Keeping Your Mouth Clean
Personal hygiene is very much in the spotlight at present. Mouth hygiene is equally important. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day. Don’t forget to also clean between your teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes. Water flossers can also be useful.
Mouthwashes can help reduce plaque bacteria. Use fluoride-containing mouthwash to further protect the enamel. Never share a toothbrush! Change the brush, or if electric, the brush head regularly-as soon as it shows signs of wear.
Good mouth hygiene helps prevent gum disease and tooth decay. At a time when dentists are not allowed to carry out routine treatments for patients, including hygienist treatments it’s especially important to do everything you can to prevent disease at home.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Life for everyone is different now but there’s still plenty available to eat and drink. Make sure you make the right choices! Whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan it’s important you get all the essential food groups like protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy and your immune system strong.
Lack of proper nutrition affects every part of the body including the mouth. Lack of vitamins can damage the gums and too many sugary foods and drinks can lead to tooth decay. Spend some of our enforced time at home to work out a proper diet plan to protect your mouth and your general health and so reduce the need for emergency medical and dental care.
The Importance of Exercise
‘Stay At Home!’ Except for a few special purposes. One of these is to take regular exercise. Exercise is important to preserve general health and can also improve our mental well-being.
During this period of a viral pandemic the healthier we keep body and mind the stronger our immune systems will be and the less likely that we will develop serious complications if we do catch the Corona virus. That said, take some care. If you’re not used to regular physical exercise begin gently. As your body becomes stronger you can increase the time and intensity of the exercise according to your capability.
Most forms of exercise increase our breathing rate and can lead to a dry mouth and throat as well as thirst. DON’T drink ‘sports drinks’ to alleviate this! Not only are they usually high in sugar, many also contain acids that can lead to tooth sensitivity or even tooth decay and erosion. The best drink to alleviate dry mouth and thirst is water! Drink lots of it to stay well hydrated.
Exercise, a sensible diet, adequate hydration and excellent personal hygiene including mouth hygiene will make all of us more healthy and less likely to succumb to anything bad that comes our way.
Life as we know it has changed for all of us. Many of us are remaining for the greater part of the day indoors. We may be self-isolating or following the general advice from the government to Stay At Home. We will certainly be social-distancing so we’ll all be deprived of our usual contact with family and friends.
We’re unable to do many of the things we enjoy. Going out for a meal or drink, attending club meetings or going to religious services are just some of the activities denied to us all at present. In addition, we may have financial worries. All these things can get on top of us and it’s easy to become depressed.
DON’T! Depression solves nothing. It only makes things worse. It leads to us ignoring our health and our diet. It makes us less able to help and support our loved ones. I know it’s easy to say but we really need to make efforts to stay optimistic and happy. Isolation and social distancing are not as unusual as we might think. Ask any monk or nun! Explorers, scientists and sports people are also used to it.
The best way to stay positive is to develop a daily routine. What time are we getting up? What times of the day will we devote to housework, correspondence, business, study etc? When will we take our daily exercise? When will we Skype Grandma!? Just a few examples of the many things that still need to be done each day. How did we ever find time to work?
Develop a routine and stick to it then every day will end with a sense of achievement. Don’t allow yourself to slip into depression. It weakens the immune system and that’s the last thing any of us needs right now!
Dealing with Dental Emergencies
At present dentists in general practice have been told not to carry out any routine dental treatments. Dental hygienists are also not working. Each dental practice will be operating a telephone advice service for its patients. Regional centres are being set-up for patients who need urgent emergency care. If you have a dental emergency telephone your own practice for advice.
If your teeth have become sensitive to hot and cold or to sweet things there are things you can try at home before calling your dentist.
- Take your food and drinks warm, not very hot
- Avoid ‘sharp’ foods like lemons or excessively sweet foods and drinks
- Get some ‘sensitive teeth formula’ toothpaste and smear it over the sensitive areas. These will usually be at the edge of the gums. Leave the toothpaste to work for about a minute (count to 60!) before brushing. Do not rinse, just spit out any excess toothpaste after brushing
These measures will usually work for general sensitivity caused by gum recession, erosion or acid attack. If an individual tooth becomes increasingly sensitive it may be because of tooth decay or a developing abscess and you will need to telephone your dentist for advice.
