FAQ Adults 18-30

Common questions about adult dental health

You’ll no doubt be aware that brushing your teeth, which removes the plaque that causes tooth decay and gum disease, is important. What you may not know is that how often you brush, how long you brush for, the kind of technique and toothbrush you use all matter too.

To gain the maximum benefit from brushing your teeth, you should be brushing for at least two minutes morning and night, spending roughly 30 seconds on each quarter of your mouth.Think that sounds like too much hard work?

Firing up your streaming service, playing your favourite three minute pop song and brushing until the end is one fun way to make sure your teeth get all the cleaning they need.

It’s all in the technique

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give too much thought to how you brush your teeth, beyond squirting on some toothpaste, and brushing back and forth.

But as your dentist will tell you, how you brush your teeth matters a great deal. You should be cleaning your teeth systematically, starting at the back with the toothbrush bristle at the gumline or at a 45° angle, brushing gently in a circular motion, and finishing with a spit, not a rinse. If you have an electric toothbrush, you should be guiding the moving brush head slowly from tooth to tooth following the contours of the tooth and the curve of the gums.

Regardless of the brush you use, try to avoid brushing with too much force as this can damage the surface of your teeth. And as for the toothpaste? You only need a pea-sized amount to get the job done.

Tools of the trade

You are always best using a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head and a flexible neck because this will most effectively remove plaque and debris from your teeth, without damaging your teeth and gums and drawing blood. Try to replace your brush at the first sign of wear-and-tear or every three months, whichever comes first, and if you’ve just had a cold, replace your toothbrush so you don’t get reinfected by the germs in the bristles.

Make sure you check out our page on flossing.

Here’s something you may not know – nearly half the surface area of your teeth lies between them. And no, we’re not telling you this so you can ace the next dental trivia contest you attend.

Why that particular information is important is because if you’re solely relying on brushing you’re not cleaning a large portion of your teeth, which in turn can affect how healthy your teeth and gums are. By removing the plaque from between your teeth, you’re helping to prevent gum disease, tooth decay and halitosis, otherwise known as “bad breath”.

So flossing, or interdental cleaning as it’s officially known, is an essential part of caring for your teeth and gums, and not some kind of “nice to have” added extra.
It’s all in the technique

It’s one thing to make flossing a part of your dental health care routine, quite another to do it properly. Your dentist is the most qualified person to instruct you on flossing correctly but there are some basic tips you can follow:

Tip 1: Wind about 45cm of floss around your middle fingers and rest it across your thumbs and index fingers.

Tip 2: Always insert the floss gently using a gentle side-to-side motion to avoid traumatising the gums.

Tip 3: To clean the “neck” of the tooth, which is the point at which it meets the gums, curl the floss and insert it gently under the gum.

If sticking your fingers into your mouth with a cord of thin filaments strung between them isn’t your idea of fun, then consider using either a less invasive floss threader or floss pick to do the job.

And finally, your dentist might also recommend using other items such as bottle brush-shaped interdental cleaners, if you have large gaps between your teeth, or interdental tips (flexible rubber tips) and irrigators (electrically-powered water-pumping devices) to compliment your flossing regimen.
Make flossing a routine

Flossing should be an integral part of your dental health routine along with brushing. You should be flossing once a day, either in the morning or night, or even after lunch, for at least two minutes..

But it’s not just adults who need to floss. Kids should start cleaning between their teeth as soon as they have two teeth in contact but until the age of 10, it’s best if the parent does the flossing as younger kids don’t have the manual dexterity needed to floss effectively.

If you’re like most people, the odds are good that your idea of a healthy lifestyle begins and ends with making sure you eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and get exercise as much as you can.

And while both of these factors are crucially important in keeping you fit and healthy, the reality is that your oral health, that is how good a state your teeth and gums are in, has a major effect on your overall health.

Gum disease, for instance, has been linked to a raft of ailments including pneumonia, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and exacerbated diabetes symptoms.

It’s why brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily and seeing your dentist on a regular basis are so important.

But that’s not where the story ends.

Smoking, drinking, prescribed and non-prescribed medications, illicit drug use, tongue and lip piercing, and stress, all have a significant effect on how healthy your teeth and gums are, and hence, how healthy you are overall.

Nothing in your body happens in a vacuum and everything you do to your body will inevitably have an effect on your oral health and, sooner or later, on your health overall.

