Cavity-free doesn't necessarily mean worry-free when it comes to oral health: Seemingly minor problems such as bad breath and canker sores not only cause embarrassment and discomfort, they may also signal more serious health concerns. In fact, studies suggest that the bacteria that contribute to bad breath and gum disease also raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. Learn what's behind oral-health problems along with simple, health-enhancing solutions.
1. Bad breath
The cause: Poor oral health-care habits are a major factor in halitosis - infrequent brushing and flossing allow the buildup of oral bacteria that produce stinky sulfur byproducts, explains Kimberly Harms, D.D.S., an American Dental Association (ADA) consumer adviser in Farmington, MN. Anything that dries out the mouth, such as alcohol or caffeine, can also leave breath less than fresh, since saliva works to rinse teeth clean of problem-causing bacteria, and it naturally contains antibacterial agents.
The fix: Floss daily and use a fluoride toothpaste that doesn't contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a harsh foaming agent that dries the mouth, says Harold Katz, D.D.S., founder of the California Breath Clinics in Los Angeles. One SLS-free paste to try: Rembrandt Canker Sore Toothpaste. Also, drink plenty of water, and if you use mouthwash, choose an alcohol-free one (such as Crest Pro-Health Rinse). For an instant fix, chew sugarless gum. The act of chewing stimulates saliva production, and gum that is free of sugar won't feed bacteria. Also nab fixes to 11 more embarrassing beauty questions.
2. Canker sores
The cause: Unlike cold sores, canker sores (whitish bumps that occur inside your mouth) aren't contagious. In fact, experts aren't sure what causes them. Butthey do know that sores can be triggered by anything from allergies to hormonal changes to brushing too vigorously, says Harms.
The fix: Antibacterial mouthwashes can help disinfect your mouth and may also speed the healing process. Beware of products that contain alcohol, which can sting tender sores. And avoid citrus fruits and other acidic foods that can make pain worse. If you get frequent canker sores, ask your dentist about trying a prescription-only mouthwash that contains lidocaine (a numbing agent), Benadryl (to ease inflammation), and Kaopectate (which helps the mixture coat the inside of your mouth). Note: If a canker sore lingers for more than two weeks, see your dentist to rule out more serious concerns, such as oral cancer. Learn how to find more helpful health info online.
3. Tooth grinding
The cause: Typically brought on by stress and anxiety, tooth grinding often happens at night when you're asleep - and unaware. In fact, most grinders don't realize they're doing it until their bed partner hears the sound and tells them so, says Harms. If you suspect you're a grinder, watch for side effects such as chipped or loose teeth, worn enamel, jaw soreness, and headaches.
The fix: Practice relaxation exercises such as meditation or simple yoga stretches before bed to help alleviate stress. You can also try these 8 ways to declutter your mind. If that doesn't work, ask your dentist about getting a custom-made night guard that fits comfortably over your teeth. "When you're wearing a night guard, your teeth push into a soft, forgiving plastic surface, instead of grinding tooth on tooth," Harms says.
4. Tooth sensitivity
The cause: Gingivitis and too-aggressive brushing can cause gum lines to recede, leaving once-protected sensitive tooth surfaces vulnerable to hot, cold, and sugary foods and drinks. Another culprit: teeth whitening products that contain baking soda and/or peroxide. Frequent use can temporarily sensitize teeth and expose underlying dentinal tubules, channels that lead to the tooth's nerve center. If twinges are isolated to one tooth, you may have a cavity, a loose filling, a cracked tooth, or nerve damage.
The fix: Regular brushing, flossing, and cleanings can help prevent or reverse gingivitis. When brushing, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and don't press too hard. Also, invest in a desensitizing toothpaste with the ADA seal, such as Orajel Sensitive Pain Relieving Toothpaste. "They have ingredients that clog up tubules and protect nerve endings," says Harms. If you suspect a cavity, or any oral-health problem you can't resolve on your own, see your dentist: Early treatment can save you unnecessary pain and expense. And before you make an appointment, learn about these 4 steps to a painless dentist visit.
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.