Oral Health

Oral Health Articles

Brushing up on brushing

Many people think their toothbrushing skills are better than they really are. Tooth brushing tips include brushing for at least two minutes, using a soft brush with bristles of varying heights, and replacing your brush at least every three months. More »

Canker sores — TheFamily Health Guide

Most people have been bothered at one time or another by canker sores. Doctors call them aphthous ulcers, but the name doesn't explain the problem. In fact, physicians and dentists don't know what causes cankers, though many have tried to find out. Scientists have learned that they are not caused by herpes or any other known virus and that they are not contagious. And with rare exceptions, cankers are isolated problems that crop up in healthy people without indicating a serious medical condition. Cankers are shallow ulcers that can develop on the inside of the cheek or lips or under the tongue. Most are pink or reddish, but some have a white coating. They are painful, so they make eating a chore, but they almost always clear up in about a week. If you are one of the very few people who develop fever, swollen glands, weakness, eye or joint inflammation, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, or genital ulcers along with your cankers, you should see your physician. In the vast majority of cases, however, medical attention is not needed. You can simply wait it out: Avoid foods that trigger pain, and use a mild over-the-counter pain reliever if necessary. You can also make a soothing mouthwash by mixing equal parts of Milk of Magnesia and Benadryl Allergy liquid. Swish a teaspoon of the mixture in your mouth for 30–60 seconds, then spit it out. If it seems to help, you can repeat the rinse every four hours. For stronger relief, your physician or dentist can prescribe a local anesthetic such as benzocaine (Orabase-B) or lidocaine (Xylocaine Viscous). Use a Q-tip to paint the anesthetic on the sore 30 minutes before meals and as otherwise needed. More »

What to do in a dental emergency

Many people are hesitant to call or visit their dentist, even if they are in pain. They might be afraid, or they might not be sure if the problem is a true emergency. Both reasons are understandable, but if you are in any pain, don't delay in calling your dentist. His or her goal is to ease your pain. Know that even if the treatment hurts, it's nothing compared to what you could face down the road if you ignore the problem. Here is a guide to how soon you should call your dentist when emergencies arise, and what you should and shouldn't do in the meantime. Problem Do More »


With the advent of new treatments, a better smile is now within reach of more people. One of the most popular cosmetic procedures is bleaching. The natural light ivory color of enamel can turn to yellow, orange, brown, gray—even blue or green. Causes of discoloration include staining from coffee or tobacco, injury that has damaged the pulp, ingestion of the antibiotic tetracycline or high levels of fluoride while the teeth are developing, corrosion from silver fillings, and the natural wearing away of the enamel with age. Although many stains can be successfully removed with a bleaching technique, bleaching may be uncomfortable for people with sensitive teeth or an exposed root. Several different bleaching techniques are available. Your dentist etches your teeth with an acid solution and then applies an oxidizing agent to the enamel. Your teeth are exposed to a bright light or a laser to hasten the lightening. It usually takes three to four sessions, each lasting about 30–60 minutes, to achieve the color you want. A newer technique, called power bleaching, uses a highly concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide as the lightening agent. It can deliver results in just one session. Bleaching is temporary, however. Your teeth will darken again within one to three years, and you may need to repeat the procedure. Costs vary, with some dentists charging a fee $75 and $225 a session, and others charging a single fee of $300 or more. More »

What causes dry mouth — and what treats it—The Family HealthGuide

The three pints of saliva that the average healthy adult produces every day may be the most underrated body fluid. Saliva jump-starts digestion, dissolving and adding moisture to food so it's easier to swallow. It breaks down starch with a digestive enzyme called amylase. Saliva contains bicarbonate, which acts as a buffering agent that offsets the enamel-corroding acid produced by bacteria. Salivary antibodies and protein also fend off dental bacteria as well as other infectious agents. Saliva helps you speak clearly by keeping your mouth moist and allowing the tongue — which is essential to forming many sounds — to stay agile. Compared with other medical problems, dry mouth, or xerostomia, may be little more than an annoyance: eating is a little less pleasant and speech a little more difficult. But for people who have little or no saliva, persistent xerostomia is a serious and often uncomfortable condition that can jeopardize oral health. It makes eating and swallowing difficult, causes bad breath, and may irritate mouth tissues, leaving them more vulnerable to infection. Dry mouth also increases the risk for tooth decay and gum disease. The treatment of dry mouth depends on its cause. For a long time, many doctors thought xerostomia was a natural consequence of aging. Now most experts agree that the vast majority of xerostomia cases are side effects of the many medications older people take, rather than aging itself. The culprits include blood pressure medications, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, asthma drugs, and painkillers. Xerostomia can also be caused by radiation treatment for head and neck cancer; in killing the cancer, the radiation also knocks out the salivary glands. Other sources of the condition are chemotherapy drugs and various chronic diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and an autoimmune condition called Sjogren's syndrome. More »