Healthy teeth and gums make it easy for you to eat well and enjoy good food. There are a number of problems that can affect the health of your mouth, but good care should keep your teeth and gums strong.
Teeth are covered in a hard, outer coating called enamel. Every day, a thin film of bacteria called dental plaque builds up on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that can begin to harm enamel. Over time, the acids can cause a hole in the enamel. This hole is called a cavity. Brushing and flossing your teeth can protect you from decay, but once a cavity happens, a dentist has to fix it.
You can protect your teeth from decay by using fluoride toothpaste. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of medicines you take), you might need more fluoride. Your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment during an office visit. Or, the dentist may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.
Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and under the gum line. This plaque causes infections that hurt the gum and bone that hold teeth in place. Sometimes gum disease makes your gums tender and more likely to bleed. This problem, called gingivitis, can often be fixed by daily brushing and flossing.
A more severe form of gum disease, called periodontitis, needs to be treated by a dentist. If not treated, this infection can ruin the bones, gums, and other tissues that support your teeth. Over time, your teeth may have to be removed.
Good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist will help you maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Here are some tips to help you look after your teeth.
- Brush at least twice a day.The best time to brush teeth is after meals. Choose a toothbrush with a small head for better access to back teeth. Soft bristles are kinder on your gums.
- Use fluoridated toothpaste.Fluoride helps to harden tooth enamel and reduces your risk of decay.
- Brush thoroughly.Tooth brushing should take between two and three minutes.
- Floss your teeth daily.Use a slow and gentle sawing motion.
- Limit acidic drinks like soft drinks, cordials and fruit juices.Food acids soften tooth material and dissolve the minerals in tooth enamel, causing holes (cavities or caries). In severe cases, teeth may be ‘eaten’ right down to the gum.
- Limit sugary foods.Bacteria in dental plaque change sugars into acids.
- Protect your teeth from injury. Wear a mouthguard or full-face helmet when playing sports.
- Try to save a knocked out tooth.If possible, hold the tooth back in place while you seek immediate dental advice. If this is not possible, wrap the tooth in plastic or place it in milk and seek dental advice immediately
- See your dentist for regular check-ups.You should also visit your dentist if you have a dental problem such as a toothache or bleeding gums.
- Use mouthwash.