ECU Physicians


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Family Medicine

Dental Care

Common conditions of the mouth and gums

General dental tips
Many oral health problems such as cavities are preventable. Taking good care of your teeth includes twice-daily brushing and daily flossing. You should also have regular visits to your dentist’s office for cleaning and check-ups. Use a fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities, too.

Avoid chewing hard items, especially ice, but also hard candy, popcorn kernels and hard seeds. Do not use teeth to open packaging, wrappers or to cut tape or string.

When we eat, our food (especially sugar) leaves behind a sticky film that hardens. It is called plaque. Over time, plaque can collect on the tooth, causing gum disease, infection, bone loss and lost teeth.

As part of your regular dental visit, a hygienist will gently scrape away this dental plaque. These regular cleanings make sure your teeth, gums and bone stay healthy.

Occur when bacteria penetrate the enamel and cause decay. Treatment is usually by a filling, either amalgam or composite

Amalgam fillings have a silver color. Composite fillings are generally closer to tooth color. Each option has advantages and the choice of which to use should be made with your dentist.

Can arise when serious decay is untreated, leading to nerve inflammation or infection, known as an abscess.

Gum disease
Occurs when teeth are not cleaned properly for long periods of time. Food residue leads to the teeth developing a coating known as plaque. Left untreated, this film can build up and in serious cases, cause the teeth to become loose or fall out.

People with diabetes may experience more infections, and the teeth and gums may suffer, as well. Making sure to take care of your diabetes is very important for dental health. Patients who control their diabetes in general have better dental health, and fewer lost teeth.

Dental grills
Removable tooth covers should be regularly cleaned, and the teeth carefully brushed and flossed. Removable coverings, or grills, can irritate nearby teeth. Never use regular glue or at-home kits to make changes to the teeth.

Dentures may be used when you have lost your natural teeth. Full dentures are used when all the teeth have been lost or pulled, due to decay or other problems. They are fitted based on a model of your mouth. Continue regular care of your gums and mouth if you wear dentures.

These artificial teeth are placed in the bone to replace lost teeth. With time, they fuse to the bone and appear more natural than dentures. You must have healthy gums and bones for implants, which generally are inserted over several appointments.

When a tooth cannot be saved, because of decay, damage or injury, you may have it removed, or extracted. After your procedure, avoid eating hard foods or vigorous rinsing for 24 hours. Be gentle when cleaning the nearby teeth to avoid a delay in healing.

Fluoride-containing products, such as toothpastes and mouthwashes, can reduce decay and cavities when used regularly. These products should not be swallowed.

Facial or jaw pain (TMJ, or temporomandibular disorders)
Most facial pain is temporary and based in the muscles. It may come from wide opening, stress or eating hard foods or gum. Facial pain will usually improve with time. Ice packs, heating pads and gentle massage can help. The National Institutes of Health recommends that any treatments for facial and TMJ pain be conservative, reversible and noninvasive.

Tobacco use
Smoking and chewing tobacco lead to serious diseases of the mouth, gums, throat and lungs. Even if you use a smokeless product, you are still at a serious risk of cancer of the lips, cheek, gums and mouth.

Teeth Whitening
You may choose an in-office whitening, or bleaching, procedure. Teeth whitening usually takes one or more visits of about 30 minutes each. You may also be prescribed an at-home treatment.

Thin covers for the tooth front to improve the appearance of the teeth and smile. A small amount of tooth is removed to apply them, so it is an irreversible procedure.