Oral diseases ranging from cavities to cancer are all serious threats to your oral health. Your oral health is an important part of your overall health. Research shows there may be a link between oral disease and other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke as well as pre-term and low-birth-weight babies.
Left unchecked, hidden threats to your oral health — such as gum disease, root cavities and infections and oral cancer — can lead to severe pain, loss of teeth and serious health implications.
Only your dentist has the skills, training and expertise to identify and address all your oral health care needs. The information on this section is intended for informational use only and does not substitute the professional care of your dentist. If you have a question or concern that is not covered in this section, please contact CDA or ask your dentist.
Gum disease is one of the most common dental problems adults face, but gum disease can begin at just about any age. Gum disease often develops slowly and without causing any pain. Sometimes you may not notice any signs until the disease is serious and you are in danger of losing teeth.
The good news is:
- gum disease can almost always be prevented,
- if it starts, it can be treated and
- it can even be turned around (or reversed) in its early stages.
How it happens
Healthy gums and bone hold teeth firmly in place. Gums attach to teeth just below the edge of the gums. Gum disease affects the attachment between gums and teeth.
Gum disease begins with plaque. Plaque is clear and sticky and contains germs (or bacteria). It forms on your teeth every day. It also forms where your teeth and your gums meet. If plaque is not removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar (also called calculus).
Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. Tartar can lead to an infection at the point where the gums attach to the teeth (called the "point of attachment"). In these early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. Your gums may be a bit red and bleed when you brush, but you may not notice anything.
As gingivitis gets worse, tiny pockets of infection form at the "point of attachment." You cannot see them, but you may notice puffy gums, traces of blood on your toothbrush, or a change in the colour of your gums. Your gums will probably not be sore.
Over time, the infection breaks down the gum tissue that attaches to the teeth. This is called "attachment loss." At this point, you will notice swelling, bleeding or colour changes in your gums.
Along with "attachment loss," gum disease causes the bone that holds your teeth in place to break down too. If gum disease is not treated, teeth become loose and in danger of falling out.
The best way to deal with gum disease is not to get it in the first place. To protect your oral health, brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss at least once a day and see your dentist regularly for oral examinations.
In its early stages, gum disease is very hard to see. You may not know that you have a problem. But every time you have a check up, your dentist looks for signs of gum disease.
Your dentist may use a dental tool called a "periodontal probe" to measure where your gums attach to your teeth. Healthy gums attach to teeth just below the edge of the gum. If your gums attach to your teeth below this point, it is a sign of gum disease.
X-rays to show how much bone is around your teeth. If you have gum disease, getting rid of plaque and tartar gives your gums a chance to get better. That's why in the early stages of gum disease, the best treatment is cleaning by your dentist or dental hygienist to remove built-up tartar, brushing twice a day to remove plaque and flossing once a day to remove plaque.
When gum disease is more serious, your dentist may refer you to a dental specialist called a periodontist. A periodontist has at least 3 years of extra university training in treating gum disease, and in restoring (or regenerating) bone and gum tissue that have been lost because of gum disease.
A periodontist also treats serious forms of gum disease that do not get better with normal dental care. When serious gum disease is found, brushing and flossing become even more important.
Checking Your Gums
Check your gums on a regular basis for these signs of gum disease:
- a change in the colour of your gums
- gums that are red around your teeth
- gums that bleed every time you brush or floss
- bad breath that will not go away
- a taste of metal in your mouth
- shiny, puffy or sore gums
- teeth that are sensitive for no reason
These are all good reasons to see your dentist right away. Gum disease is one of the main reasons why adults lose their teeth. But the good news is gum disease can almost always be prevented. If it starts, it can be treated and can even be turned around (or reversed) in its early stages.
If gum disease is not treated, you can have gums that are always sore, red and puffy, get a painful infection (called an abscess) in the area between your teeth and gums or lose your teeth.
Without enough gum tissue and bone to hold your teeth in place, they can become loose and fall out. Nobody wants to have these things happen. With regular care, they won't.
It's one of those things you don't want to get, but do you really know what it is? Gingivitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the gums. In fact, one of the reasons you should brush twice a day, and floss once a day is to prevent gingivitis.
Gingivitis begins with plaque, a clear, sticky substance that forms on your teeth every day. Plaque contains bacteria that cause gingivitis and tooth decay, which is why it is essential to brush and floss each day. If plaque is left unchecked, it will eventually harden into tartar, which can only be professionally removed.
