How to Take Care of Your Teeth and Gums
June 29, 2016 at 4:12 PM
Written by Kathleen Davis FNP
Taking good care of your teeth and gums is an important part of maintaining overall good health. Poor oral health is significantly associated with major chronic diseases and can cause disability and contribute to low self-esteem.
Proper oral care does not require excessive time or expensive tools. Avoiding simple sugars, and implementing daily gentle tooth brushing and flossing is the basic foundation for good teeth and gum care.
Additionally, no smoking, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular dental cleanings and checkups are needed to keep gums healthy and teeth cavity free.
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Fast facts on tooth and gum care
Here are some key points about teeth and gums. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Teeth are covered with a hard, outer coating called enamel.
- A tooth is primarily composed of minerals.
- Plaque is a sticky colorless film of bacteria that adhere to teeth.
- Plaque use sugar to produce acids, which eat away at the tooth's enamel.
- Saliva constantly remineralizes teeth, protecting them from decay.
- Dental caries (decay) is the result of an infectious process.
- Early decay can be reversed by natural remineralization.
- A cavity is decay that has progressed to the point it forms a hole in the tooth.
- Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes gums to bleed with brushing.
- Tobacco use is one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease.
- Within 3-5 minutes after exposure to sugar the teeth begin to demineralize.
- Chewing sugar-free gum after meals results in a significant reduction in the formation of dental cavities.
- People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing infections, including gum disease.
- Some people are genetically more prone to severe gum disease than others.
What is dental decay?
Dental decay affects adults as well as children, and the severity of the disease actually increases with age.
Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Cavities are also called tooth decay or caries.
Tooth decay requires exposure to sugar, but also depends on the susceptibility of the tooth, the bacterial profile of the mouth, the quantity and quality of the saliva, and the amount of time the tooth is exposed to sugars.
Cavities and tooth decay are among the world's most common health problems. They are especially common in children, teenagers and older adults. But anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants.
The best way to care for your teeth and gums is to follow good eating habits, brush, and floss daily, and have regular dental cleanings and checkups.
Practice good eating habits
There is overwhelming evidence that sugars are the most important dietary factor in dental disease. Specifically, it is the amount and frequency of free sugars consumed that determine the severity of decay.
Although other fermentable carbohydrates such as bread, crackers, bananas and breakfast cereals may not be totally blameless, studies show that consumption of starchy staple foods and fresh fruit are associated with lower levels of dental caries. Fluoride reduces caries risk, but does not eliminate dental caries completely.
Consuming a variety of foods rich in nutrients and avoiding those that contain sugars and starches are important for keeping teeth and gums healthy.
Sugar and sweets intake should be limited, as the bacteria in the mouth need sugar to produce the acids that weaken enamel and damage teeth. Each time you expose your teeth to sugar the demineralization process begins, and it can take up to an hour for the mouth to return to normal non-acidic PH conditions.
Crunchy fruit and vegetables such as apples, pears, celery, and carrots are good in between snacks as the chewing activity increases the production of saliva, and saliva helps protect teeth.
Water should be consumed liberally, and any soft drink or fruit juice beverage (diet and regular), should be consumed with caution.
Most soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which interferes with the body's ability to absorb calcium. Fruit juices will also bathe the teeth in damaging sugar. Drinking these beverages through a straw can help minimize the time the teeth are exposed to the acid.
Chewing sugarless gum for ten minutes after meals and snacks can also help reduce decay. One study shows that it is not the sorbitol or xylitol contained in the gum, but rather the increased salivary flow attributed to the chewing process that helps teeth stay healthy. Eating hard cheese after a sugary snack is another alternative for teeth protection.
However, there are several studies that state that although increased salivation helps keep teeth healthy, xylitol has been demonstrated to have antimicrobial properties and the ability to efficiently inhibit the acid production of cariogenic bacteria and prevent oral diseases caused by dental plaque.
Studies also note that xylitol both reduces the incidence of caries among children and due to its neutral pH, contributes to an oral environment that is hostile to acidophilic bacteria, thus fostering the growth of gram-positive basophilic bacteria, which are less associated with dental and respiratory diseases.
Brush your teeth
Brushing your teeth daily with fluoridated toothpaste is the best method for reducing plaque. The American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) recommends brushing for two minutes, twice daily. Proper brushing technique cleans teeth and gums effectively. To prevent damage to the enamel, only use a soft-bristle toothbrush.
The toothbrush should be placed against the teeth at a 45-degree angle to the gum line. Using back, forth, and small circular motions, all tooth surfaces should be gently brushed, followed by a light brushing of the tongue. Avoid eating for 30 minutes after brushing.
A toothbrush should be replaced at least every three months, as well as after any illness.
Daily flossing is necessary for removing plaque and food particles that your toothbrush cannot reach.
The area just beneath the gum line and the tight spaces between teeth are vulnerable areas where plaque can build up and turn to tartar. If you do not floss regularly, the buildup of plaque and tartar can lead to cavities, as well as gum disease.
Get professional cleanings and dental checkups regularly
Brushing and flossing help get rid of most plaque, but still some plaque is hard to remove and will harden and form tartar.
Only a cleaning by a dental professional can remove tartar. Unremoved plaque and tartar will not only cause decay, but also work its way under the gums and lead to serious gum disease. Eventually, the disease process will become so advanced the only treatment is the extraction of the tooth.
Advanced tooth and gum disease can involve the mouth, as well as other body organs, leading to serious and potentially life-threatening health problems.
X-rays are taken periodically at dental visits to detect possible decay in the tight spaces between teeth and molars. A visit to the dentist can also serve as a time for education; the dentist and hygienist can give you feedback on your home care, and make recommendations for keeping your teeth and gums in top shape.
Dental disease is a costly burden that severely impacts the individual suffering with it and the health care service industry at large. The disease has an impact on self-esteem, eating ability, nutrition and health both in childhood and older age.
Smoking, sugary foods, and lack of attention to teeth and gum care can not only lead to early decay and tooth loss, but also to poor overall health.
By far the best thing you can do to take care of your teeth and gums is to reduce the frequency of free sugar consumption.
Proper care of the teeth and gums requires minimal time commitment. A healthy diet, a consistent oral home hygiene program, and regular professional cleanings and checkups will keep your teeth and gums in excellent shape, and leave you with a beautiful, healthy smile.