By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
February is Oral Health month, a month set aside to spread awareness of chronic mouth pain, throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects of the lip and palate, gum disease, tooth decay and all other diseases relating to the oral cavity. Clearly, oral health includes a variety of ailments. In this article, I will focus on the things we all can do to improve our oral health, in an effort to stave off disease.
Perhaps the most well-known and most prevalent oral ailment is a cavity. Cavity is a term for tooth decay, which results from bacteria. The mouth is commonly filled with bacteria that mix with saliva to form plaque on the teeth. Plaque is removed by brushing your teeth, but in the event that it is not removed, the acids in plaque damage the enamel protecting the teeth. This can create holes in the teeth, known as cavities, which lead to tooth decay.
Cavities are visible to the eye and range from yellow to black. Small cavities may not hurt, but large ones, especially those affecting nerves, are painful. Cavities are diagnosed by a dentist, which is why regular visits to a dental hygienist is important.
Diet plays a role in oral health. Having a well-balanced diet helps prevent tooth decay. As importantly, decreasing your sugar intake will help avoid the formation of cavities. Likewise, sticky foods are more harmful as they remain on the teeth longer. However, dental cavities can be prevented by regularly brushing and flossing, and using toothpaste with fluoride.
Treatment for cavities require a visit to the dentist and include fillings, crowns and/or root canals. Fillings, as the name implies, involves removing all decay from the tooth with a drill and filling the space, for example with gold, silver alloy or porcelain. Crowns, also known as caps, are used in more serious cases where the majority of the tooth is weak. Here, a fitted crown or cap, usually made of gold or porcelain, is placed over the teeth. For cavities that result in nerve injury or decay, a root canal is required. This involves removing the centre of the tooth, including the nerve and filling the root with a sealing material. Root canals often are accompanied by crowns.
Gum diseases affect the tissues that hold our teeth in place. Plaque that is not removed, from brushing or flossing, may form tartar, a hardened substance that is unaffected by brushing. A build-up of tartar can lead to inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis a mild form of gum disease. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious disease known as periodontitis. In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and leave room for infections to form. Left untreated, the gums, mouth bones and teeth will rot.
The severity of gum disease ranges, but common symptoms include chronic bad breath, red swollen or bleeding gums, pain when chewing, loose or sensitive teeth, longer appearing teeth (as a result of a receding gum line).
Gum diseases are preventable and there are number of risk factors, the most significant of which is smoking. Along with not smoking, daily tooth brushing, flossing and regular dental visits are the best defence against gum disease.
There are a number of treatment options for gum disease and they differ based on the severity of the disease. Treatments include deep cleaning that help remove bacteria and plaque and/or medications such as antibiotic gels, prescription mouthwash and oral antibiotics. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to remove tartar and plaque found deep within the gums. Surgery may also be required to help regenerate lost bone or gum tissue.
As noted in the introduction, there are many forms of oral diseases. Here are some general oral hygiene tips to keep your mouth healthy.
From a diet perspective, consuming fruit and vegetables can protect against oral cancer. Quitting smoking and decreasing alcohol consumption helps to reduce the risks of oral cancers, gum diseases and tooth loss.
The mouth is a sensitive area. When playing sports, especially contact sports, use protective mouth wear.
Most important of all is ensuring proper oral hygiene. This includes brushing after every meal or at least twice daily and flossing every day. Use a toothpaste that has fluoride and be sure to get between every tooth when flossing. Consider a mouthwash, also with fluoride, to reach the harder to reach areas after brushing and flossing. Replace your toothbrush every three or four months. If the bristles are frayed, replace your toothbrush sooner.
Remember to schedule regular visits to your dentist; for healthy individuals, I recommend twice a year. If you have any questions about your oral health, speak to your dentist or pharmacist.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.