Do you know the difference between a healthy and unhealthy mouth?
Our patients at Your Smile Dental Care look to us to keep them up to date on all the advances in modern dentistry and to educate them on how to get their mouths and teeth as healthy as possible. Today, people know that they CAN keep their teeth for a lifetime and want to be aware of the first signs of trouble.
Healthy gums are pale pink and firm. They are not white, red and puffy nor do they bleed when you brush or floss. Healthy gums also are not tender or sore and do not have pus filled pimples on them which may be signs of infection. One way we help patients gain a new perspective on the idea of bleeding gums, is to ask them if they would be concerned if they had persistent bleeding elsewhere on their body? Chances are they would answer yes and bring it to the attention of their physician immediately for a diagnosis and treatment.
There is also a triangular portion of gum tissue that should extend between adjacent teeth that ends in a point and has a free space (depth) of about 2-3 mm where your floss would slide for cleaning. As the gums recede due to unhealthy conditions, this triangular shape becomes more blunt and the space becomes deep, forming a pocket into which more bacteria, plaque and tartar can accumulate. Your dentist or hygienist monitors the health of your gum and will routinely measure the depth of these pockets.
Obviously, healthy teeth should be cavity free, but when your dentist or hygienist checks your teeth, they are looking for many others signs of health also. They examine for any erosion, staining, chips or cracks, disease, failing dental work, looseness, missing teeth, crookedness, sensitivity, etc.
If teeth have had repair work done on them in the past such as fillings, crowns, or root canal treatments, they are checked to ensure that these restorations are holding up under the wear and tear that the chemical and mechanical forces of the mouth and jaws can place on them. Intact restorations have a good fit/seal against the tooth to prevent bacteria from getting in underneath and causing tooth decay. We look for signs of leakage, cracks, chips, movement and tooth decay.
Healthy teeth also do not appear longer as you age. When gums recede due to disease, the crown portion of the teeth will begin to look longer.
A patient comes into the dental office because their cap has fallen off of one of their teeth. The dentist notices immediately that not only has the cap come off the tooth, but the crown of the tooth has broken off at the gumline and is still inside the cap. Upon closer examination, they can see and feel with their instruments that both the part of the tooth that is in the cap and the portion that is still in the jawbone have rotted from tooth decay. Bacteria has gotten in underneath the cap and diseased the hard tooth structure to the point that it crumbled enough for the tooth to break in half. It had been almost 7 years since their last exam. Maintaining regular dental checkups would have allowed the dental staff to monitor the marginal integrity of the cap and periodic x-rays would have detected signs of tooth decay when the cavity was small enough to be repaired.
A healthy mouth does not have persistent or significant bad breath (halitosis). Early morning breath can have an odour after a long night of bacterial action and growth when there is very little saliva production.
Most often, bad breath is caused by an accumulation of bacteria and their odours and sulphur smelling gases. It is also one of the first signs of gingivitis that can lead to gum disease, worsening mouth odour, the loss of teeth and other complications for the body. Smoking, dieting, dehydration, illnesses, diseases, unclean denture and appliances, tonsil stones, nutritional deficiencies and foods all can cause bad breath.
Wonder if you have bad breath? If you can’t already taste or smell it yourself then you can smell your floss after use or scrape some plaque off your teeth or tongue to smell. Alternatively, you can ask someone to smell your breath and give an honest answer. Most importantly, do not ignore bad breath or just try to mask it with gums, mints or mouthwash. Your physician or dentist can usually help you get to the underlying cause when good oral hygiene does not solve the problem.
Pink, Clean Tongue
You may not realize this, but we also examine your tongue for signs of health. A healthy tongue is pink and covered with tiny nodules we call papillae that help you perceive taste. The overall surface should be flat, smooth and clean looking. The surface papillae can and do harbour bacteria that, if left to accumulate, can grow to unhealthy levels. Keep your tongue clean with a tongue scraper as part of your regular oral hygiene.
A discoloured or painful tongue can be an indicator of trauma, smoking or canker sores, but can also be signs of more serious conditions including a nutritional deficiency, auto immune disease, allergic reaction, Kawasaki syndrome, anemia, diabetes or even cancer. White coatings, lines, or patchy areas should not go ignored.
There is a condition known as “geographic tongue” whereby the top surface of the tongue presents with a map-like pattern of reddish spots that sometimes have a white border on them. It is usually a benign and harmless condition that requires no treatment except topical medications if it becomes sore or uncomfortable.
Medications and menopause can also cause the tongue to become painful or even drier than normal. Always consult your physician if you notice something unusual about your tongue, especially any lumps or sores that do not go away.
Ideally, in a healthy mouth, your upper and lower teeth fit together in an even manner so that the forces of chewing are equally distributed and shared amongst all teeth throughout the jaw.
Teeth rely on one another for support and uneven bites, open spaces or teeth that are crooked, crowded, displaced or missing can hinder the performance, appearance and health of the teeth and can impact breathing, speaking, digestion and oral hygiene. Misaligned and crowded teeth can make teeth more difficult to clean and keep healthy and can cause jaw problems leading to clenching, grinding, head/neck/ear/sinus aches and TMJ disorder.
A healthy mouth is not painful, dry nor sensitive. Yes, we may temporarily cause it trauma through injury or hot foods or have the periodic canker sore show up, but overall, a healthy mouth is pain free. There are products and treatments to help with minor sensitivities and the source of dry mouth situations can be investigated. However, you should be aware and not ignore any changes, pain or afflictions in the mouth and it’s tissues that can be a sign of breakdown or disease. The rule of thumb is to have anything that lasts more than 7-10 days examined.
Just because you may brush and floss everyday, does not mean that your mouth is healthy. The phrase, “Your mouth is the window to your overall health” is a reminder that caring for your oral health is an investment in your overall health.