Mouth ulcers are very common. Often they start with one or a group of small ulcers. Groups of ulcers may merge to form one large ulcer. Mouth ulcers are painful. Frequently they arise in folds of skin so hurt every time your mouth moves during eating, drinking and even talking. We don’t know exactly what causes them so there is no effective cure but there are things you can do to reduce the symptoms:
- Keep to a bland diet
- Avoid ‘sharp’ foods like lemons, salt, chilies etc.
- Keep drinks tepid
- Try to avoid anything that might scratch the skin of your mouth, for example, crisps.
- Pharmacies sell creams you can apply over the ulcer. These can make it less painful but do not cure it
- NEVER put an aspirin on an ulcer (or painful tooth for that matter). It will burn the mouth and make things much worse. If you need a painkiller for any reason, swallow it!
- MOST IMPORTANT All ulcers should heal in a maximum of 3 weeks. If yours doesn’t contact your dentist immediately for advice
Symptoms of Mouth Cancer
Sadly mouth cancer develops in an increasing number of people each year regardless of any other health emergencies. During this Corona virus pandemic don’t forget to keep examining yourself regularly.
Symptoms of mouth cancer include:
- Red or white patches anywhere on the skin of the mouth that have no obvious cause like burning or biting the skin. The mouth heals quickly so even if you have done one of these things the patch will normally clear within about 3 days. If it doesn’t or if you know of no obvious cause contact your dentist
- Ulcers that don’t heal within 3 weeks. Mouth ulcers are common. Most of us have had them at some time or other. They generally only last for a few days. IF ANY MOUTH ULCER PERSISTS FOR 3 WEEKS OR MORE CONTACT YOUR DENTIST
- Persistent hoarseness or a feeling that something is stuck in the throat. It’s very common to notice changes in our voice when we have a cold or sore throat. These changes are temporary and will go away when the illness is better. If a change to the voice persists for 6 weeks or longer it may be a sign of more serious disease and should be investigated
- Lumps under the jaw or in the neck. ‘Swollen glands’ often accompany colds, flu or throat and mouth infections. They’re caused by the immune system trying to fight off the infection. The ‘glands’ tend to be soft and warm and tender to the touch. You may feel them when moving your head from side to side. When the infection that has been causing them goes away the ‘glands’ return to normal. Any swellings in the head or neck that aren’t associated with an obvious infection especially those which are firm, cool and not tender to the touch may be a sign of more serious disease
- A cold sore that doesn’t go away. Don’t forget to check the skin of your face as well as the inside of your mouth. Cold sores at the corners of the mouth are common. They tend to be painful. They heal within 7-10 days. If they don’t or if you get other sores around the mouth or on the face have them looked at. Other things to look out for are lumps or spots on the skin that change, get bigger, get painful or itchy or start to bleed
- Bleeding inside the mouth and teeth which get loose. About 80% of us will have some degree of gum disease at some time in our lives. Gum disease causes bleeding especially during tooth brushing and sometimes when eating chewy foods. In its later stages it can cause teeth to become loose because of damage to the jawbone holding them in. This usually, but not always, affects groups of teeth. Rarely a single tooth may become loose through gum disease or an abscess. Bleeding from the mouth and especially the throat or a tooth or teeth which become loose with no obvious cause, especially if your dentist has never mentioned gum disease to you before needs a professional opinion urgently.