Smoking

The most obvious effect of smoking is the staining and discolouration of teeth, caused by the nicotine and tar in cigarettes.

But this is just the aesthetic tip of the smoking iceberg.

Smoking has also been linked to a decrease of blood flow to the teeth and gums, bone shrinkage, teeth loss, and an inhibiting of the production of the right kind of saliva, a serious problem given how crucial a role it plays in protecting your teeth from decay.

By far the most dramatic effect of prolonged tobacco use however is oral cancer, which is 9 times likely to occur in smokers than non-smokers.

If you also drink a lot of alcohol, then you’re risk of developing cancer of mouth, throat, tongue, lips and salivary glands is even further increased.

Alcohol

It’s not simply the heightened risk of developing oral cancer, serious though that is, that should be a concern for anyone who drinks on a regular basis or to excess.

The sugar and acidity of alcohol are major contributors to teeth erosion, as is the acid reflux which accompanies vomiting, an all too common consequence of a night of heavy drinking.

Compounding the damage is the fact that many people stumble home and go straight to sleep after a big night out, only brushing their teeth the next morning, leaving their mouth unprotected from erosion and decay all night.

Alcohol also dehydrates you, which affects how much saliva your mouth produces, and hence, how much protection your teeth are given.

Drinking lots of water both when you’re out partying, and the next day when you’re recovering is one way to remedy the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, as is limiting the amount of soft drinks you consume.

Illicit Drugs

The consumption of illicit drugs has become endemic on the modern party scene.

But using drugs, which come with a host of physical and behavioural effects, can lead to tooth grinding, dry mouth (lack of saliva), gum disease and rapid tooth decay.

Their use is also often accompanied by binge eating all sorts of unhealthy foods, particularly ones high in sugar, the corrosive effects of which are made even worse by the accompanying neglect of basic personal and oral hygiene.

Piercings

It makes sense that you want to express your own unique sense of style.

But if that involves tongue and oral piercings then you run a real risk that what you gain in kudos from the fashion police, you lose in poor oral health.

Oral piercings, by virtue of the fact that they have ruptured your mouth’s protective layer of skin, let a lot of bacteria in, leading to swelling and infection, which can affect the body far beyond your mouth.

Plus all that hard metal constantly banging against your teeth can crack your teeth, or at the very least, lead to excessive wear and tear and more pronounced problems later on.

Stress

Life comes with all kinds of high pressure, difficult situations.

The problem is that too much stress can lead to all kinds of problems with your mouth, teeth and gums.

You can end up with mouth ulcers and cold sores, grinding and clenching of teeth which you may not even notice taking place, and at worst, temporomandibular disorders (TMJD), a painful condition affecting the hinge that connects your jaw to your skull.

Stress can also lead you to neglect even the most basic of habits such as healthy eating and brushing and flossing your teeth.

While prevention through brushing and flossing is definitely better than cure when it comes to caring for your teeth and gums, should tooth decay develop, your dentist has a range of options for restoring your teeth’s shape and function.

Fillings may be required if tooth structure has been lost due to decay or trauma. During a regular check-up, your dentist will examine your teeth for these defects, and using X-rays to pinpoint the location and extent of decay, will then decide on the best method to restore the integrity of your tooth, which may include fillings.
An array of filling materials

When a filling is required there is a variety of materials that can be used, all of which have unique properties and advantages. Some factors which influence the type of material to be used will be the type of tooth, the strength requirements and the way your teeth bite together. Your dentist will give you advice on what is appropriate for your situation.

Amalgam
Amalgam is a durable material, but requires more of the tooth to be removed, and it can blacken with age. While amalgam is increasingly giving way to tooth-coloured filling materials such as resin, it is still in use, safe, and there is no need to replace your amalgam fillings just for the sake of it.

Composite resin
Composite resin is a commonly used white or tooth-coloured filling material., It can be “glued” to the surface of the tooth, and a matching tooth colour can be picked so that the filling is almost invisible. On the other hand, the composite resin material is more difficult to use, which makes the restoration a bit more expensive when compared with amalgam.

Glass-ionomer cement
Glass-Ionomer Cement (GIC) is also tooth coloured; however it is not as durable and strong as composite resin, although it does bond well to the tooth and it has some decay-preventing abilities. Glass-ionomer cement is often used for the areas of the tooth where there is not much biting force, and also to fill baby teeth.

