Keep your mouth healthy between dental visits

Created date

June 23rd, 2017
Senior brushing his teeth.

When it comes to the health of your mouth, dentists are concerned with more than your teeth. Their knowledge base encompasses your entire mouth. “We evaluate for gum disease, oral cancers, and other lesions,” says Corbin Brady, D.D.S., of Brady Dental Care, a 30-year-old practice nationally recognized for its focus on patient comfort. “We also check for jaw problems, such as temporal joint disorder, which is any problem that occurs with the temporomandibular joint and the muscles that control it.”

According to the American Dental Association, most people should see their dentist twice a year—ideally at six-month intervals. In between visits, however, you should monitor your mouth for emerging problems.       

Gum disease

Any infection of the gums is considered periodontal disease. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), about 17% of adults over 65 in the U.S. have some form of periodontal disease—over 10% have moderate or severe forms. If you smoke, there’s a one in three chance you have it. 

Advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. It can lead to the loss of teeth, and advanced forms can cause the tissue and bone supporting the teeth to erode. In addition, some research suggests there may be a link between gum disease and other health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. 

Periodontal disease is usually caused by plaque buildup, and if it is caught early, it can be treated successfully. In between dental visits, be on the lookout for symptoms such as redness, swelling, bleeding, tenderness, persistent bad breath, or gums pulling away from your teeth.

Denture problems

For people who have lost some or all of their teeth, dentures are a way to keep the mouth healthy. New dentures can take a while to get used to. They may feel loose and you may experience some minor irritation, but you should become accustomed to these issues after a period of time. If, however, they persistently cause soreness, or interfere with eating, call your dentist.

Proper denture care can help prevent problems. “Some people with dentures aren’t aware that they need to be cared for meticulously,” says Brady. “They need to be taken out at least once a day and cleaned thoroughly, including underneath.”

Plaque forms on all mouth surfaces, so dentists recommend that you use a soft-bristled brush to brush the inside of your mouth including the gums, tongue, roof of the mouth, and cheeks. 

Medications and your mouth

Dry mouth is a fairly frequent side effect of many medications, and it can lead to other problems. “Having insufficient saliva can make it difficult to digest and swallow food,” Brady says. “It can also accelerate cavity formation.” 

“Certain medicines cause salivary glands to produce less fluid,” Brady says.  According to the Mayo Clinic, common drugs that cause the problem include those that treat depression, anxiety, or high blood pressure. Pain medications, muscle relaxants, and antihistamines often list dry mouth as a side effect. There are special mouthwashes, sprays, and lozenges that can reduce dry mouth. Drinking plenty of liquids also helps.

Medications can cause other mouth conditions. “Less likely side effects include enlarged or overgrown gums or development of mouth sores,” Brady explains.

According to NIDCR, over one-third of cancer patients develop mouth complications, including mouth sores, infections, and sensitive gums. 

Other troubles

“I tell patients to be aware of loose fillings or crowns, or if they notice any instability or looseness in their teeth,” Brady says.  “You might have an area that suddenly becomes difficult to floss. This could be related to gum swelling.”

Sometimes an urgent repair is needed. “If you break a tooth, there could be a jagged edge that needs to be smoothed out, or a crown might need to be reattached,” Brady says. 

Pain or sensitivity should be evaluated, especially if it comes on quickly.  “There can be numerous reasons for symptoms such as these, including abscesses or pain from temporomandibular joint dysfunction,” Brady explains.

“Along with being diligent about dental hygiene, the most important strategy for a healthy mouth is to be seen by a dentist twice a year,” Brady says. “This includes people with dentures.”