Everyone knows that going to the dentist is important for the health of your teeth and gums, but maintaining a healthy mouth is about much, much more than that.
Oral hygiene starts at home, with twice-daily brushing for at least two minutes each time and daily flossing. These practices prevent the buildup of plaque, which is a film of bacteria that sticks to teeth and along the gumline. Our mouths are full of bacteria; everyone has it. So why is it important to keep plaque away? If left untreated, that bacteria can cause cavities and gum disease. If the plaque stays on the teeth, it hardens into tartar, a rough mineral that forms both below and above the gum line. In order to remove it, a dentist will perform a process called scaling, which involves a special instrument and, occasionally, a local anesthetic.
What effect can plaque and tartar have on the health of your mouth? Poor brushing and flossing leads to plaque, which leads to tartar. The accompanying bacteria can infect the tissues that hold your teeth in place – your gums. This called periodontal disease. A mild form of periodontal disease that most people have heard of is gingivitis, which means you have gums that are red, sore, swollen and bleed while flossing and possibly bad breath. If treated at this stage, the gum disease should not lead to bone or tissue loss and can be reversed with improved dental hygiene and regular cleanings.
The second stage of gum disease is called early periodontitis. This is what happens when gingivitis is left untreated. You will notice gums that bleed very easily and are receding. Your dentist will notice inflamed gum tissue around the teeth, which leads to bone loss. Why do the gums recede? A simple reason: They are trying to escape the bacteria. As the gums recede, pockets are created between the teeth and gums, which means more places for bacteria to hide. This can lead to tooth loss and even more infection. To treat this, dentists will remove layers of tartar, smooth the teeth surfaces, and clean the area of the teeth that are underneath the pockets. By doing this, the teeth may reattach and tooth loss may be prevented.
The third stage of gum disease is called moderate periodontitis. This results from a patient ignoring oral hygiene. This leads to bone loss, gums that bleed from infection, pus, and pain. But most seriously is the fact that at this point in gum disease, the infections in the mouth can make their way into the bloodstream, which causes your body to mount an inflammatory defense. To treat moderate periodontitis, dentists use beams of concentrated light to destroy diseased tissue and clean the infected areas.
The four stage of gum disease is called advanced periodontitis. This means the gums are severely infected. You will be in terrible pain while eating, have very bad breath, and experience a bad taste in the mouth that is caused by infection. Teeth will begin to fall out, as the bone has decayed. The teeth that remain may move to fill the spaces. More seriously, patients with advanced periodontitis can develop heart disease and diabetes. A dentist will take urgent and extreme measures to correct this level of gum disease, including implants and bone grafts.
How can you prevent this at home? Brush twice a day. Floss regularly with dental floss or a water pick. Visit the dentist routinely, and do not smoke.
As for the oral health of children, there are other issues to be concerned about. If a child sucked his or her thumb as a baby, he or she may develop an overbite. Or perhaps a child has a very tight mouth, which is simply the result of their bone structure. Both of these conditions can require braces at a young age, especially if the shape of the child’s mouth is preventing adult teeth from growing in when the child loses their baby teeth. In the past, children got braces in their early teen years, once they had lost all of their baby teeth and had their adult teeth. But these days, it is common for braces to be done in stages, beginning around age 8 or 9.
First, the child will receive spacers to prep the mouth. This is a device that arches across the roof of the mouth and is anchored by rubber bands. This will help the bones begin to stretch. It is enlarged every so often at home. Then, the dentist will apply braces on several of their teeth. These will stay on for up to 16 or 18 months, depending on the child’s need and progress. This first stage also can involve headgear.
The potential for gum disease and the need for attentive, proactive oral care in children means you need a good family dentist. But how do you find one? Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- 1. Ask around. You want a dentist who has a great reputation and who is very well respected. Ask your friends and read reviews online.
- 2. Do your research. The dental board in your state will have records of all dentists, including any claims filed against them. Visit the board’s website and read up on the dentists you are considering.
- 3. Pay them a visit. They say first impressions are the most important, and the feel of the office is part of that. Speak to the office staff – you will be dealing with them often, should you choose that dentist. You want friendly faces, especially in the office of a dentist that treats children. You want the experience to be positive for your children; they should not fear going to the dentist, and a good visit begins with the staff. Ask the doctor how long they have been practicing, find out if the office hours work with your schedule, ask how emergencies are handled, and ask about payment information and the insurance accepted.
Good oral health begins at home and continues at the dentist’s office, so take your time and find the one who is right for you.