Gold & Porcelain
Gold fillings tend to be the most durable over the long-term, while ceramic fillings are both strong and able to be matched to your tooth colour to produce a very long lasting and aesthetic filling. Both gold and porcelain fillings take longer to prepare and manufacture, meaning more appointments and more cost.

Temporary fillings
Short-term (‘temporary’) fillings may be used when multiple appointments on a tooth are required, if there is insufficient time to complete the treatment in one visit, or during emergency treatment.
After the filling

Following treatment, your tooth may feel sensitive to things like pressure, cold air, sweet foods or changes in temperature for a few days. If this persists, return to your dentist so the cause can be investigated.

When good fillings go bad

Constant wear and tear can cause fillings to wear, chip or crack, opening the seal between the tooth and the filling, allowing food particles and decay-causing bacteria. However, if you’re seeing your dentist regularly, they’ll look after this before it becomes serious.

Crowns

Your dentist may restore your tooth with a crown rather than a filling. Usually made of gold or porcelain, they’re a customised tooth-shaped cover designed to protect the structure of the tooth, often used where a large filling needs to be replaced but where there’s not enough tooth left to support a filling.

So you’re expecting a baby? Congratulations!

In the midst of all the things you need to think about, worrying about seeing your dentist may not be very high on the list. But your dental health has a big impact on your overall health which in turn has a major influence on the health of your baby, so it’s important that you maintain a good dental health routine throughout your pregnancy, and beyond.

You should also disregard old wives tales about calcium leaching from your teeth to the baby, the loss of a tooth for every baby you have, and fluorides treatments being bad for your baby. None of these are true and your dentist should be an active part of your healthcare team in the lead-up, during and after your pregnancy.

Make seeing your dentist a priority

Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy can exacerbate problems with your teeth and gums, and so you should maintain regular check-ups and cleanings. Your dentist is well-versed in which medications you can safely take while pregnant, and which procedures can be safely done at different stages of pregnancy.

Dealing with food cravings and morning sickness

Unusual food cravings are a fact of life for many women during pregnancy. For instance, you might routinely wake up at midnight desperate for chocolate-covered pickles in ice cream, with a side order of chips and jalapeno peppers. If your cravings take a turn towards the sweet end of things, try to limit the sugary snacks and instead, choose healthier options such as fresh fruit with natural or Greek yoghurt.

If you suffer from morning sickness, you need to know that vomit is highly acidic and can cause irreversible damage to your teeth. Tempting though it is to brush your teeth straight after a bout of morning sickness, it’s best to wait an houror so as brushing too soon can strip away the enamel, which is the softened protective coating of your teeth, leaving them more vulnerable to decay and sensitivity. While you’re waiting, try rinsing your mouth with water to remove the acids, chew sugar-free gum or try eating an acid-neutralising food such as milk or hard cheese.

Brushing and flossing

Maintaining your usual oral health routine is even more important when you’re pregnant since hormonal changes mean that you have an increased susceptibility to gum inflammations and infections. Some women develop “pregnancy gingivitis”, where gums swell and become more sensitive and bleed during brushing and flossing. Should this happen to you, your dentist is able to keep a close eye on your gums and help you manage the condition. Generally this condition will resolve itself after you have your baby.

Getting your teeth straightened isn’t simply about getting some braces fitted so you can have a more beautiful smile. Granted a perfectly-aligned set of teeth can deliver a winning shot of self-esteem, but there’s more on offer, from what’s officially known as orthodontics, than a dazzling set of pearly whites.

Some other good reasons to straighten your teeth

If you have crooked teeth there are a number of benefits to getting your teeth straightened.

  • It is easier to keep your teeth and gums clean
  • You’ll have less wear and tear on your teeth from clenching and grinding
  • You’ve got less chance of damaging your gums
  • There’s less stress on the jaw joint from bad biting patterns

While there is no guarantee that teeth straightening will conclusively fix your dental problems, it can make a significant difference to problems caused by ‘malocclusion’, more commonly referred to as misaligned teeth.
Determining if you need orthodontic work

It’s easy to look in the mirror at less-than-perfect teeth and conclude you could benefit from some teeth straightening. But with many conditions treatable by non-orthodontic means, you’re best checking with your dentist who can perform a full diagnostic assessment and determine if you’ll benefit from teeth straightening.

It’s quite possible your dentist will be trained to provide these services, but they may also decide you could benefit from a referral to a specialist orthodontist. If you undergo treatment by an orthodontist, you’ll also need to keep seeing your dentist for regular check-ups.

