You probably don’t give too much thought to the saliva in your mouth, but if you think of it like a bloodstream you’ll realize how important it is.
Like blood, saliva helps build and maintain the health of the soft and hard tissues.
It removes waste products from the mouth and offers first-line protection against microbial invasion that might lead to disease.
Saliva is derived from blood and therefore can also be used to detect disease.
Saliva enhances enamel protection by providing high levels of calcium and phosphate ions. It contains the minerals that maintain the integrity of the enamel surface and helps protect against caries.
When salivary flow is reduced, oral health deteriorates – much in the same way body tissues suffer if blood circulation is disrupted.
Patients with dry mouths (xerostomia) experience difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing. A major cause of dry mouth is medication – almost eighty percent of the most commonly prescribed medications lead to dry mouth.
Chewing gum after a snack or meal stimulates salivary flow, clearing food from the mouth and neutralizing plaque acid.
Your saliva is important to your oral health both for preventing disease and in helping to diagnose problems.
Some women worry about whether it’s safe to have an X-ray exam while they are pregnant.
This can cause them to put off treatment they need.
However, untreated dental infections can pose a risk to the fetus, and dental treatment may be necessary to maintain the health of the mother and child. Sometimes this will mean an X-ray is necessary.
Radiation from dental X-rays is extremely low but every precaution is taken to minimize radiation exposure.
For example, a leaded apron reduces exposure to the abdomen and should be used when a dental radiograph is taken.
In addition, a leaded thyroid collar can protect the thyroid from radiation, and should be used whenever possible. The use of a leaded thyroid collar is strongly recommended for women of childbearing age, pregnant women and children.
Overall there is no reason to avoid dental radiographs (X-rays) while pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to become pregnant.
Follow your dentist’s advice and ask questions if you have any concerns.
There are many people who find it difficult to look after their dental health properly because they have problems handling a toothbrush.
This can be due to a severe physical disability or simply basic dexterity problems.
There are a few simple steps you can take to make it easier for people who find it difficult to hold on to a toothbrush or dental floss.
Here are some simple ‘home remedies’:
– Use a wide elastic band to attach the brush to the hand
– Enlarge the brush handle with a sponge, rubber ball or bicycle handle grip
– Wind an elastic bandage or adhesive tape around the handle
– Lengthen the handle with a piece of wood or plastic such as a ruler, popsicle stick or tongue depressor
– Tie floss into a loop for easier handling
– Use an electric toothbrush or commercial floss holder
Your dentist will be able to provide specific guidance and further tips for people who need an easier way to handle a toothbrush and floss.
Maintaining proper nutrition is important for everyone, young or old but many older adults find it difficult to eat a balanced diet.
They may avoid meats, raw vegetables and fresh fruits because they have trouble chewing or swallowing.
These problems can be caused by painful teeth, ill-fitting dentures, dry mouth or changes in facial muscles.
Others find their sense of taste has changed, sometimes due to a disease or certain medications.
As a result, older adults often have diets lacking in calcium, protein and other nutrients essential to dental and overall health.
A balanced diet has to be based on the five food groups:
– Milk and dairy products
– Breads and cereals
– Meats and dried beans
Sometimes a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement will help but it’s best to use supplements only after discussion with your physician.
If your teeth are stopping you from eating the food you enjoy – or that you need for good health – your dentist will be able to help you find a solution.
Orthodontic appliances such as braces can be used to help straighten out crooked and crowded teeth.
This is not just about looking better; it also helps improve your dental health.
How they look may determine how you feel about wearing them but, these days, braces can be as inconspicuous as you want.
Brackets the part of the braces that attaches to each tooth – can sometimes be attached to the back of the tooth, making them less noticeable.
The brackets can be made in a wide range of different materials such as metal, ceramic or plastic.
They can also be designed to look appealing. For example, they may be clear or tooth-colored. There can also be shaped in a variety of ways like hearts and footballs or created in favorite colors.
You could even go for gold-plated braces or glow-in-the-dark retainers!
Oral cancer hits more than 30,000 Americans every year but you can minimize the risk by taking steps to ensure it’s caught early enough.
