Dentists are always telling us we need regular checkups every six months, but why? Do you really need to go to the dentist that often?
Do you have bad breath? That can be a sign of gum disease, tonsillitis, or maybe just poor brushing technique – the bacteria in your mouth double in population every eight to 12 hours and when you brush your teeth with a manual toothbrush for two minutes you remove only about 41% of those bacteria– but you can’t know what the cause is or make it better without seeing your dentist.
Has it been more than 6 months? There’s a very good reason for that six-month checkup: that’s how quickly a normal-size cavity can turn into a root canal. Over time, the bacteria in your mouth builds up. So does calculus (tartar), which comes from minerals in your own saliva but “sticks to your teeth like a barnacle on a ship,” says TRU Dentistry’s Samantha Hollinger, D.MD. “It’s not something you can clean off yourself, and calculus harbors bacteria that cause bad breath, loose teeth, gum infection, and even bone infection.”
Do you clench or grind your teeth? If you wear your teeth down over time you can end up needing a full mouth of crowns. You can also cause your bite to collapse – giving you that “old person without dentures” look. Your dentist can create customized bite guards and other solutions to prevent damage that will only cost more if you try to ignore the problem.
Do you notice your teeth getting shorter? If the problem isn’t that you’re grinding your teeth, it may be that they’re not in correct alignment. “Your front teeth are supposed to be scissors and your back teeth are mashers,” says Dr. Hollinger. “Well, if you’re mashing with your front teeth, they’re going to shorten or break.”
Do you have stuff on your teeth you can’t seem to clean off? That’s calculus (tartar) — hard mineral deposit from your saliva. You can’t remove that with your toothbrush (that’s why the dental hygienist uses sharp metal instruments to scrape your teeth). Tartar buildup is the main culprit behind gum disease, tooth decay, and bone loss.
Are you embarrassed to smile? “You don’t have to live like that. My favorite part of being a dentist is helping people,” says Dr. Hollinger. “You may just need a good cleaning, and there are so many options now for cosmetic dentistry besides just veneers.”
Do you snore? That can be a sign of sleep apnea, a restricted airway, poor alignment, or even a collapsed bite from tooth wear. Your dentist can make an oral appliance that fits, like a mouth guard for sports that is only worn during sleep, to support your jaw and maintain an open airway. Your dentist can also refer you to a sleep doctor to find out if you have sleep apnea.
Do you wish your teeth were whiter? We’ll talk more about this in another blog, but if you really want that bright white smile, your dentist is your best friend. Most whitening solutions are very caustic and you’re likely to burn your gums trying to do it yourself. Also, forget anything abrasive because it’ll wear down your un-replaceable tooth enamel.
Are your teeth sensitive or loose? “Sensitive teeth” are actually exposed roots from receding gums, and loose teeth in adults can be from bone loss. “I’m finding that younger people are hyper-aware of keeping their teeth bright white, but they don’t go for regular cleanings,” says Dr. Hollinger. “So, they may have a nice, white smile, but also gum disease, tooth loss, and other problems that are very preventable with regular cleanings.”
Do you notice your breath is super bad when you drink alcohol? That’s a big sign of acid reflux. Aside from the bad breath, acid reflux will actually eat away at the back lower molars and the backs of your front teeth. To keep that from happening, there’s a simple fix — just take an antacid at night before bed.
Do you have tooth pain? “People always think it’s going to be okay – ‘I’ll just tough it out and it’ll go away’,” says Dr. Hollinger. “It’s not going to go away. It’s going to get worse and it’s going to get more expensive. So, try to visit your dentist at the first sign of pain.”
If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, find a dentist near you.
Aside from helping you keep your teeth free of those barnacles, your dentist and hygienist review your overall health, track the health of your teeth and gums, monitor your ability to clean, note where there’s room for improvement, and make sure there is no long term damage being done. Five out of five dentists recommend it!