Do you know what’s happening inside your mouth?

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amanda Warner
  • 42nd Aeromedical-Dental Squadron
Picture this: You're enjoying a relaxing vacation on a sunny beach and, out of nowhere, you experience excruciating pain inside your mouth. Now you're thinking, "What am I going to do? It's the weekend. I'm on vacation, and I surely don't want this toothache to ruin it, but it's too painful to ignore. I'm going to have to find a dentist."

So, now you ask yourself, "How could I have prevented this?"

It's actually really easy and something you've probably heard from your parents and the dentist before: brush and floss your teeth.

A lot of times when you hear those words, it can turn into an "in one ear, out the other" situation simply because we've all heard it before; everyone knows what happens when you don't brush and floss, right?

You'd be surprised, actually.

Every time you eat, food particles, bacteria and saliva combine to form a sticky, colorless residue on your teeth called plaque. You can't really see it - at least, not for the first 24 hours. After that, the plaque hardens and can turn a yellowish-brown color. At this point, it is called tartar, and it can no longer be removed with a toothbrush. Plaque and tartar also can lead to inflamed gums that bleed easily. This is called gingivitis. Gingivitis may be the least of your problems if you have poor oral hygiene; cavities and toothaches are a few others.

A cavity is caused by bacteria that live inside your mouth. These bacteria attach to your teeth, eat a lot of the same things you do and produce destructive acids as a by-product. These acids slowly weaken your teeth.

The longer you go without brushing and flossing, the weaker your teeth become, until they finally break down, resulting in a cavity. Once the tooth loses its protective outer layer, called enamel, bacteria begins to soften or decay the inner part of the tooth. This is also when you may begin to feel pain. The decay can become so severe that it can breach your nerves and cause irreversible damage.

Did you know bacteria also can tunnel under fillings and crowns and cause more tooth decay?

Since you can't see it, you probably won't know something is wrong until, perhaps, you're enjoying a relaxing vacation on a sunny beach. Brushing removes the bulk of the bacteria in plaque and prevents it from evolving into tartar and causing a cavity. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque the toothbrush can't reach.

Proper oral hygiene is something we should all keep in mind, especially with the holidays coming up. All of the rich foods we'll be eating during Christmas, along with all of those pies and cookies in between, can make it easy for bacteria to thrive inside our mouth and ruin our holidays or any day for that matter.

Although sometimes we run short on time and brushing and flossing can be inconvenient, three minutes in front of a sink can save you hours of stressful dental treatment later.

I don't know about you, but I'd take a toothbrush and some floss over a root canal any day!