The first indications of oral cancer may be a very small, but dangerous, oral spot or sore that you are not even aware of.
In a routine examination, your dentist will carefully examine the inside of your mouth and tongue.
If they notice a flat, painless, white or red spot or a small sore, this may be completely harmless. But harmful spots or sores often look the same as harmless ones.
To ensure that a spot or sore is not dangerous, your dentist may choose to perform a simple test, such as a brush test. This collects cells from the lesion which can them be analyzed.
Any positive results from a brush test must usually be confirmed by a biopsy before deciding the next step.
If precancerous cells are found, the lesion can be surgically removed if necessary during a separate procedure.
When caught early enough, the chances of preventing the cancer developing are high but only half of those diagnosed survive more than five years.
That’s why regular dental examinations are so important for your overall health and not just to have good teeth.
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that covers our teeth and, when we eat something, these bacteria release acids that attack the tooth enamel.
When these attacks are repeated over time, the enamel will break down and this will eventually lead to cavities.
When plaque is not removed through daily brushing and cleaning it hardens into calculus or tartar. When tartar collects above the gum line, brushing and cleaning between the teeth becomes more difficult.
The gum tissue can become swollen or may bleed. This is called gingivitis and it is the early stage of periodontal (gum) disease.
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself against this happening:
– Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
– Clean between teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner
– Eat a balanced diet and limit the number of snacks between meals
– Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams
– Ask your dentist about sealants – these are protective coatings that can be applied to the back teeth where decay often starts.
If you take steps to remove the plaque each day, you have a greater chance of avoiding tooth and gum problems.
Sealants are made from plastic material applied to the back teeth to protect the enamel from plaque and acids.
The plastic bonds into the depressions and grooves (pits and fissures) of the chewing surfaces of the back teeth – premolars and molars.
Although thorough brushing and flossing can help remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth, the toothbrush bristles cannot reach all the way into the depressions and grooves to extract food and plaque.
The benefit of sealants is that they protect these vulnerable areas by “sealing out” plaque and food.
Your dentist can apply sealants quite easily and it takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth.
The teeth being sealed will first be cleaned. Then the chewing surfaces are roughened with an acid solution which makes it easier for the sealant to stick to the tooth.
The sealant is then ‘painted’ onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens.
Sometimes a special curing light is used to help the sealant harden.
As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay.
They usually last several years before a reapplication is needed. Your dentist will check the condition of the sealants during your regular visits and reapply them when necessary.
Sealants are ideal for children because the risk of developing pit and fissure decay starts early in life. However, many adults can benefit from sealants as well.
Your dentist can tell you whether sealants would help your oral hygiene program.
People who have not followed adequate dental care for some years may have already lost most of their teeth and feel a little hopeless.
Sometimes they ask a dentist to remove the remaining teeth as they are often broken and have deep cavities.
It’s true that, sometimes, removal of the remaining teeth and replacing them with full dentures is the only option.
But more often there are other options available.
Some or all of the remaining teeth could be repaired and used in conjunction with a partial denture. While a full denture replaces all of the teeth on the upper or lower jaw, a partial denture replaces some of the teeth.
If only a few weak teeth remain on the upper jaw, it might be preferable to have them extracted and a full upper denture made. Full upper dentures can be more secure than lower ones as the upper denture gets added stability from the palate and is not easily dislodged by the tongue.
If only a few teeth remain on the lower jaw, however, the dentist will usually aim to save them and use a partial denture if necessary.
Ideally, all teeth that can be saved should be saved but this is not always possible – often due to finances.
In such cases, having teeth removed and dentures may be the only option.
Space maintainers can be crucial to the dental health of a child.
When a child loses a baby tooth early through decay or injury, the other teeth can shift and begin to fill the vacant space.
If this happens, the problem is that, when the permanent teeth emerge, there’s not enough room for them.
This can lead to crooked or crowded teeth and difficulties with chewing or speaking.
To prevent that, the dentist can insert a space maintainer.
This holds the space left by the lost tooth until the permanent tooth emerges.
Space maintainers might be a band or a temporary crown attached to one side of the space.
When the permanent tooth emerges, the dentist removes the device and protects the child’s future smile.