How You Can Protect Your Smile
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN CANADA
WHEN you look in the mirror, what do you check? Possibly your hair or some other aspect of your appearance. But what about your smile? Have you noticed how your smile is affected by your teeth? Yes, if you care about your smile, you will take care of your teeth. Your adult teeth are designed to last a lifetime. They deserve special attention. Besides chewing food and helping you to speak properly, your teeth support your lips and cheeks—enhancing the beauty and brilliance of your smile. Indeed, your teeth are precious!
What Can You Do to Protect Your Teeth?
Good dental health starts on the inside. A balanced diet that includes calcium and vitamins A, C, and D will help the teeth develop, from the womb to the time that they are fully formed.* Good eating habits will help you maintain healthy teeth, but beware of a diet rich in sugar! It will increase the risk of cavities. Despite repeated warnings linking sugar consumption to tooth decay, the average North American reportedly eats 100 to 130 pounds [50 to 60 kg] of sugar each year! Why does sugar have the potential to harm our teeth?
Tooth decay is caused by two kinds of bacteria—“mutans streptococci and lactobacilli”—that become a part of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that forms on the teeth. Plaque bacteria feed on sugar and convert it into harmful acids that begin decay. Certain types of sugar are more easily turned into acids or are more likely to adhere to the teeth, giving the plaque more time to begin tooth decay.* Plaque that is not removed can harden into calculus, or tartar, around the gum line.
Controlling the plaque and especially the mutans streptococci bacteria is essential for preventing the spread of tooth decay. So if you want to preserve your smile, daily oral hygiene is a must. The Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery states: “Combined with flossing, [brushing the teeth] is the single most important thing that you can do to maintain the health and vitality of your teeth and their supporting tissues.” Effective methods of brushing and flossing are illustrated on this and the following page. Your dentist may recommend other tools and techniques that will help you to clean your teeth effectively and thus protect your smile.
Repeated acid attacks cause demineralization, or softening of the tooth’s enamel surface. However, such lesions are being remineralized every day. How? It has been shown that fluorides continue to help prevent decay by helping the remineralization process. Thus, while decay is an infectious process, it is also reversible if certain factors, such as fluorides, are present. Yes, teeth can heal themselves!
How to Face the Dentist
In a survey in which people were asked to list their fears, visiting the dentist was outranked only by public speaking. Is such anxiety justified? In affluent countries, high-speed drills and topical and local anesthetics now enable dentists to perform most procedures with very little pain or discomfort to the patient. Being familiar with what is involved in each step of your treatment might allay some of your fears.
A visit to the dental office may involve a professional cleaning, or scaling, of your teeth, usually performed by a hygienist. During this process, calculus and plaque are removed from places inaccessible to the toothbrush and dental floss. Teeth are then polished to hinder the accumulation of plaque and remove stains that detract from your smile.
Since the mineral fluoride has been shown to reduce the risk of tooth decay, it is often applied to the teeth of children as a gel, solution, or varnish at the dental office. Fluoride is also found in the public water supply of many lands, and toothpaste frequently contains fluoride as additional protection against decay.
What Can the Dentist Do?
Dentists are being trained more and more to implement preventive measures in order to reduce the damage from demineralization. By treating lesions when they are small, many times the decay process can be reversed. Thus, by focusing on early detection and treatment, your visit to a dental health care professional need not be an unpleasant experience.
However, if the acid created by plaque remains on the teeth, caries, or decay, will result. If the decay is not stopped, a cavity may develop. The tooth then needs attention. When decay has not yet reached the pulp, the tooth’s nerve supply, the tooth is usually restored with a filling.
The dentist uses a drill to clean the cavity and to shape the opening for a filling. Then the filling material is inserted into the opening. Amalgam fillings harden quickly and are carved to shape, while composite resins are cured using a blue fiber-optic light. If cavities are left untreated and decay spreads to the pulp of the tooth, root-canal therapy or even tooth removal may become necessary. Root-canal therapy can eliminate the need for an extraction, since the process involves filling and sealing the core of the diseased tooth. Crowns are used to cap seriously damaged teeth, and bridges or dentures are used to replace teeth.*
Why It Is Worth the Effort
Perhaps you still feel apprehensive about visiting the dentist. If so, speak to your dentist about your concerns. Before treatment begins, decide what signal you will give (such as a raised hand) if you become uncomfortable. Ask him to explain what is involved in each step of your treatment. You can also contribute to your child’s oral health by speaking positively about dental care and not using a visit to the dentist as a threat for misbehavior.
Dr. Daniel Kandelman, professor at the University of Montreal’s Department of Oral Health, states: “Today it is possible to reach this worthwhile goal in dental health: save your healthy, natural teeth, with a beautiful, brilliant smile for a lifetime.” It’s worth the effort!
A fully developed tooth is a permanent record of the nutritional habits of the mother during pregnancy and during the infancy of the child as the teeth form beneath the surface of the gums. The growth ends when the child reaches its late teens or early twenties.
Dental professionals have discovered that xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar, has proved helpful in controlling the harmful plaque bacteria that cause decay. Xylitol is included in some chewing gum.
For more information about false teeth, see the article “Do You Need Dentures?” in the February 22, 1993, issue of Awake! pages 18-20.
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Brushing Your Teeth
There are several methods of brushing but one word of caution—use only a small amount of toothpaste. The paste is an abrasive material and can be “hundreds of times harder than natural tooth structures.”
1 Angle the bristles at approximately 45 degrees at the gum line. Gently brush from the gum line to the chewing surface in short strokes. Be sure to clean all inside and outside tooth surfaces.
2 Use short, sweeping strokes to clean the chewing surfaces.
3 To clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, hold the brush so that it is almost vertical. Brush from your gum line to the chewing surface of the teeth.
4 Brush your tongue and the roof of your mouth with a sweeping motion.
Steps 1-4: Courtesy www.OralB.com
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Flossing Your Teeth
Dentists recommend flossing daily and always brushing your teeth after eating.
1 Wrap a piece of floss around your middle finger on each hand, leaving a small section between them.
2 With the thumb of one hand and the index finger of the other, hold the floss taut. Use a back-and-forth motion to insert the floss between the teeth.
3 Curve the floss into a C shape, and scrape the floss up and down the sides of each tooth. Gently guide the floss below the gum line, but do not force the floss against the gums or use a back-and-forth motion below the gum line.
Source: The Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery’s Guide to Family Dental Care
Steps 1-3: Courtesy www.OralB.com