Preventative Oral Maintenance Tips
Solutions to Your Common Dental Problems
When you’ve got a tooth infection, a cavity or a dental emergency, it shouldn’t be difficult to decide whether your symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the dentist. Your body will tell you with a toothache that you can’t dismiss or show you evidence that it needs care by bleeding, producing a pustule or a bitter taste may be tasted coming from the site of the affected tooth.
What about oral health problems that arise between trips to the dentist? The ones that are uncomfortable but not urgent? Many of the oral health topics that dentists discuss with their patients are common concerns like the possible onset of gingivitis, colour changes to the teeth, tooth sensitivity and even headaches! Here is some information about common dental problems and what to do if they arise between dental visits.
If we asked you what causes cavities in the mouth, the vast majority would answer ‘sugar’ – and they’d be right. But what do we mean by sugar exactly? The truth about tooth decay is that it is not only caused by the sugary sweets we enjoy, but the sugars we eat in the form of carbohydrates like bread and potato chips.
The reason for this is that the human mouth contains many naturally occurring forms of bacteria. With good nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits, these bacteria are kept in ‘check’ in terms of their numbers. When we eat sugars, however, the bacteria population in our mouths celebrate by growing in number! These bacteria feed on the sugars in our food and when they do so they excrete an acidic by-product. This acid is damaging to enamel, and results in decay and/or gingivitis over time. Symptoms of decay include pain or sensitivity in the affected teeth while gingivitis causes swollen, irritated and red gums that bleed when flossed. Gingivitis is the first step in gum disease and can be remedied with a diligent oral hygiene protocol. The solution? Kick your oral health up a notch by brushing and flossing at each end of the day and after meals when possible. Don’t let your bleeding gums deter you! Regular flossing will remove bacteria and debris against the gums, and they will stop bleeding as a result. See your dentist regularly for checkups and have him/her monitor your progress.
Teeth whitening, also known as bleaching, is a common request among patients looking to restore their teeth to a lighter and more natural shade. Tooth whitening is an effective way to lighten the teeth, but the question patients should be asking themselves is: ‘why are my teeth discolouring in the first place?’ The answer can typically be traced back to a few primary causes: age, lifestyle, hygiene and, in some cases, complications from previous root canals. Teeth that are changing colour to a greyish shade, and that have previously undergone root canal therapy are likely discolouring from the inside. In this case, your dentist may offer internal bleaching, as traditional whitening therapies are not likely to be effective.
Teeth can discolour as they age since enamel is partially transparent and thins over time. Colour changes due to poor diet, hygiene and lifestyle habits (like smoking) can be managed by adopting healthier habits. Nutrient-dense foods such as greens and quality protein sources contain the important vitamins and minerals that your teeth need to stay strong and healthy. When you consume a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, you put your teeth at increased risk for decay, gingivitis, plaque and tartar. Tartar is found where a lack of good cleaning habits has resulted in plaque that has calcified and hardened around the tooth. The tartar itself tends to be yellowish or brownish and is easily stained by coffee, red wine, or tobacco smoke. Tartar requires professional removal by a qualified oral hygienist.
Do you wake up with tension in your head, face and/or neck? Do your ears occasionally hurt for no apparent reason? You may want to discuss your symptoms with your dentist. Bruxism, or clenching and grinding the teeth, may be to blame for your pain. Your dentist will assess your TM joint (temporomandibular joint – the one that joins your upper and lower jaw) for signs of overdevelopment of the muscle or of clicking and popping when in motion.
While some people clench and grind their teeth during the day, it is more common for that habit to present at night when you are fast asleep. There are several treatment options to discuss with your doctor. Medications that encourage your muscles to relax may be prescribed to take before bed to minimize the degree of tension in the jaw. Alternatively, your dentist may offer a night guard to wear to prevent the teeth from making contact at night and, therefore, decreasing soreness and protecting the enamel from potential breakage. This is important because the human jaw is extremely strong, and teeth can suffer from micro fracturing of the enamel or outright breakage without intervention. Finally, your dentist may discuss Botox® injections as a potential treatment for your bruxism symptoms. These injections target the overactive muscles in the jaw and weaken them enough to stop involuntary contractions. Other peripheral treatments include acupuncture, massage or relaxation techniques to help relieve symptoms of stress that may be contributing to the onset of bruxism.
Do you cringe at the thought of a cold drink against your sensitive teeth? You’re not alone. One need only stroll down the toothpaste isle to get a real feel for how common tooth sensitivity is! If you are not getting enough relief from your sensitive formula toothpaste, it may be time to think about what might be contributing to your sensitivity.
If you have been using whitening products on your teeth such as whitening strips, rinses or toothpaste, you could be causing extra sensitivity without knowing it. That’s because whitening agents use peroxide to bleach the teeth. The peroxide travels through the small pores, or channels, in your enamel and acts on the dentin within your teeth. Dentin is what the inside of our teeth are made of and what protects the inner pulp of the teeth. Dentin is more yellow than the enamel of your teeth, and it can show through the transparent properties of the enamel. The trouble comes when the peroxide you’re using to whiten your dentin causes slight dehydration of the dentin, putting pressure on the chamber of the tooth as it contracts. This dehydration is felt on the nerve of the teeth as a slight increase in pressure which leads to discomfort. We recommend foregoing the whitening agents and choosing toothpaste that helps to decrease the sensitivity with use.
If sensitive formula toothpaste just isn’t enough relief, consider talking to your dentist about other clinical strength products which can help decrease your tooth sensitivity. If you are hesitant to give up your whitening products, your dentist may recommend using a clinical strength rehydrating product on the teeth after a whitening treatment to mitigate the discomfort. Clinical whitening products are more effective than daily-use over-the-counter formulas, and they do not need to be applied daily. Clinical products have the added benefit of gum barriers and custom whitening trays which help the whitening products stay on the teeth without making unnecessary contact with your soft tissues. This prevents additional irritation that can accompany whitening treatments.