Patient Education

Patient Education

Taking Care of your Teeth and Gums

Good oral care is part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s easy to keep your teeth and gums in good health. A simple routine of daily teeth cleaning, good eating habits and regular dental visits can help prevent dental conditions. 

What causes tooth decay and gum disease?

Your teeth are covered with a sticky film of bacteria called plaque (sounds like PLAK). After a meal or snack, these bacteria convert the sugar in foods into acids. These acids attack the enamel, the tooth’s hard outer layer. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel to break down and lead to cavities.

If you brush twice a day and floss once a day, you can remove most of the harmful plaque and bacteria. But if plaque stays on the teeth, it will eventually harden into tartar. It is harder to brush and floss when tartar builds up near the gum line.

Plaque that is not removed can also irritate and inflame your gums, making them swell or bleed. This is called gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease. The good news is that gingivitis can be reversed with professional dental cleaning and good oral hygiene at home.

If gum disease is left untreated, it can cause your gums to pull away from the teeth. Pockets or spaces can form between the teeth and gums. These pockets can become infected. In advanced stages of gum disease, bone loss can occur and teeth may become loose, fall out or have to be pulled.

You can prevent both tooth decay and gum disease by always remembering to brush twice a day and floss daily. It is much easier and less expensive to prevent disease and decay than to treat them!

What are some tips for brushing teeth properly?

Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoride (FLOOR-ide) is a mineral that helps make tooth enamel stronger. There is more than one way to brush your teeth, so it’s a good idea to ask your dentist which one to use.

Why do I need to clean between my teeth?

Even if you brush twice a day, there are places your toothbrush bristles can’t reach. Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between teeth and under the gum line. Your dentist or hygienist can show you the right way to floss. It may feel clumsy at first, but don’t give up. It takes time to get the hang of it.

If you haven’t been flossing, you may experience sore or bleeding gums for the first five or so days that you floss. This should stop once the plaque is broken up and the bacteria are removed. If bleeding does not stop, see your dentist.

If you have trouble handling floss, you may wish to try a floss holder or another type of interdental cleaning aid. Interdental cleaners include narrow brushes, picks, or sticks used to remove plaque from between teeth. Your dentist or hygienist can tell you how to use these special cleaners.

There are so many dental products. How do I know what works best?

  • Choose products with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. The ADA Seal on a product is your assurance that it has met ADA standards for safety and effectiveness. Look for the ADA Seal on fluoride toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, interdental cleaners, oral irrigators and mouth rinse.
  • Look for a toothpaste with fluoride. Fluoride helps keep tooth enamel strong and can aid in repairing the early stages of decay. If you have sensitive teeth, your dentist may suggest using special toothpaste.
  • Select a toothbrush that feels comfortable in your hand and in your mouth, and use it twice a day. All ADA-accepted toothbrushes – manual or powered – earned the ADA Seal because they can remove plaque above the gum line and reduce gingivitis. For children, choose a child-sized toothbrush.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed.  A worn toothbrush won’t clean your teeth properly. Children’s toothbrushes often need replacing more frequently because they can wear out sooner. If you have hand, arm, or shoulder problems that limit movement, you may find a powered toothbrush easier to use.
  • Oral irrigating devices use a stream of water to remove food particles around the teeth. They can be helpful for people who wear braces or dentures. However, an oral irrigator is meant to enhance, not replace, regular brushing and flossing.
  • Check mouthwash labels closely. Some mouth rinses just cover up odors; others actually kill germs and reduce plaque.  Some mouth rinses have fluoride. If you are constantly using a breath freshener for bad breath, see your dentist. In some cases, bad breath may be a sign of poor health.
  • Ask your dentist or hygienist for product tips.

People’s needs may differ, and your dental team can point you to products for your specific needs.

Healthy Smile Tips for Life

Healthy smiles make great impressions! To keep your mouth in good condition,

  • Always brush twice a day,
  • Clean between your teeth daily,
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit snacks, and
  • Visit your dentist regularly for a dental exam and professional teeth cleaning.

Cavities

What and how often you eat can affect your teeth

Eating habits and food choices can lead to tooth decay, or cavities. A steady supply of sugary foods and drinks, including sports and energy drinks, can damage teeth. But snacking or “grazing” all day long can also lead to tooth decay.

Plaque (sounds like “back”) is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth. When you do not remove plaque from your teeth every day, it builds up. Plaque bacteria use sugar to make acid that attacks enamel, the hard surface of the tooth. The acid can attack tooth enamel for up to 20 minutes after you consume sugary foods or drinks.

When you have sugary foods or drinks many times a day or sip the same sugary drink for a long time, acid attacks the enamel again and again. Repeated acid attacks can cause tooth decay, which must be treated by a dentist.

One way of making smarter food and drink choices is to read their labels to make sure they are low in added sugar.

A healthy diet keeps your mouth healthy.

