When it comes to avoiding common dental issues like tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath, good oral hygiene and preventive care are some of your best defences. While we offer preventive treatments to help treat these issues (and minimise your risk of developing them in the first place), your own oral hygiene will also play an important role.
Keep reading to learn more about these common issues and, more importantly, ways to treat or even avoid them. Or you can jump to a section below:
Tooth decay: what is it?
Tooth decay is a common problem for Australians.
Bacteria in your mouth can feed off any sugars you consume and produce acid, which can corrode the enamel on your teeth. The problem is that this bacteria lives in the plaque that forms on your teeth, so any acid will also ‘stick’ to your teeth. The enamel is something of a protective layer that covers each tooth, and when this becomes damaged, a hole can appear in your tooth – we call this tooth decay, although the holes themselves are often called “caries” or “cavities.”
Cavities are fairly common in children, and adults over the age of 50 also often experience this issue. For some older adults, they may even experience decay around existing fillings as those fillings weaken or crack with time and create opportunities for bacteria to build up in the spaces.
Fortunately, it’s possible to both protect and repair the enamel on your teeth.
Saliva is your body’s simple and effective decay fighter. It contains minerals that help to strengthen the enamel on your teeth, which is why chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow can be an easy way to help the health of your teeth.
Another common and easy way to prevent tooth decay is through fluoride. Fluoride can help to build up the enamel coating on your teeth, making them more resistant to bacteria.
Periodontal disease (“gum disease”): what it is and how to fight it
Periodontal disease – also known as gum disease – comes in two forms. Gingivitis is more common and less severe, while periodontitis is less common but more severe.
Gingivitis is a mild dental issue that many Australians experience in their lifetime at some level. The symptoms of gingivitis are swollen, red gums that bleed easily, especially during and after brushing or flossing. This problem is easily reversed with good health care at home and professional treatment.
Periodontitis, on the other hand, is a more severe form of the disease and is the result of advanced gingivitis. In this case, the gums will become so inflamed that they pull away from the teeth and create ‘pockets’. These pockets, which can sometimes be harder to clean, become traps for bacteria and may increase the risk of infection. If this occurs, your natural immune system will kick in and try to fight the infection, which results in a breakdown of the connective tissue that holds your teeth in place. Eventually, this can lead to the loss of the tooth and damaged bone.
Look out for these symptoms and be sure to speak to a dental professional if you spot them:
- red, swollen, sore or bleeding gums
- persistent bad breath
- loose teeth
- receding gums (i.e. teeth may appear somewhat “longer” than usual)
- sudden sensitivity in your teeth or gums
Treatment will depend largely on your own personal case. For example, many people only experience gingivitis, which can be treated at home in some cases. Others will need to visit their dentists for professional cleaning. Advanced cases may need surgical treatment such as flap surgery to fix ‘pockets’, or even tissue and bone grafts should these areas become damaged.
Oral hygiene: how to take care of your oral health at home
One of the best ways to minimise your risk of developing tooth decay or gum disease is good oral hygiene. So what does that entail?
Brushing. Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a toothpaste that has fluoride in it. Use a gentle, circular motion and try not to roughly scrape the brush back and forth horizontally (it can damage your gums). When brushing near your gumline, slightly angle the brush upward. Be sure to brush for two full minutes – time yourself if you need to!
(NOTE: speak with your dentist for tips on looking after young kids’ oral hygiene; children 18 months-6 years old should use a small amount of a toothpaste with a suitable fluoride strength).
Flossing. Brushing your teeth without flossing is a little bit like showering without ever lifting up your arms to scrub your armpits! You should floss at least once daily, usually right before you go to bed. Gently thread the floss in between your teeth and slide it down the side of each tooth.
Eating and drinking. You can also help minimise your risk of oral health issues by avoiding or limiting sugary and acidic foods and drinks. If you do eat something sugary or acidic, try to rinse your mouth with water immediately after you finish. Do not brush your teeth right away, though – wait at least 20 minutes after eating or drinking to give your mouth a scrub.
Bad breath (or “halitosis,” as it’s sometimes called) is a common concern. In a nutshell, bad breath commonly occurs when odour-producing bacteria develop in the mouth. There are a few factors that can cause this, such as conditions like tooth decay or gum disease, dry mouth, or even certain foods.
When you don’t regularly brush or floss, food particles are more inclined to stay behind in your mouth. Not only can this damage your enamel and gums, but it can cause some funky odours.
The best way to tackle bad breath is to see a dental professional who can help you understand if you need to address any oral health issues. However, here are a couple hints and tips for keeping your breath a little fresher:
• Gargle and rinse your mouth with a water and salt mixture or an antiseptic, plaque-reducing mouthwash which fights oral bacteria. Talk to us if you aren’t sure which type of mouthwash is right for you.
• Replace your toothbrush every three months. An old toothbrush with worn-out bristles is a breeding ground for bacteria and may not be as effective at cleaning.
• Drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and chew sugar-free gum. This produces more saliva which can help wash away food particles and bacteria.
How can we help?
Aside from oral hygiene at home, regular dental visits are another important defence against tooth decay and gum disease. Professional cleans will keep your teeth and gums in good shape, and routine exams will help us spot signs of any problems. We can also help you pick the right products to use at home and reduce bad breath.
If you have any questions about your oral health or would like to schedule an appointment, contact our friendly team.