A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth
Knowing how to react in a dental emergency – what to do, who to call – is important. However, in many cases, dental emergencies could be avoided with a little forethought and a little tender, loving care for the your teeth. Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? After all, none of us really enjoy going to the dentist and a part of avoiding dental emergencies is simply the idea of getting into good habits as regards your teeth. Those good habits are just as likely to keep your teeth healthy on a day-to-day basis as they are to stop you getting severe toothache.
How do I look after my teeth?
Before we start to worry about what exactly you can do to protect against dental emergencies, we need to think about what exactly you are trying to protect yourself against. As you can see from reading this site, there are a wide range of dental issues that can be classed as emergencies: avulsed teeth, dislodged teeth, infected teeth, split, fractured and broken teeth – the list goes on. However, it is fair to say that most dental emergencies are caused by one of two factors: decay or damage.
The aim of this article is to explain how decay and damage cause the majority of dental emergencies. We will also then look at the things you can do to avoid decay and damage, from everyday brushing through to oral surgery to resolve tooth damage caused by malocclussions.
When it comes to teeth, there is really only one rule you need to remember: getting through life with all your natural teeth in place is a truly wonderful thing. It makes life much easier, causes you less discomfort and, as those natural teeth come for free, they don’t cost anything like as much as man-made replacements.
Keeping your teeth healthy for a lifetime is an ambition that we should all hold dear, and you should start to view your dentist as your coach in helping you achieve this ambition. If you visit your dentist regularly – most would recommend at least once every six months – they can give you regular updates on your performance. Are there any cavities forming? Check. Do you need to brush more carefully? Check. Are you flossing regularly? Check. And what sort of mouthwash are you using?
It’s high time we stopped viewing our dentist as people helping us on the journey towards maintaining healthy teeth, not someone to be feared and avoided. Why? Well here is the most important part. Many dental emergencies are caused by everyday tooth decay – and if your dentist spots it early enough, the emergency could possibly be averted.
Dental decay is caused by bacteria which reacts with certain foods and forms acid. This acid erodes the enamel on our teeth and forms cavities. If the decay is left unchecked, then the cavities get bigger and the structure of the tooth becomes weaker. If the cavities get big enough without being filled and repaired, then the tooth may become weak enough to split, fractured or break. Alternatively, the cavity may become deep enough for the inner part of the tooth to become infected.
All of these issues can be very painful and would require immediate emergency dental treatment. And what do they all have in common? They all begin with plaque on our teeth which is easily removed by our dentist or even by brushing ourselves. Plaque causes decay – but if you do not visit your dentist regularly enough, how will you know if the plaque on your teeth is being removing effectively by everyday brushing?
If you deal with the small cavities that form, then you don’t have to worry about bigger cavities as they never get the chance to do any damage. The problem is that plaque forms on teeth on a daily basis, so you must brush regularly to keep on removing it. Dentists recommend brushing for at least two minutes at least twice a day. Even then, plaque can continue building up in hard to reach places and in pockets between our teeth and, as it hardens, it becomes even more difficult to remove. But if you visit your dentist regularly, they can remove any hardened plaque – or calculus – to help protect your teeth and gums.
Your dentist will also recommend flossing regularly, as well as brushing. Flossing gets right in between your teeth, so it helps to clear our food debris that becomes lodged, as well as cleaning the plaque away from places where your brush cannot reach too well.
The second factor behind a significant number of dental emergencies is what could broadly be called ‘damage’. By this, we mean teeth that are knocked out or partially dislodged, or jaw injuries.
Of course, a lot of the time damage to teeth is purely accidental and cannot be avoided. However, there are circumstances where tooth damage is particularly likely – like on the sports field, for example.
There are some types of sports where dental injuries occur more commonly. These include sports such as rugby, hockey, lacrosse and boxing. For the most part, these are all competitive sports that include a lot of physical contact.
On these occasions, dentists recommend that you wear a mouthguard to protect your teeth. A mouthguard may not protect against a particularly strong blow, but it will always lessen the impact and vastly improve your chances of stopping your teeth from being dislodged. It will also help to reduce collateral damage, as it will stop your from biting your tongue in the impact.
It is important that you choose the right type of mouthguard to suit your needs. The best mouthguards are those that are bought through your dentist. If you visit your dentist, they will take a mould of your teeth so that the mouthguard can be manufactured to fit you perfectly. This makes it easier to breath and talk, as well as being more comfortable to wear and safer. It is an expensive option, however.
Older teenagers, as well as adults, should wear mouthguards. As teenagers grow, the shape of their face and jaw can change and their teeth can move. Many parents therefore, find it hard to justify spending large amounts on a mouthguard that will soon not fit properly and become uncomfortable. On these occasions, it may be more suitable to buy an over-the-counter mouthguard, which is simply boiled until it softens then bitten into. Once it cools it retains the shape of your mouth.
As you child gets older, and the sport they play become more physical and competitive, you may wish to invest in a better quality mouthguard. Alternatively, it could be that there interest in the sport begins to wane naturally anyway!
The final aspect of protecting your teeth is to do with how you bite – or in dental terms, your occlusion. It is very common to suffer from a malocclusion – an overbite or underbite. Unless this is very severe, it may not cause you too many problems. However, over the longer term, a malocclusion often means that unusual and abnormal stresses and strains are being placed on your teeth and jaw, which may cause the teeth to wear down faster than usual. As the aim is to keep our teeth healthy for our whole life, this is clearly a problem.
For example, many people with an overbite or underbite also suffer from bruxism – otherwise known as grinding their teeth at night. While bruxism is rarely a very serious problem – most of us sleep through it after all – it can mean that you are damaging your teeth every night and subjecting them to extra and unnecessary wear and tear. This will not do them much good in the long term, and your dentist may recommend that you wear a mouthguard to bed, if you have a chronic case of bruxism.
Many people have their malocclusion corrected during their childhood or teenage years. The treatment of malocclusions is called Orthodontics. Orthodontics is a specialist area of dentistry that involves using braces to gradually realign the teeth and improve the bite. As more and more adults become interested in improving how their smile looks, orthodontic work – even later in life – is becoming increasingly popular.
These are the primary areas of proactive dentistry that can help to you to keep your natural teeth healthy for the rest of your life. Of course, as most dentists agree, the most important and vital dentistry work is actually done away from the practice environment – it is done in your own home. Nor is this vital work done by a dentist either – it is done by you.
Looking after your teeth on a daily basis is the most important work you can do in keeping your teeth healthy and ensuring that you avoid serious, more complex emergency dental work in the future.