Oral Health; Prevention

Oral Health; Prevention

There’s plenty you can do to prevent gum disease. At the heart of the matter is removing the plaque from your teeth, tongue, and the area around the gums every day with proper brushing, flossing, tongue scraping and interdental cleaning. Follow these tips to prevent gum disease, and keep your teeth for life:

Brush, floss and clean your tongue every day. Plaque is the major cause of periodontal (gum) disease. You can remove plaque by brushing your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day and flossing once a day. Be sure to use a toothbrush that has soft bristles to effectively clean below the gum line without harming gum tissue. Your toothbrush should be in good condition. Dentists and dental hygienists recommend changing it at least every three months, as a measure against worn bristles and bacteria accumulation. Bacteria can adhere to the tongue, which has many small papillae (projections), and must be cleaned daily. Powered toothbrushes charged by a unit that is plugged into an electrical outlet are excellent alternatives or adjuncts to hand toothbrushes. There are also many low-cost battery operated toothbrushes, and powered toothbrushes for children. Powered toothbrushes are recommended for all individuals, as they often remove more plaque than hand toothbrushes.

Cleaning between your teeth with floss or interdental cleaners (small brushes, picks or sticks that remove plaque between teeth) removes bacteria and food particles from between the teeth, where a toothbrush can’t reach. Daily brushing and flossing can often reverse early gum disease (gingivitis). Later stages of gum disease (periodontitis) can be treated, but not reversed. If you use interdental cleaners, ask your dentist and dental hygienist how to use them properly, to avoid injuring your gums.

Choose oral care products that have been proven safe and effective. Some products carry the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. This symbol signifies the product is safe and effective. The ADA reviews all advertising claims for any product bearing the Seal. However, if a product does not carry the seal, it does not necessarily mean that it is NOT safe and effective. The manufacturer may not have applied for the ADA Seal.

Practice healthy eating. Follow a balanced diet for good general health and limit snacks. Choose a variety of foods from the basic food groups, which are outlined in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2005 Food Guide Pyramid. View it on the USDA Web site: http://www.mypyramid.gov. This guide recommends you choose daily: 6 ounces from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group (at least half should be whole-grain); 2 1/2 cups from the vegetable group; 2 cups from the fruit group; 3 cups from the milk, yogurt, and cheese group; 5 1/2 ounces from the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group, and to use fats, oils and sweets sparingly. Make sure you get enough calcium in your diet. Low calcium intake has been associated with an increased risk of gum disease. Experts recommend between 1,000 and 1,500 mg of calcium a day. One eight-ounce glass of milk contains 240 mg of calcium.

Limit sweet snacks. The average American eats about 147 pounds of sugar a year. Eating sugary snacks, such as candies, cakes and cookies, between meals can cause tooth decay. When you put sugar in your mouth, the bacteria in the plaque converts the sugar into acids, which can dissolve the tooth structure. Starchy snacks can also break down into sugars once they’re in your mouth. Each time you eat food that contains sugar or starches, acids attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more.

Switch to healthy snacks. If you do snack, choose nutritious foods, such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.

Reach for water. The less sugar you consume, the better. Try to drink less soda and more water. In addition, water dilutes and flushes the sugar, acid and toxins from the mouth.

Time it right. It’s not only what you eat but also when you eat it that makes a big difference in your dental health. Foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm to your teeth. More saliva is released during a meal, which helps wash foods from the mouth and helps lessen the effect of acids.

Chew gum. Chewing sugarless gum can help eliminate food particles caught between teeth after a meal and also helps prevent plaque build-up by stimulating saliva production. Xylitol, a natural sweetener found in plants and fruits, is used in sugar-free gum, mints and toothpaste. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive, research has shown that Xylitol helps reduce and prevent cavities, possibly by inhibiting the growth of streptococcus mutans, the oral bacteria that cause cavities.

See your dentist and dental hygienist regularly. Regular dental visits and professional prophylaxis procedures (preventive cleanings) are essential to good oral health. Plaque that is not removed can cause problems, and a rough, porous deposit called calculus, or tartar may also form. Tartar can only be removed when your teeth are cleaned in the dental office. A professional prophylaxis at least twice a year is necessary to remove tartar from places your toothbrush and floss may have missed. Be sure a licensed dental hygienist or dentist cleans your teeth. Ask questions if you aren’t sure of their qualifications, and ask to see a copy of the license. A dental assistant, while a very valuable part of an office staff, is not qualified or licensed to perform dental cleanings.

How often you see the dentist and dental hygienist depends on how prone you are to dental problems. For example, an average woman with healthy gums may only need to see the oral health care professional every six months for preventive maintenance. But women with gum disease may need treatment more often, such as every three or four months. Talk to your dentist and dental hygienist about how often he or she thinks you need to schedule an office visit based on your individual needs.

Here’s yet another reason to quit smoking: Studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease. Smokers are much more likely than non-smokers to have bacterial plaque and tartar form on their teeth, have deeper pockets between the teeth and gums and lose more of the bone and tissue that support the teeth. Spit (smokeless) tobacco, bidis (flavored or unflavored tobacco rolled in tendu or temburni leaves), and kreteks (clove cigarettes) can also cause oral problems. Bidis and kreteks contain higher concentrations of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than conventional cigarettes. Smokless tobacco contains 28 cancer-causing agents and increases the risk of developing cancer of the oral cavity. More than 46 million Americans have quit tobacco use. Ask your dentist, dental hygienist or health care professional to recommend a tobacco-cessation program for you. Or contact the American Lung Association.

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