The word disease may sound a bit scary, but we all know too well that things can go wrong with teeth. However, the good news is that since most dental afflictions begin with poor oral hygiene, they are quite preventable. To prepare yourself for oral self-defense, you must first know your enemies.

In this article, we'll learn about how plaque, cavities, periodontal disease, and stress-related dental problems can affect your dental health. Here's a preview:

  • PlaquePlaque is an excessive accumulation of the bacteria and germs that normally live in your mouth. When plaque forms, a gelatinous substance protects the oral bacteria, allowing it to thrive and manufacture tooth-eating acids. Over time, plaque can harden into tartar, which has the potential to do even more damage. The best defense against plaque and tartar is good oral hygiene.
  • CavitiesCavities are holes where bacteria have eaten through a tooth's enamel. These decayed pits must be drilled out and filled in order to stop their destruction. There are three primary types of cavities, or caries: pit-and-fissure caries, smooth-surface caries, and root caries. All types of cavities require the attention of a dentist.
  • Periodontal DiseasePeriodontal disease is, literally, disease "around the tooth" -- disease of the gums. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gum tissue caused by plaque and tartar. Left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, a more serious disorder that causes gum recession, damage to soft and hard tissues, and eventually tooth loss.
  • Stress-Related Dental ProblemsTemporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) and myofacial pain dysfunciton (MPD) are two stress-related disorders that can cause pain in the teeth and jaw. Signs of these disorders include tenderness or tension in the cheek muscles, an inability to open your mouth wide, and a clicking, cracking, or popping sensation when you open your mouth. These disorders most commonly strike women in their 20s and 30s but can affect anyone of any age.

Your mouth is filled with bacteria that, when left alone, can develop into plaque and eventually tartar. Go to the next page to learn about how plaque can cause serious damage to your teeth and periodontia.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • Good oral hygine is important for oral health as well as overall health. In How Oral Hygiene Works, learn how to best take care of your pearly whites.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten and whiten your teeth.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Plaque

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Plaque gives shelter to oral bacteria, allowing them to feast on leftover food particles and generate enamel-decaying acids.

As unpleasant as it may sound, your mouth is a living swarm of bacteria and germs. Although a certain amount of bacteria is normal, excessive accumulations can destroy your teeth and periodontia (the teeth's support system).

The primary culprit is a sticky film called plaque. Plaque is a gelatinous substance that gives oral bacteria protection from the air (which can kill the germs). What's more, plaque pins the bacteria to your teeth, where they feast heartily on the leftover food particles in your mouth. They are especially fond of simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugar. Within a matter of hours, plaque bacteria can convert carbohydrates into enamel-decaying acids.

All forms of dental disease begin with plaque. For this reason, keeping this gummy substance under control is your first and most effective line of defense. 

If plaque is left undisturbed on your teeth for an extended period (anywhere from two days to two weeks), it can start to harden into a substance called tartar (or calculus, in dentist's terms). Since tartar bonds even more tenaciously to your teeth than plaque does, it has the potential to do more damage. Given the opportunity, tartar spreads in all directions, even down below the gum line. At the same time, plaque continues to form on top of the hardened material. The result is an all-out bacterial feeding frenzy, and the toxic by-products of this frenzy destroy your teeth and periodontia.

An accumulation of plaque leads to cavities, holes where the enamel of your teeth has been eaten away by bacteria. Keep reading to learn more about these destructive dental detriments.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • Good oral hygine is important for oral health as well as overall health. In How Oral Hygiene Works, learn how to best take care of your pearly whites. 
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten and whiten your teeth.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Cavities

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Cavities, decayed pits in the tooth's surface, must be drilled out and filled.

When plaque accumulates in your mouth very rapidly, the acid-forming bacteria that colonize it start working immediately to break down your teeth's enamel. Holes in the enamel that have been eaten away by bacteria are called cavities (or caries), and these decayed pits in the tooth's surface must be drilled out and filled. There are three primary types of caries:

Pit-and-fissure caries form on the chewing surfaces of bicuspids and molars. Because of the uneven shape of these surfaces, they are the hardest to clean. Most people also have occasional dents and imperfections in these teeth, making them a target for bacterial decay.

Smooth-surface caries form on the smooth surfaces between your teeth. These caries are caused by prolonged exposure to acids (usually due to infrequent or improper cleaning).

Root caries, as their name implies, are found on the roots of your teeth. Decay in this area, too, is caused by prolonged exposure to plaque acids. Root caries are most evident in older people and those who have had extensive dental work or whose gums have eroded, exposing them to damaging acids.

