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Frequent dental problems

Nobody's teeth are perfect and we will all experience some problems during our lives
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Tooth decay (caries) is a common problem affecting teeth, and affects people of all ages. There are bacteria which live in plaque, and make it very sticky. These bacteria feed on sugars which come from food and drink (such as sucrose, glucose and fructose), and produce acids. The acids they produce can damage the tooth's surface by softening it (dissolving away the minerals in the tooth's outer surface which is called enamel). Once all the sugar has been used up, the acid gradually disappears and the tooth's surface starts to repair itself. Each time something sweet is eaten or drunk, plaque bacteria produce more acids, which attack the tooth's enamel again and softens it.

So the acidity of plaque (its pH) goes up and down periodically. The pH of plaque drops (becomes more acid) each time sugar is eaten and plaque bacteria produce acid. The pH then gradually returns back to normal (with the help of saliva) until the next time plaque bacteria feed on sugars.

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Just as sugary food and drinks can cause tooth decay, acidic food and drinks can cause erosion, the wearing away of the top layer - the enamel - of the tooth. Erosion is very serious as, once the enamel has gone, it's gone forever.

The biggest culprits for erosion are fizzy drinks, fruit juices and squashes as they contain high levels of acid. Dentists recommend that you avoid these and opt for water or milk whenever possible. If you do drink acidic fruit juices or squashes, you can do the following to minimise the damage.

  • Add plenty of water to juices and squash to dilute the acid

  • Use a straw when drinking fizzy or other acidic drinks as it directs the liquid past the teeth

  • Don't swish drinks around your mouth
 
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Gum disease is caused by plaque, just like tooth decay. If the plaque isn't removed with brushing, flossing or a mouthrinse, it can get under the gum line and attack the gums, making them red and puffy. You may also notice some bleeding when you brush your teeth.

If left, the gum disease can cause serious problems. The gum may start to come away from the tooth, creating 'pockets' around it where even more plaque can gather. Over time, the plaque will begin eating away at the bone which supports the tooth, which may mean you have to have that tooth removed.

Gum disease is very common in the UK, with most adults suffering some form of it, but it is very simple to prevent. Here are some top tips:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste. Make sure you pay special attention to the gum line too.

  • Visit your dentist at least once a year. They will be able to spot gum disease early on and give you advice on how best to brush your teeth and the best way to floss.

  • Stop smoking. It will make gum disease even worse.

 
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Mouth ulcers can be uncomfortable. They look similar small blisters and can be caused by a tooth rubbing, a lack of vitamin B12, anaemia or even stress. Treatment of ulcers is quite simple and they will usually heal within 7 days. If they last for more than two weeks, you should go and see your dentist as they may be an early indication of something more serious.

If you have a mouth ulcer, you can help clear them up by using a special antiseptic mouthwash or with special pastilles. These are available from most chemists and pharmacies - just ask the pharmacist for advice.

Having a healthy diet can help prevent mouth ulcers and ensure you keep in good health generally. Remember to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

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  Mouth ulcers
 

We all suffer from a dry mouth from time to time, but for some people the condition is more long-lasting. Xerostomia is a condition where the mouth becomes very dry and can make people more susceptible to dental problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath or cause problems for denture wearers.

There are lots of different reasons why people get dry mouth, and there are things that you can do both to ease the condition and help prevent problems with your teeth.

Some prescription drugs and medicines can cause dry mouth as a side effect, especially treatments for depression and high blood pressure. Also, certain medical conditions affect the salivary glands, so they don't produce as much saliva and the mouth tends to be more dry.
Xerostomia can lead to dryness, a burning or sore feeling in the mouth or a bad taste. You may also have difficulty swallowing and speaking. If you wear dentures, you may find they become loose and cause sore areas.

Making sure you don't get dehydrated by drinking plenty of fluids can help. Also, doctors and dentists can prescribe artificial saliva which comes as a spray to help moisten the mouth. Talk to your doctor about the medicines you take to see if there are suitable alternatives less likely to cause dry mouth. Some people find sucking sweets, or chewing gum helps produce more saliva, but take special care that these don't contain sugar as this could cause more tooth decay.
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  Mouth ulcers
  Your dentist is in a good position to spot mouth cancer, which is one of the reasons why it's so important to have regular check-ups.

Early signs of mouth cancer can be something as simple as a mouth ulcer that won't go away. If you are over 40 and a heavy smoker or drinker, you are more likely to be at risk, so you need to be especially watchful of changes in your mouth.

If you have a mouth ulcer which lasts for more than three weeks, or a red or white patch in your mouth, or you notice a swelling or growth which doesn't go down after a three weeks, go and see your dentist. It may be nothing, but that simple check-up could just save your life. You won't be wasting your dentist's time if you're worried about an ulcer or a sore patch in your mouth.. Your dentist will look at your face and neck and feel under your jaw and down your neck. They will also have a good look around your mouth, including under your tongue, to check for any of the warning signs.

You can reduce your risk of mouth cancer quite simply. If you stop smoking, cut down on your alcohol intake and make sure you eat a healthy diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, you can dramatically reduce the risks.

 

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  Mouth ulcers
  If your jaw aches, it's usually because of increased tension in the surrounding muscles. This is often related to stress, tiredness or anxiety, and is quite common among students taking exams. Painkillers and sedatives may relieve the symptoms in the short term, but you may also consider trying relaxation techniques. If you grind your teeth at night while you sleep, you could wear a 'biteguard' to limit any damage.
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