Warning signs of gingivitis
Your gums may be a bit red and bleed when you brush, but you may not notice anything. The warning signs of gingivitis are puffy gums, traces of blood on your toothbrush, or a change in the colour of your gums, but it is not painful. The good news is gingivitis can be prevented and if started, it can be reversed.
You can fight gingivitis
Take these five simple steps to prevent gingivitis and to maintain good oral health:
- Brush your teeth and tongue twice a day with toothpaste and floss once a day to remove plaque between teeth. When choosing oral health care products, Products bearing the Canadian Dental Association Seal have been reviewed by CDA and have demonstrated specific oral health benefits.
- Check your gums regularly. Look for the warning signs of gingivitis and report them to your dentist right away.
- See your dentist for regular check ups, and schedule a professional cleaning to remove stains and built-up tartar.
- Eat healthy foods for your oral health as well as your overall health. Eating excess sugar is one of the primary causes of dental problems. With the proper nutrients that come from healthy eating and proper oral hygiene, you can fight cavities and gingivitis.
- Don't smoke. Smoking is a major contributor to dental problems and may cause oral cancer.
Canadians of all ages need preventive dental care. Our office has the care, skill and judgement to diagnose your oral health condition and advise you on appropriate treatment and care. For more information on keeping your teeth and gums healthy, talk to our office.
Fight Gingivitis: Brush Twice, Floss Once
Provided you look after them, your teeth and gums will look good and stay healthy for life. Brush twice daily, floss once a day, and see your dentist regularly for optimum oral health
A cavity is a very small hole that forms on the surface of a tooth. Cavities are caused when sugars in the food we eat and bacteria in our mouths mix together, producing a mild acid that eats away at outer layer of our teeth (called enamel).
Cavities are more common during childhood, but adults can get them too. Adults tend to get two kinds of cavities:
- Cavities that form around a filling, or "recurrent" cavities. Fillings are not as smooth as natural teeth. Tiny bits of food and germs (bacteria) can get caught at the edge of a filling. This can cause a cavity to form again on the tooth around the filling. Also, when a filling breaks, the part of the tooth that is no longer covered is more likely to get a cavity.
- Cavities that form on the roots of the teeth, or "root" cavities. Years of brushing your teeth too hard can make your gums recede, or pull away from your teeth. Getting older can also make gums recede. When your gums pull away from your teeth, the roots of the teeth are out in the open. Roots do not have a hard, outer layer (enamel) to protect them, so they are more likely to get cavities.
When you go for a check up, your dentist checks your fillings and may suggest that you replace any loose or broken ones. Your dentist also checks for signs of decay, such as brown or black spots.
Your dentist may want to use X-rays to take a closer look at problem spots. If you have a cavity, your dentist may keep an eye on it (if it's small), or want to fill it right away. If a large cavity is not filled, it can get bigger and cause pain. The tooth may even have to be removed and replaced with a false (or artificial) tooth.
Oral cancer is a disease resulting from abnormal cell growth in the mouth, lips, tongue or throat. In 2003, an estimated 3,100 new cases of oral cancers were identified in Canada, and about 1,090 deaths occurred as a result of the disease .
People over the age of 45 are most at risk. The good news is that oral cancer can be treated successfully if caught early enough.
Your dentist has the expert skill and training to detect early signs of the disease and can help you to understand your risks.
Signs and symptoms
- White or dark red patches in your mouth, or on your lips or tongue.
- Lumps or changes in the texture or colour of the mouth tissues.
- Bleeding or numbness in the mouth; sores or patches that do not heal.
- Difficulty swallowing; changes in taste or tongue sensation.
The actual cause of oral cancer is not known but risk factors include:
- Consumption of tobacco products (cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, etc).
- Heavy alcohol consumption (It is especially dangerous to combine smoking and alcohol.)
- Prolonged, repeated exposure of the lips to the sun.
- Poor diet; genetics and gender (more men develop the disease than women.)
- A history of leukoplakia - a thick, whitish-colour patch inside the mouth.
Diagnosis and treatment
Treatment depends on the severity and location of the disease, as well as, the age and health of the patient. If oral cancer is suspected:
- A biopsy (surgical removal and microscopic examination) of the suspicious area may be taken.
- Imaging tests such as X-rays, ultra sounds, CT scans or MRIs may be taken.
- Chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery may be necessary to remove tumor(s).
To help prevent oral cancer
- See your dentist regularly for check-ups and ask about oral cancer screenings.
- Stop using tobacco products - ask your dentist about tools to help you quit.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Limit sun exposure and use U/V protective lip balms.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Check your mouth regularly for signs or symptoms and report any changes in your mouth to your dentist right away.