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A healthy smile is more than cosmetic. Studies show that the health of your teeth and gums can indicate the state of your overall health. Poor dental hygiene has been linked to a higher risk of certain diseases in adults. Some people such as diabetics and pregnant women have a higher risk of developing gum disease. (Read about "Diabetes" and "Healthy Pregnancy")
In children, the problem is just as serious. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that when a child has serious tooth decay, it can affect overall health and lead to problems in eating, speaking and even cause school absences. ADA calls tooth decay the most common chronic disease in children, second only to the common cold (Read about "The Common Cold") in prevalence.
You can read more below about conditions that can impact your oral health. Also below you will find information on oral hygiene.
The National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse (NOHIC) defines dry mouth as the condition of not having enough saliva or spit, to keep your mouth wet. Xerostomia is the medical term for this. Chronic dry mouth can have serious side effects. It can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing and speaking. It can lead to cracked lips and/or mouth sores. It can also increase your chance of developing dental decay and other infections in the mouth, such as thrush. (Read about "Thrush")
People get dry mouth when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. Potential causes include:
Treatment depends on the actual cause of the dry mouth. If medications are to blame, you can ask your doctor about finding a different type of medicine. There are also medications your doctor may suggest that can help the salivary glands work better. Other things that can help include:
Remember, if you have dry mouth, you need to be extra careful to keep your teeth healthy.
See information on caring for your teeth and gums below.
Gum disease is not uncommon. In fact, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) says 80 percent of Americans have some form of gum or periodontal disease. The problem starts with plaque - invisible masses of harmful germs that live in the mouth and stick to the teeth. (Read about "Microorganisms") Plaque that is not removed can harden and form bacteria-harboring tartar. Once this happens, brushing is not enough. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
If the plaque or tartar is not removed, the bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called gingivitis. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.
When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis. In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that are infected. The body's immune system (Read about "The Immune System") fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body's enzymes fighting the infection actually start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums and connective tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
NIDCR says gum disease is more likely to be found in men and more likely to develop after the age of 30. Other things that increase risk include:
Good oral hygiene is essential to prevent gum disease. You should also see your dentist at once if you have persistent bad breath; gums that are red, swollen, tender or bleeding; loose or sensitive teeth. If gum disease is present, the dentist or oral hygienist will need to scrape the tartar thoroughly both above and below the gum line. Medication may be needed. In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove and/or replace diseased tissue or bone.
Again, however, your best bet is prevention through good oral hygiene.
See information on caring for your teeth and gums below.
The American Dental Association (ADA) says tooth decay is a bacterial disease, and calls it the most common, chronic disease of children. The good news is that tooth decay is preventable, if you see your dentist regularly and take proper care of your teeth.
The big enemy is plaque. You've probably heard about plaque in commercials. But what is it exactly? The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) says plaque is made up of invisible masses of harmful germs that live in the mouth and stick to the teeth. Some types of plaque cause tooth decay. Other types of plaque cause gum disease. To control this buildup of plaque, proper care is essential. NIDCR says it's important to remove plaque at least once a day - twice a day is better.
It's also important to avoid sugary snacks. NIDCR says when you put sugar in your mouth, the bacteria in the plaque turns the sugar into acids. These acids are powerful enough to dissolve the hard enamel that covers your teeth. That's how cavities get started. If you don't eat much sugar, the bacteria can't produce as much of the acid that eats away enamel. Some sweets can do more damage than others. Gooey or chewy sweets spend more time sticking to the surface of your teeth. Because sticky snacks stay in your mouth longer than foods that you quickly chew and swallow, they give your teeth a longer "sugar bath." Whenever you eat sweets - in any meal or snack - brush your teeth well with a fluoride toothpaste afterward.
Regular dental exams are also important, for adults and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says parents should make dental exams a regular part of their children's back-to-school routine.
If the dentist finds cavities, the decay has to be cleaned out by drilling and then the tooth has to be filled. It's important that you tell your dentist about any health problems you may have prior to treatment. For example, the American Heart Association says people with heart valve disorders (Read about "The Heart and Its Valves") have an increased risk of developing serious bacterial infections when they have dental work or surgery, and may need to take antibiotics. (Read about "Antibiotics") People who are at risk because of this or other conditions should consult their doctor about their specific needs.
Of course, a healthy tooth is the best tooth. So it is important to prevent decay. That's why regular flossing and brushing is so important.
In addition, children can take advantage of sealants. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Sealants are put on in dentists' offices, clinics and sometimes in schools. They are painted on as a liquid and quickly harden to form a shield over the tooth. By covering the chewing surfaces of the molars, sealants keep out the germs and food that cause decay.
Sealants are clear or tinted. Tinted sealants are easier to see. NIDCR says children should get sealants on their permanent molars as soon as the teeth come in - before decay attacks the teeth.
The first permanent molars - called "6 year molars"- come in between the ages of 5 and 7. The second permanent molars come in when a child is between 11 and 14 years old. The other teeth with pits and grooves - called "premolars" or "bicuspids" - right in front of the molars, also may need to be sealed. Teenagers and young adults without decay or fillings in their molars also may get sealants.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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