Your dentist might put a dent in your savings, but he or she could also be saving your life.
Let your oral health decline and you're letting your overall health suffer - gum disease has been linked to heart problems, Alzheimer's and respiratory infections, as well as a fat lot of pregnancy issues, such as delayed conception, gestational diabetes and premature birth.
"Any time you have an infection in your mouth, it doesn't just stay there," explains periodontist Dr Sally Cram. "It can travel through your bloodstream, affecting your organs and immune system." We get it: it takes time to go to the dentist and you'd rather be anywhere else than in that chair. Well, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 40 per cent of Aussies don't have regular dental check-ups. Perhaps it's time more of us checked in...
Healthy gums are pale pink and look like mini sheaths for your teeth. If your chompers suddenly seem smaller, your gums could be inflamed. If they look bigger - or if the tooth area closest to the gum line seems whiter - you could have bigger issues. Gum disease is the number-one cause of receding gums, which leaves exposed roots vulnerable to pain and decay, says periodontist Dr Stuart Froum, author of Dental Implant Complications.
Splotchy patches typically crop up on plaque - clumps of bad bacteria, says dentist Dr Carolyn Taggart-Burns. So, a smile full of blemished teeth indicates a mouth teeming with gnarly microbes, too many of which can lead to gum disease. Make sure you get your chompers scaled by the dentist every six months - this tooth scraping and cleaning process has been linked to fewer heart attacks and strokes, according to researchers at Taiwan's Veterans General Hospital.
Sure, it could be the garlic naan you scoffed last night. But if your oral odour hangs around like a bad, er, smell, for more than two weeks, gum disease might be the culprit. When the bacteria that cause the condition mix with healthy mouth bacteria, it creates volatile sulfur compounds (or, as you know it, eau de rotten egg), says Froum.
If you spot a whitish, raised sore in or around your mouth that hangs around longer than three weeks, see a dentist, says Taggart-Burns. Oral HPV infections are rising fast among young women and they can lead to oral cancer. Yep, the C-word.
Gross, but true, normal tongues look a little hairy. If yours is on the bald side, you might have a vitamin B deficiency. If it’s whitish, it could be due to inflammation, dry mouth or even a yeast infection. You heard right – mouth thrush, says Cram. See your dentist about treatment.
If your morning cuppa or after-dinner gelato cause you pain, you might be the owner of a cavity that could, if left untreated, spread to surrounding nerve tissue. Catch it early on – by the time you’re in serious pain, it might be too late for a filling, says Taggart-Burns. Hello, root canal. You could also be brushing too hard or too soon after acidic foods and drinks, doing damage to your enamel. Wait at least 30 minutes to brush after having things like fruit, vinegar and sugary drinks.
If the post-brushing spit in the sink is routinely tinted pink, speak to your dentist about it. Bloody gums can be a sign of oral inflammation or gingivitis, says Cram.
1. Pick your paste Most dentists still recommend fluoride for fighting cavities. “If you brush twice a day with a fluoride paste, you lower your risk of decay by 25 per cent,” says Dr Peter Alldritt of the Australian Dental Association.
2. Don’t rush it Brush for two minutes, says periodontist Dr Sally Cram. If you don’t have a fancy schmancy power brush with a two-minute timer, like the Oral-B TriZone 500, brush to Blur’s Song 2 – precisely two minutes long.
3. Rinse regularly Swish water around your mouth after every meal or snack to rid your mouth of food particles, which attract bacteria that cause plaque, cavities, gingivitis, gum disease – you name it, says Taggart-Burns. Then spit or swallow – as usual, it’s your choice.
4 Wet your whistle Saliva is rich in antibacterial properties like histatin, a protein that can kill germs and heal wounds. Keep things moist by staying hydrated with water. If it still feels like the outback in there, pop some sugar-free gum, which will not only get saliva flowing, but also raise your oral pH level, cutting out acid that can cause cavities.
5. String it along Flossing once a day is equally as important as brushing – it removes leftover food and plaque, and slays bad breath, says Taggart-Burns. Slide it in between and then up and down the sides of every tooth.