Dental Health FAQs

Plaque, Cavities, Gum Disease, Gingivitis, Periodontitis...
How does plaque cause tooth decay?

The bacteria in plaque reacts with sugar in the foods we eat to produce acids that can attack and weaken tooth enamel (the hard, protective covering on our teeth), opening the way for cavities to develop.

What is a cavity?

A cavity is the space inside a tooth that remains once decay is removed. There are three different places where a tooth can experience decay. Decay on the biting surfaces of the teeth occurs when plaque becomes trapped in the grooves. This is most common in children because they often miss these areas when brushing.

Decay between the teeth occurs when plaque is left to build up on these hard to reach surfaces. These areas cannot be reached by a toothbrush alone and may develop if you do not floss, or clean between your teeth regularly.

Decay at the root surfaces of the teeth occurs if you have suffered gum recession or bone loss, often associated with gum disease, or periodontitis. It is also more common as you get older because gums have started to recede. If plaque is left to build up on the exposed roots of the teeth, which are not protected with enamel, then cavities will quickly develop.

If plaque is not regularly removed from teeth, including the areas below the gum line, it can irritate the gums, leading to gum disease. Regular brushing and cleaning between teeth is essential to help prevent gum disease.

How does plaque cause gum disease?

If plaque is left to build up, the bacteria produce toxins that can irritate the gums and damage teeth. The earliest stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. This is an inflammation of the gums, which may cause swelling, tenderness and bleeding when brushing or flossing.

Who is at risk for gum disease?

Gum disease can affect any age group, including children. However, it most often affects adults. In fact, about three out of four adults over age 35 have some form of gum disease now or have had it in the past.

Your risk of getting gum disease increases if you smoke or have certain medical conditions. It is therefore vital to keep your dentist informed of your general health.

What should I do if I think I have gingivitis?

Fortunately, with proper oral care every day and regular visits to the dentist, you can help prevent gingivitis from ever developing. It is best prevented and in most cases quickly healed, by following a routine to remove plaque every day - this is a two step process of brushing with a soft bristled toothbrush and cleaning between teeth. Together they prevent plaque from building up on tooth surfaces and under the gum line. Gingivitis is not a permanent condition. It can be reversed, because no permanent damage has occurred to the bone supporting the teeth.

What is tartar?

Every time you brush, you remove the plaque that is constantly forming on your teeth. If you allow plaque to build up, it can harden into tartar (also called calculus) which can then only be removed by your dentist or hygienist.

How do I keep my teeth naturally whiter between dental visits?

Everybody wants to have white teeth and there are many products available that lighten teeth - using a chemical process, called bleaching. In fact, we have devoted a whole section to tooth whitening. However, brushing your teeth regularly with toothpaste will remove some of the stain that builds up on the teeth, as a result of drinking coffee, tea, and red wine.

What is periodontitis?

Left untreated, gingivitis may progress to a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis, or periodontal disease. Periodontitis damages the bone and gums that support the teeth. Once periodontitis develops, the damage can't be reversed: only a professional treatment program and an improved level of daily oral care at home can keep it from getting worse.

If you have periodontitis your dentist will provide you with a program for maintaining your teeth and gums, to halt the progress of the disease. There are a range of oral hygiene products that are safe to use if you have periodontitis, including water-flossers and power toothbrushes. Because power/sonic toothbrushes have been proven to remove more plaque than a manual toothbrush, you can improve your level of oral hygiene, which is a critical factor in controlling gum disease.

What symptoms should I be looking out for?

Periodontitis may initially occur without many visible symptoms, therefore regular dental exams are critical for early diagnosis. Common symptoms of periodontitis are red, swollen gums that have started to pull away from the teeth, creating pockets. This is often associated with tooth sensitivity, a feeling of intense pressure between the teeth or bleeding when brushing or flossing. In more advanced stages, you may experience gum recession, root decay, pus between teeth and gums, and loosening or eventual loss of teeth.

How do I help prevent periodontitis from developing?

By adopting a thorough oral care routine at home and regular professional cleanings at your Dentist, you can help avoid periodontitis. Here are some useful tips:

  • Brush thoroughly twice a day, with a soft bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste - preferably in the morning and before bed
  • Clean between your teeth daily to remove plaque from areas your toothbrush can't reach
  • Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly - at least once every six months, for a cleaning and exam
  • Avoid smoking and using tobacco products


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