Learning About Teeth and Gums
Treatment and prevention go together. It is a mistake to emphasize only prevention and to forget about treatment. In fact, early treatment is the first step to prevention because it usually meets a person's most strongly felt, immediate need.
The best health practice is to prevent cavities and gum disease from even starting. With these activities, children can do something to guard their health.
Why Do We Need Teeth and Gums?
Your teeth and the gums around them help you in many ways.
Teeth are important for:
- Good Health. Infection from a bad tooth can spread to other parts of your body.
- Good Looks. Healthy teeth that look good help you feel good.
- Good Speech. Your tongue and lips touching the teeth help you make many sounds.
- Good Eating. Your teeth break food into small pieces so that you can swallow and digest it better.
- Good Breath. If you leave food around your teeth, your breath will smell bad.
Your gums are important too.
They fit tightly around the teeth, and help to keep them strong. Without strong gums, your teeth are of no use. Most old people lose teeth because of bad gums, not bad teeth.
Why Do Some Teeth Look Different?
We need two different kinds of teeth to help us eat our food.
The outside of a tooth is the hardest and strongest part of your body. When a tooth is healthy, it can chew hard food, even bone. The shape of a tooth allows us to swallow food when the small pieces can slide down its smooth sides.
Small bits of food often get caught inside deep lines, or grooves, in a tooth.
Look for them on the top and the sides of back teeth.
Food that is not cleaned away from the grooves can make a cavity (hole) in them.
A tooth with a cavity is weak and often hurts.
What Holds the Teeth?
When you look inside someone's mouth, you see only the top part of each tooth. The bottom part, its root, is inside the bone under the gum.
The roots of the tooth hold it in the bone just like the roots of a tree hold it firmly in the ground.
The roots of the tooth do not actually touch the bone. Root fibres connect the root and bone, holding the tooth in place.
The gums do not hold the teeth, but healthy gums will keep harmful germs from getting to the bone and root fibres. When the gums are not healthy, they form deep 'pockets' which collect germs. Soon, these germs will reach the root fibres and bone. The bone pulls away from the tooth in order to get away from the germs. With no bone to hold it, the tooth is lost. This is the most common reason why teeth fall out.
Front teeth need only one root because they are used for biting.
Back teeth have 2, 3, or even 4 roots. That makes them strong enough to chew tough meat and even break hard bone,
Infected gums can cause teeth to fall out.
A. When gum disease is beginning, a small red 'pocket' forms where the tooth meets the gum. Germs and food collect in the gum and make acid. This makes the gums sore. B. As a result, the gum pulls away and the pocket becomes deeper. C. The bone moves away from the infection and no longer holds the tooth.
How Often Do Teeth Grow In?
A child gets two sets of teeth. The first set, baby teeth, starts to grow when the child is a baby. The second and iast set grows in at school age. They are the permanent teeth. Permanent teeth should last a lifetime.
A child grows his first baby tooth at about 7 months of age. It is usually a front one.
A baby who is poorly nourished, however, may not grow his first tooth until later. Do not wait for the first tooth before giving him the extra soft food he needs to grow and stay healthy.
The remaining baby teeth grow in over the next 24 months. By the time the child is 30 months old, there will be a total of 20 baby teeth in his mouth, 10 on top and 10 on the bottom.
Most permanent teeth form under the baby teeth. When the child is between 6 and 12 years old, the permanent teeth push against the roots of the baby teeth, making them fall out. Not all of the baby teeth fall out at once. One tooth at a time becomes loose, falls out, and then is replaced with a permanent tooth. The new tooth may not grow in immediately. Sometimes 2 or 3 months pass before the new tooth grows into the space.
In the 6 years between ages 6 and 12, the 20 permanent teeth replace the 20 baby teeth. In addition, 8 other teeth grow in behind the baby teeth.
At 6 years the four 1st permanent molars start to grow in at the back of the mouth. This means an 8-year-old child should have 24 teeth, or spaces for them.
At 12 years, the four 2nd permanent molars grow in behind the 1st molars. This means a 14-year-old child Should have 28 teeth, or spaces for them.
Between 16 and 22 years, the four 3rd permanent molars grow in. This means that an adult should have a total of 32 permanent teeth: 16 on top and 16 on the bottom.
Note: the third molars often do not grow in correctly. This is a very common cause of tooth pain.
