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Dental hygiene, also known as oral hygiene, is the process by which preventative dental care is provided to avoid dental emergencies. At the core of dental hygiene is the in-home dental care regimen you perform.
Tooth brushing is fundamentally important, though it alone will not remove the calculus (also called tartar or dental plaque) that builds up over time. Calculus must be removed to lower your risk of toothaches, cavities, periodontal disease or even the loss of all your teeth. By removing calculus, you can reduce your chances of needing root canals, tooth extractions, dental bridges, crowns and more.
Getting to the Root of Dental Hygiene
Over time, calculus builds up on the teeth. If calculus forms below the gum line, bacteria can invade and create a host of other dental problems. Furthermore, the surfaces and areas between the teeth and under the gum line must be maintained and treated on a regular basis in order to ensure proper dental hygiene. These areas are impossible for you to examine yourself; they require a professional touch.
Dental hygienists are often responsible for performing professional tooth cleaning, scraping hardened plaque (tartar), removing calculus deposits, taking X-rays, identifying changes in the bite (occlusion), investigating components that relate to the bone and setting up the nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) that is used, when necessary, to relax people requiring more invasive treatment.
Dr. Martin Gorman—our experienced dentist—then works with our hygienist, Melina, by further examining the teeth, mouth, and gums to provide any necessary treatment for tooth decay or gum disease. Regular dental visits are critical at any age for the maintenance of dental hygiene. The American Dental Association recommends that patients visit with their dentist and dental hygienist a minimum of two times each year to maintain proper dental hygiene.
Periodontal disease, colloquially referred to as gum disease, occurs when bacteria infect the soft gum tissue surrounding the teeth. Most people will develop some form of gum disease in their lifetime. When detected early, steps can be taken to manage the effects of gum disease as well as prevent the condition from developing further. Maintaining good oral hygiene and routine oral exams are two crucial components of protecting the health of your gums.
Gingivitis, which is considered the first or preliminary stage, is the most common form of gum disease. The gum tissues surrounding the teeth can become inflamed due to gingivitis and lead to a number of other symptoms. When left untreated, the later stages of gum disease can damage the teeth as well as the connective tissues that hold them in place and eventually lead to tooth loss.
The Signs of Gum Disease
The symptoms of gum disease can differ from patient to patient. It is also possible to have early stages of gum disease without any noticeable symptoms, which is why scheduling twice-yearly oral exams can be essential for your oral health. Common signs of gum disease may include one or more of the following:
- Red or swollen gums
- Gum sensitivity
- Gums that bleed easily, especially while brushing your teeth
- Chronic bad breath
- Loose or shifting teeth
As a gum infection progresses, the gums and bone may begin to recede, which is not always detectable without a dentist. If the root of the tooth becomes exposed, patients may experience significant tooth sensitivity. In more advanced cases of gum disease, patients may notice pockets form between the gums and the teeth as well as the production of pus from these areas.
Causes of Gum Disease
The most common cause of gum disease is the buildup of plaque, tartar, and bacteria along the gum line. When plaque is not properly removed from the surface of the tooth, this plaque may harden into tartar, bacteria may infect the area, and small pockets may develop between the gum tissue and the teeth. In addition to poor oral hygiene, the following have been known to cause gum disease:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Hormonal or metabolic changes due to puberty, pregnancy, or menopause
- Other medical conditions, including kidney disease or diabetes
- Certain medications that may cause dry mouth or changes to the gums
- Tobacco use
- Habitual grinding or clenching of the teeth
Research has also linked gum disease to other serious health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and cancer.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Periodontal Disease
At our office, we use OralDNA Labs™ laboratory services to ensure we are giving our patients the best oral health information possible. OralDNA Labs™ is a specialty diagnostics company designed to provide reliable, definitive, and cost effective clinical tests that guide oral health professionals in detecting and prognosing disease at an earlier, more treatable stage. Early detection of gum disease allows Dr. Gorman to determine the best course of treatment for your unique symptoms, provide relief, and help you maintain a beautiful, healthy smile.