Eating a healthy diet helps keep you from feeling tired, getting sick, being overweight, and having other health problems, like tooth decay.

A healthy diet is one that

  • is based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts
  • is low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium), and added sugars
  • has foods in the amounts shown on the My Plate picture

Almost all foods have some type of sugar. You cannot and should not remove all sugar from your diet. Many foods and drinks, like apples, carrots, and milk, naturally contain sugars. They also have vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that your body needs.

For teeth to be healthy, they need vitamins, protein, calcium, and phosphorous.

Reduce your risk of tooth decay

  • Limit sugary drinks and snacks between meals. Remember, many sports and energy drinks have sugar, too. If you do snack, choose foods that are low in sugar and fat.
  • If you have sugary foods and drinks, have them with meals. Saliva increases during meals and helps weaken acid and rinse food particles from the mouth.
  • Chew sugarless gum that has the ADA Seal. Chewing gum for 20 minutes after meals has been shown to reduce tooth decay.
  • Drink water. Drinking tap water with fluoride can help prevent tooth decay. And it can help wash away sugary drinks.
  • See your dentist regularly.

Healthy Smile Tips

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between your teeth once a day.
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit snacks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly

For more information about taking care of your mouth and teeth, visit MouthHealthy.org, the ADA’s website just for patients.

Gum Disease

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal (perry-o-DON-tal) disease is an inflammation of the gums that can lead to loss of the bone that supports the teeth. If it is not treated, the disease can cause tooth loss. This disease is common and affects people of all ages.

You can have periodontal disease without pain or other clear symptoms. That’s why it is important to visit the dentist regularly. Regular dental visits allow your dentist to spot and treat problems in their early stages.

What causes periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film that is always forming on your teeth. Plaque contains bacteria that produce harmful toxins. If teeth are not cleaned well, the toxins can irritate and inflame the gums.

Healthy gum tissue fits like a cuff around each tooth. But inflamed gum tissue can pull away from the teeth and form spaces called pockets. These pockets collect more plaque bacteria. If the infected pockets are not treated, the disease gets worse. The bone and other tissues that support teeth are damaged. Over time, teeth may fall out or need to be removed.

You can help prevent tooth loss by cleaning your teeth and gums each day. Plaque is removed by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily. If plaque stays on your teeth, it hardens into a rough substance called calculus, or tartar. Tartar can only be removed when teeth are cleaned at the dental office.

How can I tell if I have periodontal disease?

Some people with periodontal disease have few or no warning signs. If you notice any of these signs, see your dentist:

  • gums that bleed when you brush or floss
  • red, swollen or tender gums
  • gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • bad breath that doesn’t go away
  • pus between your teeth and gums
  • loose or separating teeth
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • a change in the fit of partial dentures

How does my dentist check for periodontal disease?

The dentist checks for problems by looking at the color and firmness of your gums. He or she also uses a tool called a periodontal probe to gently measure the depth of pockets between your teeth and gums. Very deep pockets are a sign of advanced periodontal disease.

During your visit, dental x-rays may be taken to check the amount of bone supporting the teeth. The dentist may also check how your teeth fit together.

How do I keep my gums healthy?

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes each time.
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or another interdental cleaner.
  • If you need extra help controlling plaque, your dentist or hygienist may recommend using a germ-fighting toothpaste, mouth rinse or other oral hygiene aids.
  • Eat a healthy diet for good general and oral health.
  • Don’t use tobacco in any form.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for an exam and professional cleaning. With regular dental visits, your dentist can detect and treat periodontal disease in its early stages.

Are there treatments for periodontal disease?

The mildest form of periodontal disease is called gingivitis (jin-ji-VIE-tis). It makes the gums red and swollen. They also may bleed easily when you brush. The good news is that gingivitis can be reversed. Sometimes all it takes is better oral care at home and more frequent professional cleanings.

The more advanced form of the disease is called periodontitis (perry-o-don-TIE-tis). It results in more swelling and redness in the tissues around the teeth. It also causes the tissue and bone to break down.

If you have periodontitis, your dentist may suggest a treatment called scaling and root planing. The dentist carefully removes plaque and tartar down to the bottom of each periodontal pocket. He or she also smoothes the tooth’s root surfaces to allow the gum tissue to heal and reattach to the tooth. This treatment often takes more than one visit.

To control infection, sometimes antibiotics can be placed directly in the pocket after scaling and root planing. Your dentist may also prescribe medicines to help control pain or aid healing.

All dentists are taught to detect and treat periodontal disease. Sometimes your dentist may refer you to a periodontist. This is a dentist who specializes in diagnosing and treating periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease will not go away by itself. Preventing and treating the disease in the early stages are the best ways to keep your smile healthy and avoid tooth loss. If you have periodontal disease, follow your dentist’s recommendations for treatment and follow-up care.

This information is courtesy of American Dental Association and perio chip.