Q: When and how often should you brush your teeth?
A: The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day.
When you brush your teeth, you help remove food and plaque — a sticky film that forms on your teeth and contains bacteria. After you eat a meal or snack that contains sugar, the bacteria can release acids that attack tooth enamel. Repeated attacks can break down tooth enamel and lead to cavities. Plaque that isn’t removed also can harden into tartar, making it harder to keep teeth clean.
In choosing when to brush your teeth, you might also consider your diet. If you’ve eaten an acidic food or drink, avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes. These acids weaken tooth enamel, and brushing too soon can remove enamel. If you know you’re going to eat or drink something acidic, brush your teeth beforehand.
In addition to brushing your teeth, the American Dental Association recommends that you:
- Floss daily
- Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks
- Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed
- Schedule regular dental checkups
Toothbrush Care and Replacement
Q: How can I take care of my toothbrush?
A: To keep your toothbrush and yourself healthy, make sure you let it dry out between uses. Toothbrushes can be breeding grounds for germs, fungus and bacteria, which after a while can build up to significant levels. After using your toothbrush, shake it vigorously under tap water and store it in an upright position so that it can air out.
To prevent cold and flu viruses from being passed between brushes, try to keep your toothbrush from touching others when it is stored. A standard toothbrush holder with slots for several brushes to hang upright is a worthwhile investment in your family’s health.
Q: How often should I change my toothbrush?
A: Most dentists agree you should change your toothbrush every three months. Studies show that after three months of normal wear and tear, toothbrushes are much less effective at removing plaque from teeth and gums compared to new ones. The bristles break down and loose their effectiveness in getting to all those tricky corners around your teeth. It is also important to change toothbrushes after you’ve had a cold, the flu, a mouth infection or a sore throat. That’s because germs can hide in toothbrush bristles and lead to reinfection. Even if you haven’t been sick, fungus and bacteria can develop in the bristles of your toothbrush —another reason to change your toothbrush regularly.
Did you know that heart disease and oral health are linked? There are two different connections between heart disease and your oral health:
- Studies have shown that people with moderate or advanced gum (periodontal) disease are more likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums.
- Oral health holds clues to overall health. Studies have shown that oral health can provide warning signs for other diseases or conditions, including heart disease.
- Are you at risk?
- Many of the risk factors for gum disease are the same as those for heart disease, such as tobacco use, poor nutrition and diabetes. Overall, people who have chronic gum disease are at higher risk for a heart attack, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Gum disease (called gingivitis in its early stages and periodontal disease in the late stages) is caused by plaque buildup along and below the gum line. Some researchers have suggested that gum disease may contribute to heart disease because bacteria from infected gums can dislodge, enter the bloodstream, attach to blood vessels and increase clot formation. It has also been suggested that inflammation caused by gum disease may also trigger clot formation. Clots decrease blood flow to the heart, thereby causing an elevation in blood pressure and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
- Research shows that many systemic diseases – including heart disease – have oral symptoms. Dentists can help patients who have a history of heart disease by examining them for any signs of oral pain, infection or inflammation. According to the AGD, proper diagnosis and treatment of tooth and gum infections in some of these patients have led to a decrease in blood pressure medications and improved overall health. If you currently have heart disease, make sure to tell your dentist about your condition as well as any medications you are currently taking. Remember to carefully follow your physician’s and dentist’s instructions about health care, and use any prescription medications, such as antibiotics, as directed
Q: Why do regular dental visits matter?
A: Regular dental visits are important because they can help spot oral health problems early on when treatment is likely to be simpler and more affordable. They also help prevent many oral problems from developing in the first place. Visiting your dentist regularly is also important because some diseases or medical conditions have symptoms that can appear in the mouth.
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is an infection of the tissues that surround your teeth, and is caused by a buildup of plaque. In its early stages, symptoms may include:
- gums that bleed easily
- red, swollen, tender gums
- bad breath
Some factors that can put you at higher risk of developing gingivitis include:
- poor dental care
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- medications, including steroids, certain types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives
This might sound scary, but at this stage the disease is still reversible. Eliminating the infection can be as easy as trip to the dentist office for a professional cleaning, as well as daily brushing and flossing.
Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. This is why it’s important to schedule regular dental checkups in addition to maintaining a good dental routine of brushing and flossing.