Learn which are baby teeth and which are permanent teeth. The important 1st permanent molars are at the back.
What Makes Teeth Hurt?
A tooth will hurt if it is broken, loose, or if it has a cavity. Cavities are the usual cause of toothaches.
Healthy teeth are alive.
Two thin strings enter each tooth. One, the nerve, comes from the brain and carries the message of pain. The other is the blood vessel. It comes from the heart and carries blood to the tooth.
If you could peel away the gum and look inside the bone, you would see that a nerve and a blood vessel go into each one of a tooth's roots.
They give the tooth life and feeling.
The hard cover of the tooth protects the nerve and blood vessel inside it. But when tooth decay eats through that cover, the nerve and blood vessel are unprotected. A cavity lets food, water and air get closer to the nerve, and that can make the tooth hurt.
The sugar in food makes tooth decay possible. Sweet food that is also sticky is the worst of all because it glues itself to the teeth. Germs inside your mouth use the sugar to grow and to work harder at making cavities.
See the next section for more discussion of how germs and sugar combine to cause cavities.
A cavity may look small on the outside, but it is much bigger inside. Decay spreads more easily in the soft part under the hard cover of the tooth.
A tooth with a cavity may hurt, but it usually does not hurt all the time. This is because the bottom of the cavity is close, but not yet on the nerve inside the tooth.
Fill a small cavity and save a tooth.
A small cavity that is not treated grows bigger and gets deeper. When the cavity finally touches the nerve, it causes a tooth, abscess. Infection from the tooth decay going inside the tooth causes the tooth to ache all the time, even when you try to sleep.
Infection can pass from the tooth to the bone. As it spreads under the skin, there will be swelling of your face.
A tooth with an abscess must either be taken out or have its nerve treated.
An abscessed tooth is dying. When it dies the tooth changes colour from white to dark yellow, grey, or even black. Pus from the end of its root can pass to the gum, making a sore called a gum bubble.
A tooth is like a light bulb.
When the bulb is alive from power inside, it is bright and useful.
The little wires inside the bulb are like the nerves inside the tooth. When the bulb burns out, it is dark and not useful any more.
Look inside a tooth for the space where the nerve and blood vessel used to be. See how close they were to the tooth's hard outer cover. Look for a small hole at the end of the root. That is the place where the nerve and blood vessel enter the tooth.
Ask your dental worker to find an old tooth with a cavity and grind it for you.
1. Take a hammer.
2. Gently break open a tooth.
3. Look inside.
See how much bigger the cavity is on the inside. It spreads under the hard cover.
How Do Germs Make Holes in the Teeth?
Acid makes holes in the teeth. The acid is made when sweet foods mix with germs in your mouth.
It is not possible to prevent cavities or gum problems by trying to kill all of the germs in your mouth. There are too many-and some germs are good for you. The important thing is to keep the germs from getting together and making a film or coating on your teeth.
This film on the teeth is called plaque, but you do not need to use this word. Every morning we can all feel a 'furry film' on our teeth. This film must not be allowed to stay on the teeth! It will mix with sugar and make acid. Worse, if it stays in a group (or 'colony') for more than 24 hours, it will mix with saliva, harden, and make tartar.
The main reason for cleaning teeth is to break up these colonies so they cannot make acid. Also, if you forget to clean your teeth, tartar will form, and you will need a dental worker to scrape it off. This is why it is important to clean your teeth at least every 24 hours, so the tartar can never form on your teeth.
What Makes the Gums Feel Sore?
Healthy gums fit tightly around the teeth and help to hold them strongly. Healthy gums also cover and protect the bone under them.
- Healthy gums are pink in colour, or even blue or dark yellow in some people. But healthy gums are never red.
- Healthy gums are pointed between the teeth. This lets food slide away and be swallowed.
- Healthy gums fold under, making a little pocket around the tooth.
As we saw above, when you have 'colonies' of germs on your teeth, they can make acid that makes holes on your teeth. The same coating of germs can make a different acid that makes the gums sore. This also happens when food mixes with the coating on your teeth. Soft food is the worst kind, because when it mixes with spit it sticks more and stays longer on your teeth. Juice from tea, betel nut, and meat colour this food, making the tooth look dark.