Brace yourself

Braces are the first thing many people think of when they consider getting their teeth straightened. But braces have come a long way with a choice now available of classic metal and clear styles, braces that adhere to the inner surface of the teeth, colourful options and even “invisible” braces.

And apart from needing to spend extra time brushing and flossing, and visiting your dentist and orthodontist, wearing braces won’t significantly affect your lifestyle.

The best time to have orthodontic treatment

The popular image of teeth straightening begins and ends with pimply teens wearing braces. But the truth is, anyone can benefit from orthodontic treatment, including adults. Treatment usually starts for most people however from about the age of 12 when the baby teeth of childhood are replaced by a full set of adult, or permanent teeth.

Being diagnosed with cancer is arguably one of life’s most traumatic events. You will be given a lot of information about your treatment options so it’s understandable that the first thing you think of will not be how your mouth and teeth will be affected.

But it’s important that you speak to your dentist about your diagnosis. Your dentist can assess the health of your teeth and mouth in the context of proposed cancer treatment(s) and determine if any dental work, by themselves or a specialist, is needed before you commence your treatment.

Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can have oral side effects, which may be temporary or long-term, such as soreness and ulcers in the mouth, gum infections, bleeding gums, dry mouth and altered taste and your dentist is best placed to advise on how to treat them. Patients at the highest risk of oral complications include those receiving radiation to the head and neck region, those who require bone marrow transplants, or patients receiving specific chemotherapy agents.

Oral health side effects 

One main oral side effect you may notice is xerostomia, more commonly known as dry mouth. This condition is the result of damage to your salivary glands caused by chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments, and adverse effects from medicines.

You’ll find that your saliva is less abundant and thicker, and less able to neutralise the acids produced by dental plaque, which puts you at increased risk of tooth decay. You may also find you suffer from more sores and mouth infections, such as oral thrush.

A dry mouth may also make it difficult to wear dentures. Your dentist will be able to suggest a moisturiser or adhesive to help your denture stay in place.

Managing dry mouth  
The good news is that you may be able to relieve the symptoms of dry mouth. You should consult your dentist prior to commencing treatment to determine which dental products, such as saliva substitutes, mouth-rinses to fight infection and products that stimulate the salivary glands, will work best for you.

Once your treatment is completed your dentist may recommend that you use specific fluoride rinses and gels, high concentrated fluoride toothpastes, and other products designed to help you lower the risk of tooth decay.

After treatment  
Oral side effects such as dry mouth usually clear up after treatment although this may not be the case if you’ve had radiation treatment for head and neck cancers. Symptoms may persist into the long-term however, especially if your treatment was directed at the salivary glands, in which case you should see your dentist more regularly than usual, possibly as frequently as every 3 months.

There’s a lot going on in your mouth that is not visible to the naked eye, and dental X-rays allow your dentist to see what’s happening below the surface. By taking X-rays, your dentist is provided with a comprehensive assessment of the health of your mouth.

No visible signs of trouble

Tooth decay can be sneaky – it doesn’t tend to show physical signs of its presence early on. X-rays are an important diagnostic tool that allows your dentist to confirm if you have tooth decay, or if you have any problems such as infection around the roots of the tooth, or bone loss. Spotting it early means your dentist can deal with the problem before it becomes a significant issue.

Safe for everyone

Regardless of whether you’re a child or an adult, you can have X-rays safely taken of the inside and outside of your mouth. The amount of radiation involved is extremely low, and is equivalent to the sort of exposure you’d receive on a 1-2 hour flight. This means that even if you’re pregnant you can have X-rays taken, although they are generally kept to a minimum during this period.

Oh, and that thing about your dentist leaving the room while the X-rays are taken? Nothing to worry about there – they’re taking lots of X-rays all day long and stepping out of the room limits their ongoing exposure to radiation.

Why X-rays are needed

The types of X-rays your dentist will take will depend on the conditions they are assessing you for. The decision to take an X-ray, and the type of X-ray taken, will be influenced by such things as your past and present oral health, an examination of your mouth, your age, risk of disease and any early symptoms of oral disease.

What can dental X-rays detect?

