A lifetime of healthy teeth

Mon, Dec 28th 2015, 09:59 PM

Tonya Sands (name changed) now knows the importance of oral hygiene for a healthy mouth in its entirety, but it's something she had to learn as she grew into adulthood. In her childhood and early teenage years, she did not give oral hygiene the kind of attention it needed, and it eventually told on her.

Sands, who suffered with childhood diabetes, says her lack of oral care really showed when she got pregnant with her first child, exacerbating an ongoing gingivitis problem she had been plagued with and worsening a cavity she had ignored for months. The level of pain and discomfort she had to endure during her pregnancy wasn't something she would wish on her worst enemy. It took that experience to force her to take her oral health care seriously.

Prior to that, she said, she had not known how closely linked taking care of her teeth was to her overall health. Today oral care is of utmost importance to her, and her children are not allowed to be lax about their oral care either.

"I do the whole brush your teeth twice or more a day, floss and visit my dentist every quarter, but when I was a teen or even younger I didn't really care. I used to eat whatever I wanted, not caring if I brushed my teeth afterward or not. I used to get cuts easily in my mouth and they wouldn't heal as well as they should have due to my diabetes.

"I always missed dentist appointments, and I remember once a filling dropped out and my tooth started to hurt, but instead of going to get it fixed, I just popped painkillers until I was forced to go. I had terrible oral health. It wasn't like I didn't know I needed to take better care, but it wasn't all that important," she said.

Sands learned the error of her ways the hard way and is now strict on her children's oral health. According to Dr. Gill Gibson, a dentist who operates out of Bayview Dental Center on East Bay Street, taking care of your teeth and gums is a lot more important than the average person thinks; the condition of the mouth is often a direct reflection of overall health.

"Studies have shown that there are links between your oral health and the health of other areas of your body as well. There are many systemic diseases that have oral manifestations. There are links that indicate that many of these diseases are exacerbated or inhibited from healing due to poor oral health. It has been shown that, in diabetic persons where periodontal or gum disease is present, they often take a longer period to recover from a tooth extraction or overcome something like gingivitis. In fact it is found that some patients who have problems healing after an appointment with no prior health conditions often find out they do have diabetes or some other underlying issue that is resulting in their problem."

Dr. Gibson, a 20-plus year-veteran, said other issues that often arise include a low birth weight in babies of mothers who have poor oral health and/or lack sufficient calcium during the pregnancy. The dentist said heart-related illnesses are also sometimes linked to oral health, as the blood from the gums is usually bacteria-laden and is the same supply that is transported to, and adversely affects the heart and other parts of the body.

Taking care of your teeth is more than enamel or gum-deep. The dentist says it is just as important to worry about having proper nutrition in order to maintain strong teeth from the inside. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and drinking milk and water are essential to getting the right levels of vitamins and minerals the body needs to be regular. Food and drinks that are highly acidic or full of processed sugar should be avoided as they can wear away the enamel and cause cavities.

"Visiting your dentist at least every six months, if you are a person without dental issues, or as often as needed if you have a condition or a hereditary disposition for oral problems is another big step in taking care of your teeth," said Dr. Gibson.

"Most people think it's all about brushing and flossing, but staying regular with your dentist is just as important. You can never really see what is going on in between your teeth or notice a serious problem setting in because you often do not know what to look for. If you have a chronic systemic problem, it is especially important that you [visit the dentist] often to maintain your oral health. A good home regimen helps, but to ensure everything is the way it should be, you need to visit your family dentist."

The dentist said oral health is something no one is excluded from -- not even babies. Children as young as two-and-a half should be seen by a dentist to ensure their teeth are growing and being cleaned as they should. According to Dr. Gibson, it is a myth to believe that just because a child's first set of teeth will drop out, they don't need to be taken care of.

"[Baby teeth] hurt just as much if they get cavities, and children can develop periodontal issues if you ignore good hygiene from this age. As a parent, you should teach your kids how to brush their teeth properly and take care of their mouth early because they will need to continue good habits when they are older and you are not around."

There's nothing quite as beautiful as a child's smile. With proper oral care at home, and regular dental visits, children can reach adulthood without experiencing tooth decay and other oral health problems. The dentist says parents should teach their children the right way to approach oral health by example.

Dentists' areas of care include not only the teeth and gums but also the muscles of the head, neck and jaw; the tongue; salivary glands and the nervous system of the head and neck and other areas. During a comprehensive exam, dentists examine the teeth and gums and also look for lumps, swellings, discolorations, ulcerations or any other abnormality.

When appropriate, they perform procedures such as biopsies, diagnostic tests for chronic or infectious diseases, salivary gland function and screening tests for oral cancer. Dentists can spot early warning signs in the mouth that may indicate disease elsewhere in the body. Dentists' training also enables them to recognize situations that warrant referring patients for care by dental specialists or physicians.

Four steps to a bright smile:

  • Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss every day
  • Limit the number of time you eat snacks each day
  • Visit your dentist regularly

Diet and your child's teeth:
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. When combined with sugars from food and drinks, plaque bacteria produce acids that attack tooth enamel. Repeated acid attacks can break down enamel and eventually result in tooth decay.

Frequent snacks in between meals expose teeth to repeated acid attacks.  For good dental and overall health, be sure your child eats a balanced diet with foods from the major food groups. Be mindful of the effects of frequent consumption of sugary beverages including juices, sodas and sports drinks and non-nutritious snack foods. If your child needs a between-meal snack, choose nutritious foods and save sweets for mealtime.

Keeping that smile clean:
For children under the age of two, brush the teeth with water unless your child's dentist recommends otherwise.
For children over age two, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is all a child needs. Be sure your child spits out and does not swallow the toothpaste.
By age seven, children may be able to brush their own teeth, but may require supervision until age 10 or 11.
Choose a child-size toothbrush.

Flossing is important to remove plaque from between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach. At about age 10 or 11, your child should be able to clean between the teeth with floss or other interdental cleaner under your supervision. Your child's dentist or hygienist can demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques.

Importance of regular dental check-ups:
Regular dental check-ups and preventive dental care, such as cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants, provide your child with "smile" insurance. Plan your child's first dental visit within six months after the first tooth erupts, but no later than the first birthday. Consider it a "well baby checkup" for your child's teeth. By age seven, it is recommended that every child receive an orthodontic evaluation.

Routine dental exams:
Assess oral hygiene, injuries, cavities or other problems.
Determine your child's risk of developing tooth decay (cavities or caries).
Show how the teeth are developing and spot hidden decay by using x-rays.
May prevent or reduce the severity of malocclusions ("bad bite") in permanent teeth.
Provide key information to help you take care of your child's oral health.

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