In my thirty-some years of practicing dentistry, I still find the oral environment fascinating. At the same time, it is both simple and complex, understood and not understood. Let’s talk for a minute about what constitutes oral health, what is an unhealthy oral condition and what some of the options are to you – as healthy or unhealthy – as a patient.
Basically, a healthy oral environment is on in which everything is working together in harmony. That is, all teeth are present (except for wisdom teeth or teeth removed for orthodontic treatment), the alignment of the teeth is correct, the bone and gum around the teeth is healthy and strong and all is clean. If this is your fortunate condition, regular daily dental care with toothbrushing, flossing and toothpicking should keep you there. Coupled with a yearly visit to the dentist to verify that all is well and a once or twice a year cleaning done professionally by the hygienist should be all that is required.
What if your lot is not so lucky! Here is where the mouth and teeth fool us. The first culprit to creep in is decay. Another is gum and bone weakening called periodontal disease. Both of these processes take a long time to have a harmful effect. Usually there is no feeling, discomfort or awareness that this is happening. IF YOU WAIT LONG ENOUGH FOR THE TEETH TO HURT, THE GUMS TO SWELL OR THE TEETH TO LOOSEN…YOU HAVE WAITED TOO LONG!!!! At this point, you now require involved treatment or the loss of one or many teeth. If teeth are removed (and not replaced), remaining teeth can move and drift up, down, forward or backwards. This results over time in loss of tooth-to-tooth fit, loss of chewing efficiency and loss of your smile. To emphasize and point out again, the problem is that decay of the teeth and problems in the gum and bone that support the teeth are slow-occurring and happen for a long time without any awareness of the problem. Detected early, these problems are solved easily, with as little as a filling and a cleaning required. Left too long, crowns, tooth removal, bridges, removable plates and accompanying periodontal surgery may be required. I always say, “If you don’t want to see the dentist much, visit once a year, get checked and keep yourself in good dental health”.
What if all checks out? You do a good job of daily home care. You have healthy teeth, gums and bone. Are there any additional options of treatment or care for you? The answer is “Yes!”. If alignment is incorrect or teeth are crowded and not visually appealing when you smile, you may be a candidate for braces. The dentist who specializes in this treatment is called an orthodontist. The general dentist may also be able to offer bonding (“coating”) of teeth, filling in gaps between teeth, veneering (“porcelain fronts”) or other cosmetic options. If teeth are discolored, you may be a candidate for bleaching. This is a process which actually changes the tooth color of the enamel on your natural teeth. You may want to change old silver (“dark”) fillings to tooth colored fillings. If you grind your teeth at night and wake up with sore jaw muscles or tender joints, you may be a candidate for a night guard – a custom made plastic device you put in your mouth at night that allows the teeth to harmlessly slide over each other.
As a practicing general dentist and as a representative of the dental profession, I invite you to see the dentist. I challenge you to obtain and maintain good oral health. We would love to see you and help you understand where it is that you stand orally and discuss with you any options regarding your teeth you may be interested in.