Q: What’s the Difference Between Gingivitis and Periodontitis?
A: Gingivitis (gum inflammation) usually precedes periodontitis (gum disease). However, it is important to know that not all gingivitis progresses to periodontitis.
In the early stage of gingivitis, bacteria in plaque build up, causing the gums to become inflamed and to easily bleed during tooth brushing. Although the gums may be irritated, the teeth are still firmly planted in their sockets. No irreversible bone or other tissue damage has occurred at this stage.
When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis. In a person with periodontitis, the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets. These small spaces between teeth and gums collect debris and can become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line.
Toxins or poisons — produced by the bacteria in plaque as well as the body’s “good” enzymes involved in fighting infections — start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. When this happens, teeth are no longer anchored in place, they become loose, and tooth loss occurs. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
Q: What Causes Gum Disease?
A: Plaque is the primary cause of gum disease. However, other factors can contribute to periodontal disease. These include:
- Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy, puberty, menopause, and monthly menstruation, make gums more sensitive, which makes it easier for gingivitis to develop.
- Illnesses may affect the condition of your gums. This includes diseases such as cancer or HIV that interfere with the immune system. Because diabetes affects the body’s ability to use blood sugar, patients with this disease are at higher risk of developing infections, including periodontal disease and cavities.
- Medications can affect oral health, because some lessen the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on teeth and gums. Some drugs, such as the anticonvulsant medication Dilantin and the anti-angina drug Procardia and Adalat, can cause abnormal growth of gum tissue.
- Bad habits such as smoking make it harder for gum tissue to repair itself.
- Poor oral hygiene habits such as not brushing and flossing on a daily basis, make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
- Family history of dental disease can be a contributing factor for the development of gingivitis.
Q:What causes bad breath?
- What you eat affects the air you exhale, like garlic or onions. If you don’t brush and floss daily, particles of food can remain in the mouth, collecting bacteria, which can cause bad breath. Dieters may develop unpleasant breath from infrequent eating.
- Gum disease. Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth can also be one of the warning signs of gum disease; which is caused by plaque.
- Dry mouth. This occurs when the flow of saliva decreases and can be caused by various medications, salivary gland problems or continuously breathing through the mouth. Without enough saliva, food particles are not cleaned away. If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe anartificial saliva, or suggest using sugarless candy or increase your fluid intake.
- Smoking and tobacco. In addition to staining teeth and being bad for overall health, tobacco can add to bad breath. Tobacco reduces your ability to taste foods and irritates gum tissues. Tobacco users are more likely to suffer from gum disease and are at greater risk for developing oral cancer. If you use tobacco, ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.
- Medical conditions. Some diseases have symptoms related to bad breath. Sinus or lung infections, bronchitis, diabetes, and some liver or kidney diseases may be associated with bad breath.
If you’re concerned about what’s causing your bad breath, make an appointment to see your dentist. Regular checkups allow your dentist to detect any problems such as gum disease or dry mouth. Bad breath may be the sign of a medical disorder. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your primary care physician.
Maintaining good oral hygiene, eliminating gum disease and scheduling regular professional cleanings are essential to reducing bad breath. Brush twice a day and clean between your teeth daily with floss. Brush your tongue, too. If you wear dentures, be sure to remove them at night and clean them thoroughly before replacing them the next morning.
It’s important to note that mouthwash will only mask the odor temporarily. Mouthwashes are generally cosmetic and do not have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. If you must constantly use a breath freshener to hide unpleasant mouth odor, see your dentist.
Here are 15 signs you should see a dentist:
- Your teeth are sensitive to hot or cold
- Your gums are puffy and/or they bleed when you brush or floss
- You have fillings, crowns, dental implants, dentures, etc.
- You don’t like the way your smile or teeth look
- You have persistent bad breath or bad taste in your mouth
- You are pregnant
- You have pain or swelling in your mouth, face or neck
- You have difficulty chewing or swallowing
- You have a family history of gum disease or tooth decay
- You have a medical condition such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, eating disorders, or are HIV positive
- Your mouth is often dry
- You smoke or use other tobacco products
- You are undergoing medical treatment such as radiation, chemotherapy or hormone replacement therapy
- Your jaw sometimes pops or is painful when opening and closing, chewing or when you first wake up; you have an uneven bite
- You have a spot or sore that doesn’t look or feel right in your mouth and it isn’t going away.