Healthy gums become sore because of acid. Also, if the coating on the teeth becomes hard, it is called tartar. Tartar can be very sharp and hurt the gums. Also, the 'colonies' of germs can make a coating on top of tartar more easily than on a clean tooth. When the colonies are new, they make more acid to cause tooth and gum problems. After 24 hours, they harden and make a new layer of tartar. The tartar gets bigger and bigger.
Here is a larger picture of the teeth in the box above:
- Sore gums are infected.
- Infected gums are red and bleed easily.
- Infected gums are round and swollen between the teeth,
- They are also loose instead of tight against the teeth.
- Infected gums have a deep gum pocket which catches even more food.
Infection in the gums is called gum disease. It is important to treat gum disease early, before it can spread to the root fibres and the bone.
If you have sore, bleeding gums, you can do much to treat the infection yourself.
- 1. Clean your teeth with a soft brush gently and more often.
- 2. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- 3. Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater.
- 4. Clean between your teeth with dental floss or string. At first your gums may bleed when you do this. But when the gums are stronger the bleeding will stop.
Put something on the teeth to stain the colonies of germs. Try using food dye, betel nut or berry juices. Remember: first wash your hands! Rinse with a little water and spit it out. After this, the coloured areas on the teeth will show where the colonies of germs are forming.
Where are they?
Usually you will see the dark colours: between the teeth in the pits or holes in the teeth on the tops (biting surfaces) of the teeth.
What Does It Mean if a Tooth is Loose?
Baby teeth become loose when children are between 6 and 12 years old. This is normal. If a loose baby tooth does not have a cavity, and if the gums around it are healthy, there is probably a permanent tooth growing under it.
But a tooth might be loose because it is broken or because it is sick from an abscess or gum disease. Either can destroy the bone around the tooth's roots.
When bone is lost, the tooth becomes loose. A loose tooth hurts and usually must be taken out.
There is no medicine to make bone grow back around the roots of loose teeth. All you can do is stop the infection from getting worse.
Look carefully to see why a tooth is loose.
Touch the gum and bone beside the loose tooth. You can feel a bump—it is the new permanent tooth growing.
Save the baby tooth after it has fallen out. Look to see how the permanent tooth has eaten away its root by pushing against it.
Look for teeth that have cavities or gum disease around them.
A tooth that has some of its root showing is probably loose.
Using your fingers or the handles of two spoons, rock the tooth back and forth gently. See how much it moves, and ask how much it hurts.
Tell the person what he can do to prevent other teeth from becoming loose. (See the next section.)
How Can We Prevent Cavities and Sore Gums?
Eating good food and carefully cleaning the teeth prevents both tooth decay and gum disease.
Food from your own garden and local food from the market is best.
These foods are good for your body, your teeth, and your gums.
Vegetables, especially those with dark green leaves.
Peas and beans, like green Oil, from palm nut beans, soybeans, winged kernels, ground nuts, beans, and mung beans. and coconut.
Fruits, like banana, guava, oranges, and papaya.
Fish, meat and eggs.
Clean water, coconut water, and milk are
best to drink.
Soft foods and sweet foods from the store are not good for you. Soft foods stick to your teeth easily. They can work longer to cause cavities and infected gums. Sweet foods have mostly sugar in them, and it is 'factory sugar', not the 'natural sugar' that is in the foods in the pictures above.
This kind of sugar is quick to mix with germs and make acid. Remember: natural sugar makes acid slowly; factory sugar makes acid quickly.
Children who eat a lot of sugar lose their appetite for other foods—the foods that help them grow strong, stay healthy, and learn well in school.
Store foods are also expensive. You can usually get better food, and more of it for the same money, from your garden or in the market.
Cleaning your teeth carefully every day is another important way to take care of both teeth and gums. However, cleaning teeth is like building c house. To do a good job, you need to work slowly and carefully. Once a uay is enough, if you clean your teeth well every day.
Buy a brush from the store, or make one yourself. But be sure the cleaning end of the brush is soft so that it won't hurt the gums.
Use your brush to clean all the teeth, especially the back ones with the grooves. Back teeth are harder to reach and so it is easy not to clean them well enough. Cavities start from sweet food and germs left together inside the grooves.
1. Scrub the inside, outside, and top of each tooth.
2. Push the hairs of your brush between two teeth. Sweep the food away.
3. Wash your mouth with water, to remove any loose bits of food.
Small children are not able to clean their teeth carefully enough by themselves. They need help. Older children can care for younger brothers and sisters at home.
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