  •  Small areas of decay between teeth not visible in the mouth
    •    Problems with existing fillings, root canals, crowns or bridges
    •    The presence and severity of gum disease
    •    Abscesses or other sorts of infections
    •    Tooth development issues such as malformed teeth, extra or missing teeth etc.
    •    Cysts and some types of tumours
    •    Traumatic injuries such as tooth and bone fractures
    •    Proximity of teeth to nerves and sinuses
    •    The development of wisdom teeth and if there is a need for them to be removedIf an X-ray uncovers decay, your dentist will likely opt for fillings as the preferred treatment.

“Accidents happen” is one of those phrases we casually throw around without thinking. But the reality is that accidents can have quite serious consequences for our teeth. The good news is that much of the trauma of dental injury can be minimised if you know what precautions to take and what to do in the unfortunate event you suffer damage to your teeth.

Don’t assume anything 

Teeth can be cracked, chipped or become loose from accidents in ways not visible to the naked eye, and failure to get them checked out quickly by your dentist may mean sustaining otherwise-avoidable long term damage. But there’s also quite a bit you can do before you reach the dentist.

Children

You only need to be around babies or toddlers for a second to realise that bumps, knocks and spills are a standard part of growing up. If your child knocks out a tooth, quickly following these steps can minimise any long term damage:

1. Find the tooth, make sure it’s clean and hold it by the crown only, not the root.
2. Place the tooth back in position, making sure it’s facing the right way round (if it’s a baby tooth, don’t place it back in.)
3. Get to your dentist straight away, and if you can’t replant the tooth, transport it in milk or saliva.

Dental trauma can also take other forms.

If your child develops a toothache, book an appointment with your dentist straight away; in the meantime, rinse your child’s mouth with salt water, use paracetamol to alleviate pain and if there’s swelling present, use a cold compress. This doesn’t apply to babies who are teething.

If your child’s braces or retainer becomes broken or bent, they shouldn’t wear it again until it’s been fitted or adjusted by their orthodontist.

Adults

Again, the key thing is to act quickly so get to your dentist as quickly as possible, ideally within 30 minutes.

1. Find the tooth and hold it by the crown only, not the root.
2. If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk but don’t scrub or soak it.
3. Place the tooth back in position, making sure it’s facing the right way round; once in, gently bite down on soft cloth or tissue, or use aluminium foil or your mouthguard to hold it in place.
4. If you can’t replant the tooth, transport it in milk or saliva.

If you play sports (this also applies to children and teenagers), it’s also a good idea to get a custom-fitted mouthguard made by your dentist to minimise the chance of any damage resulting in the first place. In cases of dental trauma, check if your usual dentist handles emergency treatments; if not, use Find a Dentist to locate a practice to assist you.

Aesthetic dentistry, often incorrectly referred to as “cosmetic dentistry”, is the term used to describe treatments which change the way your teeth look. There is far more involved than simply changing the appearance of your teeth.

While a cosmetic procedure like tooth whitening is included in aesthetic dentistry, the field is mostly concerned with orthodontic treatment which involves teeth straightening, and restorative dentistry, which involves the insertion of crowns, veneers and dental implants.

Teeth Whitening

As the name suggests, this treatment is all about lightening stained or discoloured teeth.

While you can buy over-the-counter, use-at-home toothpastes and strips, your dentist is best qualified to determine if you need teeth whitening. They can diagnose the reason for the discolouration and its type, and can then advise the most efficient method of lightening the teeth with the highest level of safety.

You may be tempted to go to a shopping centre booth or a beautician to get your teeth whitened, but neither are staffed by suitably qualified personnel. Incorrect use of bleaching agents may cause irreversible damage to your teeth and gums. DIY bleaching comes with all sorts of risks, and anecdotal treatments such as rubbing strawberries, lemons, or even bicarbonate of soda on your teeth, can do a lot of damage to your teeth and gums for no real whitening gain.

Keep in mind is that crowns, veneers and fillings don’t change colour when you have your teeth whitened.

Veneers

Veneers are thin, tooth-coloured porcelain or glass/plastic layers fixed onto the front of your teeth that can be a suitable option if you have teeth with gaps, that are stained, discoloured, broken or chipped, crowded-in or crooked, oddly-shaped or badly-aligned.

Crowns

If your broken or decayed tooth needs to be rebuilt, it’s possible your dentist will use a crown to do the job. Crowns are generally made from materials such as porcelain, and porcelain/metal combinations. Not only do they make your teeth look more attractive, but they also give them added strength, durability and stability.

