Good Oral Health Habits to Guard Your Grin
Good oral health not only protects the integrity of your teeth and gums but also ensures that your smile remains bright for years to come. Even if you brush and floss regularly, however, there are still some oral health concerns that you may end up facing. Whether a result of your lifestyle or your genetic endowment, these issues may be worrying and unpleasant, but they can all be addressed and managed.
The Basics About Your Teeth
To understand the problems you may face with your teeth, it is important to first understand what your teeth are made of. At the very center of the tooth lies a hollow area filled with nerves, blood vessels and other soft tissues. This is called the dental pulp. Surrounding the dental pulp is a hard, yellowish material called dentin. Covering the dentin below the level of the gums is a layer of hard tissue called cementum, while above the gum line the dentin is covered by the hard, smooth, white outer layer of the tooth: the enamel. Each tooth sits in a space in the jaw bone supported by ligaments and surrounded by the soft gingiva or gum tissue.
What Are Gingivitis and Periodontitis?
Healthy gums are usually light pink or coral, composed of firm orange peel textured tissues, and fitted closely to the teeth, following their contours and forming a scalloped edge. In this healthy state, gums will not bleed or cause discomfort during your daily oral hygiene routine, and there will be no visible redness or swelling. When plaque or tartar is allowed to accumulate along the gum line, however, these healthy tissues can become inflamed and painful. This development is called gingivitis.
Regular visits to your dental hygienist and frequent self-checks can help catch and treat gum disease before it reaches irreversible levels. The best way to protect your gum health, however, is the maintenance of an effective oral health plan including regular brushing and flossing, use of a fluoridated toothpaste, and in some cases use of specialized mouth rinses.
An Inside Look at Cavities
In addition to gum health, good oral hygiene can help prevent tooth damage in the form of cavities. When bacteria are allowed to remain on your teeth over time, particularly in the spaces between teeth, their chemical output gradually eats away at the tooth enamel. Low salivary flow, consumption of sticky sugary foods, and large gaps between eating sugary foods and cleaning the teeth, can all increase the likelihood of cavity formation. The natural strength, shape, and positioning of your teeth may also affect your risk of cavities.
Especially if you have a family history of weak enamel and frequent cavities, oral hygiene products containing fluoride will help to strengthen the tooth, harden your enamel, and even rebuild the tooth at the early stages of cavity formation. In combination with reducing problem foods such as candy and sticky starches like chips, and ensuring regular plaque removal, fluoride can help you maintain healthy cavity free teeth.
Tooth Grinding 101
Even with excellent oral hygiene, you may still face other dental concerns. Affecting 8% to 20% of the adult population, bruxism or teeth grinding can lead to a range of problems including tooth sensitivity, jaw pain, enamel erosion, and even the cracking and chipping of teeth. Most severe teeth grinding occurs during sleep and so can be very hard to diagnose until it reaches such severity that your partner can hear you grinding, or that you begin to suffer from pain, migraines, and visible tooth degradation.
The cause of bruxism is still unclear but stress seems to play a role in the severity and frequency of episodes. Thus, stress reduction and behavioral change therapies may be helpful in reducing the impact of bruxism. Ultimately, however, there is no certain cure so most dentists will recommend the use of a custom dental night guard. These guards fit closely to your teeth and protect them from the erosion and pressure resulting from grinding.
A Look at Mouth Guards
Physical trauma through sporting activities can not only lead to bruises and broken bones, but can also cause dental injuries which are unsightly, painful, and expensive to repair. In any contact sport, a mouth guard and a helmet should be worn as default.
Mouth guards for sport come in a variety of forms from the often large and clumsy (but cheapest) stock mouth guard, to boil and bite guards which allow a better fit through softening and molding to the teeth, and finally to custom mouth guards fitted precisely to your unique bite by your dentist. A custom mouth guard will offer the best fit and protection without inhibiting breathing or speech, but they do tend to be more expensive than other options. Regardless of cost, the most important features of a mouth guard are:\
- Complete and durable protection for all your teeth;
- A good fit which ensures the guard won’t fall out if you get hit;
- No interference with breathing or speaking; and
Once you’ve chosen a mouth guard that works for you, you can extend its lifespan by rinsing it in cold water after each use, occasionally cleaning it with soap and water, storing the guard in a closed container filled with water, and carefully watching for any signs of tearing or damage. As soon as you identify damage on the guard, it’s time to replace it to ensure the best protection of your teeth.
Get Started with Healthy Teeth and Gums
A healthy mouth is vital for comfortable eating and speaking, and for maintaining good self-esteem. Though there are many potential oral health concerns, most of them can be prevented or managed by good consistent oral hygiene practices such as twice-daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste and regular flossing. Dental professionals can treat oral health issues and can help you set up good oral health habits, but ultimately prevention starts with you making good choices in food and drink consumption and dental care.
Sources: HealthLine.com, ProTeethGuard.com