- Difficulty swallowing, pain or changed sensation in the tongue or lips. Lip and tongue sensation may change due to damage to the nerves supplying them. Often this shows up as ‘pins and needles’ or numbness. Cancer of the mouth or throat can make swallowing difficult but there are of course a number of other less serious things that can cause this; however all these things need investigating if you notice them
- Lumps in the mouth. Most lumps that come up in the mouth are harmless. They may be due to cysts, polyps or most commonly dental abscesses but of course there can be more serious causes. All lumps that do not go away in a short time, painful or painless, should be examined by your dentist
- Unexplained weight loss. If we’re not on a diet or doing more physical exercise than usual our weight should stay more or less constant. Sometimes we may lose weight during a fever or illness especially if we become dehydrated but the weight will normally come back quickly. If it doesn’t it may indicate a more serious cause and should be investigated
All of the conditions above can be symptoms of mouth cancer. Usually they have less serious causes but it’s important to be aware and report anything which causes you concern. Don’t forget to self-examine. Details on how to do this are available on the Mouth Cancer Foundation website: www.mouthcancerfoundation.org
Corona virus attacks the lungs. If your lungs are not healthy risks of serious complications from the illness are increased.
We all know smoking is bad for health. If you smoke, now would be a great time to give up! After only 2 days of quitting lung health improves and the improvement carries on day after day.
For advice on stopping smoking go to: www.nhs.uk/smokefree
Diabetes and Dental Health
Diabetes weakens the immune system, especially if it’s poorly controlled. People with diabetes are at greater risk of gum disease and tooth decay. There is a vicious circle here: diabetes makes gum disease worse and untreated gum disease makes diabetes more difficult to control. That’s why it is so important for people with diabetes to take special care with toothbrushing and mouth hygiene at home as well as visiting the dentist and hygienist regularly.
Sadly routine dental and hygiene services are on-hold during the corona virus pandemic so it’s vital to:
- Brush properly at least twice a day
- Clean between the teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes
- Use a fluoride-containing mouthwash
Doing this will improve the health of the mouth and protect your immune system which now more than ever is really important.
Bleeding gums (gingivitis) are a sign of inflammation due to plaque bacteria gathering at the gum margin. Never avoid brushing and flossing your teeth because of bleeding gums. The condition is an indication to brush more, not less. Usually after about 3 days the bleeding will stop if your cleaning is effective and the gum margins will return to normal. If early gum disease is left untreated it can advance to a more serious condition (periodontitis). Dentists take out more teeth because of periodontitis than any other reason so it’s really important to keep your gum condition under control. The dentist and hygienist can help but it’s what you do at home that really matters!
Dentures build up deposits of plaque and tartar just like natural teeth do. The fitting surfaces of dentures (the surfaces that touch the gums) are deliberately made rough for suction but this rough surface is also a haven for bacteria and other micro-organisms like thrush which can cause serious mouth infections, spread to other parts of the body and even cause general disease.
Partial dentures touch natural teeth and surveys have shown that the teeth they touch are 30% more likely to be lost than teeth which do not touch dentures. This is partly due to the denture trapping plaque against the tooth next to it. Taking out the denture and brushing the teeth will not be effective unless the denture is thoroughly cleaned as well; if it isn’t it will simply bring bacteria back into the mouth when it is next put in.
Dentures are brittle. When you clean them do it over a bowl or basin of water so that if you drop them they don’t fall onto anything hard. Use a soft toothbrush or denture brush with non-abrasive denture toothpaste to clean all the surfaces and between the teeth taking special care if it’s a partial denture to thoroughly clean the plastic surrounding the gaps that the natural teeth fit into.
After brushing inspect the denture carefully to make sure all debris has been removed. Then you can use a propriety denture cleaning solution if you wish but always follow the manufacturers’ instructions. Often these will recommend leaving the denture in the solution for a limited time before thoroughly rinsing. If you leave dentures in these solutions for too long the plastic may become bleached and the smooth surfaces may become rough.
It is much healthier to leave dentures out at night. During sleep saliva flow slows down. Debris stagnates under dentures and the lack of saliva makes teeth less good at repairing themselves after acid attack from bacteria between the dentures and teeth.
When dentures are out of the mouth, clean them then keep them moist. They don’t need to sit in a glass of water. A plastic bag is sufficient to stop the dentures drying out and possibly distorting. If you do use a special container to keep your dentures in make sure that stays scrupulously clean as well!
Read about Avenue Road Dental’s current response to COVID-19.