Teeth straightening

Using corrective items like braces and plates, your dentist or orthodontist (specialist) will line up your teeth within your jaw so you not only look better but may have more efficient use of the affected teeth. Once considered unsightly, braces, a key part of teeth straightening, are now much less noticeable than they were, in some cases being all but invisible.

Dental implants

If you have missing teeth, your dentist may suggest the use of implants to replace them. Not only may your smile improve, you may also enjoy a better quality of life. Your dentist is best placed to advise on the most suitable option for replacing your teeth and any decision on changing the look and function of your teeth should always be in conjunction with your dentist.

For related information on this topic, visit Teeth Straightening.

Tooth decay is usually easily avoided these days, thanks in large part to the use of fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral which plays a critical role in strengthening the ability of your teeth to fight off the effects of decay.

All natural and effective

Fluoride is not an artificial compound or some sort of medication, but rather a naturally-occurring mineral that’s found in rocks and soil, vegetables and grains, as well as in fresh and salt water. The fluoride found in the environment however is not sufficient on its own to protect your teeth, which is why small supplemental amounts are added to the water supply, as well as into toothpaste, gels and other dental products.

Protecting your teeth

Fluoride is crucial to combatting tooth decay. It gives your teeth extra strength when they’re developing so they’re better able to resist the bacterial acid that causes tooth decay and it slows the growth of bacteria in your mouth known as plaque which leads to tooth decay.

While brushing with fluoridated toothpaste is the most effective way to receive fluoride, taking it through tap water has a considerable effect on the ability of your teeth to fight decay. If you need a fluoride top-up, and most people in fluoridated areas won’t, your dentist can apply high-fluoride products such as gels, foams and varnishes to your teeth.

Your dentist may also suggest the use of fluoride supplements, particularly in areas where water fluoridation isn’t practised.

It’s in the water

Fluoride has been added to water supplies in many Australian towns and cities since the mid-1960s and is often hailed as one of the great public health achievements of the last century. It has proven so effective at reducing tooth decay among children and adults that health and dental organisations around the world such as the Centers for Disease Control, and the Australian Medical Association strongly back its use.

It’s good for you

Fluoride consumption has been scientifically-proven to be of extensive benefit to consumers, with negligible adverse reactions. While “dental fluorosis”, small flecks which appear on tooth enamel, can result from ingesting too much fluoride, it’s rarely visible, and does not damage teeth and usually only results when young children are exposed to large amounts of adult strength fluoride toothpaste.

Overall, the benefits of fluoride are considerable. It remains the most cost-effective, fair and naturally-occurring way to keep your teeth healthy. And remember, to make the most of the advantages it affords you, you need to brush twice a day, maintain a healthy, balanced diet, and visit your friendly dentist on a regular basis.

Teeth grinding, or Bruxism as it’s officially known, is one of those tricky conditions that you could be suffering from without even knowing it. An involuntary clenching, grinding and gnashing of the teeth, it doesn’t always display its symptoms in ways that are immediately noticeable.

Most people aren’t even aware they are grinding their teeth until their partners tell them or advanced symptoms such as jaw pain, headaches and worn down, sensitive teeth start to emerge.

Symptoms of tooth grinding

What makes working out if you grind your teeth so challenging is that while you may have some symptoms when you first wake up, they can quickly disappear; and if you grind teeth during waking hours, symptoms won’t be noticeable until later in the day.

So what should you be looking out for?

  • Fractured, chipped or loose teeth
  • A dull headache, sore jaws and/or ear pain
  • Aching teeth, and stiffness in the face and temples, particularly after you’ve just woken up
  • Sore jaws while you’re eating, especially at breakfast time
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks
  • Intense jaw clenching

Even if you’re not sure that teeth grinding is responsible for the symptoms you’re experiencing, telling your dentist as soon as you suspect something’s wrong means they can perform a diagnosis and devise possible treatment options.

Problems caused by tooth grinding

All those niggling, sometime painful symptoms may be pointers to even worse damage being done. Teeth grinding places a lot of pressure on your teeth, cracking their protective enamel, fracturing them and breaking things like crowns and fillings, while placing great stress on your jaws joints and muscles.

You might also find your teeth are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations, and more painful to bite down on as the fibre that attaches them to the bone gets inflamed.

Causes and treatments

The range of likely causes of bruxism are physical and psychological meaning that any treatment will often need to address both these things. Your dentist, of course, will take care of the possible physical causes such as overly-high fillings, or missing or crooked teeth,and may fit with a mouthguard if you grind your teeth at night.

