Anyone who has been coming to our office for a while knows that modern dentistry isn’t primarily about cavities. Yes, that is still the second most common disease, next to a cold, but it doesn’t take much effort to keep your teeth free of cavities (aka dental caries). Even if your brushing and flossing are not perfect, we can catch their early development if you come in for the recommended examination twice a year and easily treat any that might not even be visible to you.
Prevention is, of course, better, but few of us learned how to brush and floss correctly when growing up. If you aren’t sure, ask your hygienist to show you on your next visit. You need to use a soft bristle brush to avoid damaging the gums. Stroke firmly, but gently, from the gum line to the top of the tooth at a 45° angle on both sides. This needs to be done for two minutes twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste and a dentist-grade mouthwash.
Flossing only needs to be done before bedtime, but be sure it is held so that the string scrapes off all food particles on both sides of each tooth.
The good news is that doing this right will prevent the much greater danger to the oral health of adults, periodontal or gum disease. Gum infection is initially not painful and is known as gingivitis, with the first symptoms being red or inflamed gums and sometimes bleeding. Three quarters of American adults have it and this can be treated by having your hygienist not only clean your teeth, but inject an antibacterial pellet or solution. If the infection is chronic, a periodontist may need to peel away the gums and do a deep cleaning of the roots of the teeth and even gum surgery.
When gum disease is advanced, it is called periodontitis and the infection has caused the gums to pull away from the tooth, while it may have also started to eat away at the bone in which the tooth is rooted. This can result in it falling out or needing to be extracted. Once a tooth is missing, the neighboring teeth lean in to fill the gap and then become loose themselves. To stop this from happening you would need to have the tooth replaced by a dental implant or a dental bridge.
You should ask for a full set of digital x-rays once a year to detect whether gum infection has reached into the jawbone. If too much bone is missing, a bone graft may be needed to restore the health of your jaw.
With good habits, you can maintain the health of your gums and teeth for a lifetime.