the jewelry.
- Cracked or chipped teeth from the jewelry.
- Bad breath caused by bacteria that collects around the piercing.
- Difficulty speaking clearly.
- Difficulty chewing food and swallowing properly.
- Allergic reactions from jewelry metals.
- Piercings can cause torn facial or oral tissue as well as uncontrollable bleeding or nerve damage.
How can I prevent tooth stains?
Most people develop stains on their teeth at some point in their lifetime. There are several stain causes including:
- Tobacco use.
- Certain types of food such as dark fruits (blueberries, red cherries, etc.) and drinks such as coffee, tea, red wine and dark fruit juice.
- Certain types of medicines such as tetracycline and minocycline and too much fluoride.
- Tooth trauma that causes a tooth to die.
- Wear and tear from age that erodes the “white” exterior tooth enamel.
- Poor dental care that allows cavities to grow and stains to accumulate.
Stains can be prevented to a certain extent by:
- Drinking water to cleanse your mouth after eating.
- Sipping through straws to carry drinks past your teeth.
- Minimize activities that can stain your teeth—smoking, red wine consumption, etc.
- Daily brushing and flossing to keep food accumulation to a minimum.
- See your dentist regularly for cleanings and check-ups.
- Consult with your dentist about teeth whitening products or restorations that may be appropriate for your situation.
How do I know if my wisdom teeth need to be extracted?
Wisdom teeth are the large molars furthest back in your mouth. Most problems with wisdom teeth occur in people aged 15 - 25 years old, which is also the best time to have them extracted because the roots are not fully developed and the jaw bone is not as dense. Wisdom Tooth Extraction usually occurs in a dentist or oral surgeon’s office. The patient is given anesthetic to numb the area. The gum is cut open to remove the wisdom teeth and often stitches are required. The mouth will be sore for several days and it’s important to follow the dentist’s after care instructions. Wisdom teeth extraction is needed if:
- The jaw is small so the wisdom teeth become impacted and can’t break through the gum.
- The wisdom teeth only break part way through the gum leaving a gum flap that collects food and can cause infection or gum disease.
- The wisdom teeth are not straight, but angled, putting pressure on other teeth.