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Frequently asked questions to a Dentist York

What is oral health?

Dental health or oral health as it is often called has been defined by the Department of Health as:

‘a standard of health of the oral and related tissues which enables an individual to eat, speak and socialise without active disease, discomfort or embarrassment and which contributes to general well-being’

The two most common dental diseases are tooth decay (dental caries) and gum disease (periodontal disease).

The main cause of tooth decay is frequent consumption of sugars in drinks and foods. The sugar is eaten by bacteria found in plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a white soft sticky substance. It forms on teeth and causes a furry feeling. It can often build up in between teeth and at the gum line and turn into calculus (tartar) if left for long enough.  

When you eat, the bacteria in plaque eat as well producing acids which can dissolve the minerals which make up the tooth and result in a hole (cavity), which is the process of decay. If left untreated, this can result in pain and a possible abscess.

Gum disease is caused by poor cleaning of plaque from around the necks of the teeth. The waste products of the plaque bacteria’s digestion of sugars causes damage to the gums, often causing them to swell, look red and bleed easily. The dentist may refer to this as ‘gingivitis’ (the old fashioned term was known as pyorrhoea). If left untreated gingivitis can progress to ‘periodontitis’. This is the stage when the bone that holds the teeth in the jaw is destroyed, resulting in the teeth becoming loose or ‘mobile’ and maybe painful.

People who smoke are more likely to develop gum disease.

Gum disease is a much slower process than tooth decay but both can result in the loss of teeth.

Mouth cancer can develop in any part of the mouth including the tongue, gums, lining of the mouth and the lips. This obviously affects dental health. It is more common in men than in women and is rare in people under 40. The most important causes of mouth cancer are:

  • Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and pipes)
  • Chewing tobacco or betel quid with tobacco
  • Regularly drinking more than safe levels of alcohol

People who use tobacco and drink too much alcohol have the highest risk of mouth cancer. Three-quarters of mouth cancers are caused this way. Early diagnosis is essential. Signs and symptoms of possible oral cancer are:

  • A sore or ulcer anywhere in the mouth that does not heal
  • A white or red patch in the mouth that will not go away
  • A lump or thickening on the lip or in the mouth or throat
  • Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
  • A sore throat that does not get better
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • New pain in the tongue or ear that persists
  • Unusual bleeding or numbness in the mouth

If you are concerned you should see your dentist or doctor.

The risk of mouth cancer can be reduced by contacting your dentist at an early stage if you discover any of the signs and symptoms listed above.

Stopping smoking or chewing tobacco; keeping within the safe limit for alcohol; and eating a healthy diet, are all factors which could help reduce the risk of mouth cancer.

Trauma of the mouth will reduce dental health, it is therefore important to protect your teeth with a gum shield when playing contact sports.

Although the aim of the dentist and their team is to maintain dental health, this is only possible if patients follow their recommendations and attend for regular check-ups.

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