But if the source of your teeth grinding is emotional, or caused by illness, poor nutrition or long term pain, it’s important to deal with these issues ahead of seeing your dentist by contacting organisations like Lifeline (131 114) and Beyond Blue (1300 224 636).

If you play a contact sport, and a lot of Aussies do, you risk injuring your teeth.
Many sports have risk of contact and therefore serious dental injury. These sorts of injuries are often difficult to treat, and often involve a lifetime of expense.
The damage done 

Mouthguards can protect you from some serious sporting injuries, such as broken jaws, fractured, cracked or knocked-out teeth, cut lips and tongues.

And you don’t just have to be playing obvious contact sports like rugby union, rugby league, AFL, hockey and boxing to sustain those kinds of injuries. Even non-contact sports like cricket, basketball, netball, touch football, skateboarding and soccer, carry a real risk of accidental collision, and resulting dental trauma.

How a mouthguard works 

A custom-fitted mouthguard works by absorbing and spreading the impact of the damaging blow, and is fabricated based on an impression of your teeth and jaw taken by your dentist.

A mouthguard that is custom-fitted by your dentist is far superior to an over-the-counter mouthguard because it’s specially designed to fit the exact contours of your mouth, is resilient, balances your bite and allows speech and normal breathing. If properly used, stored, and checked by your dentist every year, a custom-fitted mouthguard should last several seasons.

In contrast, self-fitted, over-the-counter mouthguards, which include what are commonly known as boil-and-bite mouthguards, should not be used. They do not protect the teeth, are loosely fitted, impede breathing and speaking, and can even wedge in the back of the throat at impact which could be life threatening.

Wearing a custom-fitted mouthguard

Custom-fitted mouthguards, by virtue of their exact fit, let you talk normally, don’t restrict your breathing and stay firmly in place, allowing you to concentrate on playing the sport you love. You should consider it a mandatory part of your sporting equipment, no matter your age or experience.

To keep your mouthguard in tip-top working order, you’ll need to keep it out of the sun, wash it in cold water after use, keep on the supplied plastic model cast and get your dentist to make sure it’s still OK when you go in for your regular check-ups.

Only dental professionals can design and manufacture a custom-fitted mouthguard that provides adequte protection.

For tips on dealing with dental trauma, visit Dental Trauma and First Aid.

Mandatory mouthguard policy for clubs 

If you are a club looking to put in place a mandatory mouthguard policy, you are welcome to download this form endorsed by both the ADA and Sports Medicine Australia (SMA).

These days, sports drinks are seen by many people as an indispensable part of playing sport and exercising. They’re one of the first things they grab as they’re rushing out the door to the gym or the sports field. The thinking is – if the big sports celebrities at the top of their game consume them, then they must be good for you, right?

That’s not quite how it works.

Sports drinks have been designed to help professional athletes recover from the stresses their intense athletic activities put them under, and they’re usually administered in carefully-controlled circumstances. If you’re a “weekend warrior” however, these drinks don’t really do that much to improve your performance, hydration or overall health, despite what sports drinks manufacturers might say.

And even worse for your teeth, they’re full of sugars and acids that over time cause tooth erosion and decay. Like a good many things in life, they’re best consumed in moderation, if you’re going to consume them at all.

A better way to stay hydrated

So what’s a better option when you’re sweating it out on the field or in the gym?

Water – yes, good old-fashioned, straight out of the tap water. It deals with the telltale signs of dehydration such as a dryness or acidic taste in the mouth and excessive sweating in no time flat, it’s free, and comes packed with fluoride that’s been proven to protect your teeth and reduce decay.

And it doesn’t come with any hard-to-read labels full of unpronounceable ingredients.

Reading the label

One quick way to work out whether what you’re eating or drinking is beneficial to your dental and overall health is to get familiar with the way food and drink manufacturers word their labels. It’s actually not as challenging as you might think.

For instance, you can quickly tell if the product you’re consuming has sugar or acid by checking not just for the word “sugar” but for honey, rice syrup or even “organic dehydrated cane juice”. Similarly to check for acidity, look for things like citric acid (a flavor enhancer) or “sodium benzoate” (a preserving agent); generally if the ingredient ends in an “ate”, it’s an acidic preservative of some kind.

Once you’re familiar with the way these ingredients are described, you’ll be much better equipped to know which foods and drinks are good for the health of your teeth and gums and will help you stay at the top of your sporting game.

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