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Find Answers to Common Dental Questions

Oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental examination.  Regular check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.  You may have a very small, but dangerous, oral spot or sore and not be aware of it.

A careful examination of the inside of your mouth, tongue and back of the throat may identify in some patients, a flat, painless, white or red spot or a small sore.  Although most of these are harmless, some are not.  If these spots have a clear cause, you may be asked to return for re-examination at a later date.  If the cause is unclear, you may require additional testing to confirm the cause of the problem.

Canker sores are small ulcers with a white or gray base and a red border.  They appear inside the mouth and are not contagious.  Fatigue, stress, allergies, trauma and intestinal problems can increase the likelihood of a canker sore.  They usually heal on their own after a week or two, but more severe outbreaks may occur.  Over-the-counter topical anesthetics and antimicrobial mouth rinses may provide temporary relief.  Avoid hot, spicy or acidic foods that can irritate the sore.

 Cold sores are groups of fluid-filled blisters that can be painful.  They often erupt around the lips and sometimes under the nose or around the chin.  Cold sores are caused by herpes virus type 1 and are very contagious.  Once a person is infected, the virus stays in the body and causes occasional attacks.  These attacks may follow a fever, sunburn, skin abrasions or emotional upset.  Most blisters heal in a week by themselves.  Early treatment of prescription antiviral drugs may reduce these kinds of viral infections.

Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaws is known as bruxism.  It often happens as we sleep, caused not just by stress and anxiety but by sleep disorders, an abnormal bite, or teeth that are missing or crooked.  Symptoms include a dull headache or a sore jaw.  You could have teeth that are painful or loose from severe grinding.  This can lead to fractures in your teeth.  Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth during sleep.

Smokeless tobacco products consist of tobacco or a blend that’s chewed or sucked rather than smoked.  Using chewing tobacco can cause serious health problems including gum irritation, an increased risk of heart attack, and oral cancer.  This can also cause tooth decay due to the high amounts of sugar it contains.  Coarse particles can irritate your gums and scratch away at the enamel, making your teeth more vulnerable to cavities.  The area where that chewing tobacco is kept can develop gum disease (gingivitis) and possibly tooth loss.

People who use smokeless tobacco are more likely to develop small white patches called leukoplakia inside their mouths where the chew is placed.  These lesions are precancerous and, after usage stops, the lesions usually go away in a few months.  Those lesion that become cancerous may require surgery to remove and can leave your jaw, chin, neck or face disfigured.

Orthodontic treatment is used to correct a “bad bite.”  This condition, known as malocclusion, involves teeth that are crowded or crooked.  In some cases, the upper and lower jaws may not meet properly and, although the teeth may appear straight, the individual may have an uneven bite. 

Correcting the problem can create a nice-looking smile, but more importantly, orthodontic treatment results in a healthier mouth.  That’s because crooked and crowded teeth make cleaning the mouth difficult, which can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.  An improper bite can interfere with chewing and speaking, can cause abnormal wear to tooth enamel, and can lead to problems with the jaws.

Whitening is any process that will make teeth appear whiter.  This can be achieved in two ways.  Bleaching products can bleach the tooth, which means that it actually changes the natural tooth color.  Bleaching products contain peroxide(s) that help remove deep (intrinsic) and surface (extrinsic) stains.  By contrast, non-bleaching whitening products contain agents that work through physical or chemical action to help remove surface stains only.  The most commonly observed side effects are tooth sensitivity and occasional irritation of the soft tissue.  There are two approaches to whiten your smile:  In-office bleaching and at-home bleaching.

There are many possible causes for a person to have bad breath.  Some of these include dry mouth (xerostomia), tobacco use, acid reflux, and food particles left from infrequent brushing and flossing.  Bad breath may be a sign of certain medical disorders.  Mouthwashes are generally cosmetic and do not have a long-lasting effect.  Maintaining good oral health is essential to reducing bad breath.  Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque.  It is important to brush your tongue, too.  Once a day, use floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between teeth.

A child’s primary teeth, sometimes called “baby teeth,” are as important as the permanent adult teeth.  Children usually have 20 primary teeth which typically begin to appear when a baby is between ages six months and one year.  Primary teeth help children chew and speak.  They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are developing under the gums.  Primary teeth start developing half way through pregnancy.  The intake of systemic fluoride, usually present in tap water, is necessary for proper development of primary and permanent teeth.

Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by prolonged contact with almost any liquid other than water.  This can happen due to putting a baby to bed with a bottle of formula, milk, juice, soft drinks, sugar water, sugared drinks, etc.  Allowing the baby to suck on a bottle or breastfeed for longer than a mealtime, either when awake or asleep, can also cause baby bottle tooth decay.

Some ways to avoid this problem include: never putting your child to bed with a bottle, giving your baby a bottle during meals only, keeping your baby’s mouth clean and teaching you child to drink from a cup.

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