Healthy habits and good oral hygiene are critical in preventing gum disease. Regular and effective tooth brushing and mouth washing, however, are effective only above and slightly below the gum line. Once periodontal disease develops, more intensive treatments are needed.
It is important to reduce both the quantity and, in particular, the frequency of sugar intake. Avoid snacks and drinks with sugar (other than natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables). Eat sugar-containing foods with meals, ideally followed by brushing. Since fruit juices can also cause tooth erosion in children, parents should emphasize milk and water.
Smoking plays a significant role in many cases of chronic periodontal disease. For smokers, quitting is one of the most important steps toward regaining periodontal health.
Fluoride treatment in children has helped to account for the decline in periodontal disease in adults. Because fluoride prevents decay, back molars, which keep the teeth in place, are spared, and are thus less vulnerable to bacteria. Even before teeth first erupt, babies' gums should be wiped clean with a bit of gauze bearing a dab of fluoride toothpaste. Supplementation with fluoride tablets or drops may be recommended for children 6 months or older who drink unfluoridated water or who are at risk for dental problems. A prescription from the child's pediatrician or dentist is required.
Some dentists recommend a fluoride gel for adult patients who are still at risk for tooth decay or sensitivity, but extra fluoride is generally not necessary for adults who use fluoride toothpaste.
Periodontitis is a silent disease. People with the disease rarely experience pain and may not be aware of the problem. A periodontal examination by a general dentist once or twice a year should reveal any incipient or progressive problems. A full mouth series of x-rays is advised every 2 - 3 years. This will alert the dentist to early bone loss and other disorders of the oral cavity.
Dentists now often perform Periodontal Screening and Recording (PSR) using a probe to measure gum pockets. Previously performed only by periodontists, this procedure is now encouraged as part of a regular dental examination. The dentist will identify any areas where deep pocketing has occurred, where the health of the gingiva appears compromised, and where there is undue mobility of teeth. It is the general dentist's responsibility to identify periodontal disease and inform the patient. If the condition is severe, the dentist may want to refer the patient to a periodontist.
Correct tooth brushing, mouth cleansing, and flossing should be everyone's defense against periodontal disease. (However, good hygiene is probably not enough to prevent periodontal disease in many people. Regular visits to a dentist are extremely important, especially for high-risk individuals.)
Brushing Guidelines. The following are some recommendations for brushing:
If brushing after each meal is not possible, rinsing the mouth with water after eating can reduce bacteria by 30%.
Toothbrushes. A vast assortment of brushes of varying sizes and shapes are available, and each manufacturer makes its claim for the benefits of a particular brush. Look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal on both electric and regular brushes.
In spite of the wide variety of nonelectric toothbrushes, both in shape and bristle design, a study of eight brands found no significant differences in effectiveness among them.
Electric toothbrushes, particularly those with a stationary grip and revolving tufts of bristles, can be advantageous for some people with physical disabilities. Electric toothbrushes with heads that move back and forth up to thousands of times a minute remove significantly more plaque than ordinary brushes. Even more high-tech brushes are now available that use sound waves to remove plaque.
In general, studies have reported no differences between electric and manual toothbrushes in their ability to remove plaque. However, if a regular toothbrush works, it isn't necessary to buy an expensive electric one.
For individuals with average dexterity, a four- or five-rowed, soft, nylon-bristled toothbrush is sufficient. The most important factor in buying any toothbrush, electric or manual, is to choose one with a soft head. Soft bristles get into crevices easier and do not irritate the gums, thereby reducing the risk of exposing teeth below the gum line compared to hard brushes.
Toothbrushes should be replaced every 1 - 3 months. Not only do they become breeding grounds for bacteria, but the worn bristles are less effective at removing plaque.
Toothpaste. The objective of a good toothpaste is to reduce the development of plaque and eliminate periodontal-causing microorganisms without destroying the organisms that are important for a healthy mouth. All brands should show ADA approval. Even a good toothpaste, however, cannot be delivered past 3 mm below the gum line, where periodontitis develops.
Toothpastes are a combination of abrasives, binders, colors, detergents, flavors, fluoride, humectants, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. Avoid highly abrasive toothpastes, especially for individuals whose gums have receded.
Ingredients contained in toothpastes may include:
Mouthwashes. The American Dental Association recommends (in addition to daily brushing and flossing) antimicrobial mouthwash to help prevent and reduce plaque and gingivitis, and fluoride mouthwashes to help provide additional protection against tooth decay.
Flossing. The use of dental floss, either waxed or unwaxed, is critical in cleaning between the teeth where the toothbrush bristles cannot reach. In spite of this, nearly two-thirds of people do not floss.
To floss correctly, the following steps may be helpful:
Here are some tips in choosing the right floss or flossing device:
Producing Saliva and Drinking Water. Saliva is important for diluting the toxins created by plaque. Drinking at least 7 glasses of water a day helps reduce inflammation in the mouth by producing more saliva. Increasing water intake is particularly important as one ages, when less saliva is produced.
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