The periodontal diseases gingivitis and periodontitis can lead to severe dental problems, including tooth loss. Keep reading to learn how to prevent and treat periodontal disease.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • Good oral hygine is important for oral health as well as overall health. In How Oral Hygiene Works, learn how to best take care of your pearly whites. 
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten and whiten your teeth.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Periodontal Disease

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Periodontitis can invade the jawbone and ligaments, increasing the likelihood of tooth loss.

Most of us have first-hand knowledge of cavities, but less well known -- and more devastating -- is what can happen when your gums succumb to disease. Periodontal (literally meaning around the tooth) disease can take several forms.

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gum tissue, or gingiva, caused by plaque and tartar. The deposits of plaque and calculus in the pocket irritate the surrounding gum tissue, causing it to swell and become tender.

Gingivitis sometimes goes undetected. The inflamed tissue can bleed easily, even with minor pressure from a toothbrush, but the condition does not usually cause pain or other noticeable symptoms. That's why it's so dangerous: Unchecked, it can lead to far more serious problems.

Periodontitis. Unchecked gingivitis can lead to a very serious periodontal disease called periodontitis. The deposits of plaque move deeper into the space between the teeth and gums, and the inflammation is often accompanied by gum recession and damage to the soft and hard tissues. When these underlying structures eventually succumb, tooth loss becomes a very real possibility.

In its advanced stages, periodontitis can invade the jawbone and ligaments. At this point, even the best oral hygiene won't be enough: If you want to save your teeth, you'll need to see a qualified dentist or, probably, a periodontist.

Most people don't know that excessive stress can cause damage to your jaw and teeth. Go to the next page to learn how stress-related disorders affect your oral health.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • Good oral hygine is important for oral health as well as overall health. In How Oral Hygiene Works, learn how to best take care of your pearly whites. 
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten and whiten your teeth.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Stress-Related Dental Problems

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. TMJ and the related disorder MPD can cause pain in the joints and ligaments of the jaw.

Stress affects the body in many ways. It has been linked to depression, high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and a number of other ills. What you may not be aware of, however, is that excessive stress can damage your teeth and jaws. 

Two stress-related disorders that affect the mouth are temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) and myofacial pain dysfunction (MPD). Although not technically diseases, these two disorders can be very unpleasant. TMJ causes pain in the joints and ligaments of the jaw. MPD is a similar affliction, although the term may refer to stress-related pain in any part of the face (not just the jaw). Both are (for unknown reasons) most likely to affect women in their 20s and 30s but can affect both sexes at any age.

The following may be signs of TMJ or MPD:

  • A clicking, cracking, or popping sensation when you open your mouth to yawn or laugh
  • An inability to open your mouth wide
  • Tension or tenderness in your cheek muscles (especially first thing in the morning)

If you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, you should consult your doctor, as well as your dentist. One of the following therapies may be recommended:

  • Relaxation exercises (Since TMJ and MPD are related to tension, deliberate attempts at relaxation may help alleviate them.)
  • Gentle massage to ease the pain and help relax the affected muscles
  • A custom polyurethane mouth guard made from an impression of your teeth (One of the prime causes of TMJ and MPD is nighttime teeth grinding or jaw clenching. A mouth guard worn over your lower set of teeth can prevent them from grinding against the uppers. It also provides a cushioning effect, which may ease the stress on your tired jaw muscles and ligaments.)
  • Avoiding excessive trauma to the painful areas (Stay away from hard and crunchy foods, try not to open your mouth too wide, and -- if possible -- postpone any unrelated dental surgery.)

Be sure to take care of your teeth to avoid painful and pontentially damaging tooth disorders. Good oral hygiene is your best defense against dental diseases -- and remember to keep an eye on your stress levels, too.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • Good oral hygine is important for oral health as well as overall health. In How Oral Hygiene Works, learn how to best take care of your pearly whites. 
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten and whiten your teeth.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

The American Institute for Preventive Medicine, located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is dedicated to helping people change to a healthier lifestyle through successful wellness programs, products, and publications. It works with over 5,000 hospitals, HMOs, corporations, and government agencies throughout North America. The Institute has been honored and recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services and the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for its innovative health programs.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Don R. Powell, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine. He is a licensed psychologist who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and taught in the University's psychology department.  He is an authority on the design, marketing, and implementation of community and corporate health education programs. Dr. Powell has won numerous awards for his work in the field of health promotion and has appeared on hundreds of television and radio talk shows.

Abe Gershonowicz, D.D.S., has been practicing general dentistry for 20 years in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Brianna Politzer is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, and technology. She has contributed to many consumer publications, including The Home Remedies Handbook, Women's Home Remedies Health Guide, and The Medical Book of Health Hints and Tips.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.