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Do-It-Yourself Dentistry

Dental problem? You don't have to be MacGyver to save a lost filling or replace a crown.
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WebMD Feature

On their wedding day, most brides hope for sunny weather and that the photographer and band show up as planned. Not me. My wedding day wish was that my mother would not experience a dental emergency.

Seem like a strange wish for the bride? It shouldn't. Growing up, there was rarely a special occasion, vacation, or even a long weekend when my mother did not, say, lose a crown, lose a bridge, or merely require an emergency root canal.

What Your Dental Health Says About You

teeth
It's easy to ignore the effects of poor oral hygiene because they're hidden in your mouth. But gum disease may point to problems with diabetes and heart disease and loose teeth could be a sign of osteoporosis. Could it be that a healthy mouth means more than just a sparkling smile? And what could your dentist learn about you the next time you open wide?

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As a result, the trip or event was cut short so she could track down her trusted dentist. Recently, I feared this was genetic when an otherwise silent (but impacted) wisdom tooth became infected as my husband and I vacationed in Florida. Fortunately, I found a local dentist who prescribed a course of antibiotics to reduce the infection until I could have the tooth extracted.

Dental SOS

Turns out it's not genetic as such dental emergencies are rather common. In most cases, however, there are things to do when you can't find the dentist - other than cutting your hard-earned vacation or leisure time short.

Like most other medical situations, an ounce of prevention and a little forethought is worth a pound of cure. "The better job you do at keeping up with the conditions in your mouth, the less likely dental emergencies are to occur," stresses Tom A. Howley Jr., DDS, president of the Academy of General Dentistry and a dentist in Perkiomenville, Pa. "If you are going to go out of the country or to a remote area, see your dentist far enough in advance so that you have time to get work done if needed."

For example, "if I were going to Europe with a temporary crown on my teeth, I would see my dentist prior to my trip to make sure everything is stabilized," says Warren Scherer, DDS, the chairman of the department of general dentistry and management science at New York University College of Dentistry in New York City.

But if a toothache should occur, a crown should fall out, your gums become inflamed, or any other dental emergency crops up, don't panic; there are easy things you can do to stop the pain and preserve the function until you can visit a dentist.

First things first, rinse the area with warm salt water to flush it out and make sure there is no debris that may be causing the discomfort, Howley says. Traditional over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) may also help curb the pain. "If the pain is due to the underlying layer of your teeth -- the dentin -- becoming exposed, you want to cover the area with sugar free gum or wax," he says. Some drug stores sell kits with material to plug up the exposed area. But, he cautions, such do-it-yourself sealants are usually only good for 48 hours. "Get to the dentist as soon as possible." If you should fall and break or chip a tooth, cover the exposed area in the same manner, he says. And don't fret if you swallow it because 99% of time it will pass uneventfully.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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(1-3)
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(4-6)
Best
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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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