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Dental care for Humans – Part One

Dentistry is the branch of medicine that is involved in the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral cavity, the maxillofacial area and the adjacent and associated structures, and their impact on the human body.

Human beings are the species Homo sapiens, and they belong to the Animal Kingdom.  They are definitely not Plants, are they?   Therefore, Homo sapiens appear in this blog.  Following up on Part 2 of Bits and Bites about the structure and function of human teeth, this post is about dental care for human beings.  Dental care for your animal companions is in the form of your dog and/or cat cleaning their own teeth through chewing and using their own protective saliva, and is achieved through you the “owner” taking your animal friend to the vet if she/he (the cat or dog) needs dental treatment.  Non-human animals don’t use toothbrushes and neither do they eat sugary food or many carbohydrates, which can cause tooth decay to humans if human beings eat such and don’t exercise basic daily care of their teeth.

bucky beaver iPana


 Basic Daily Care

1.  Brush your teeth twice a day for 3 minutes – once in the morning and once in the evening.  Brushing your teeth before you go to bed helps reduce bacteria feasting on the food left on your teeth and attacking your teeth with the acid they produce.  However, over-night, believe it or not, even if you have brushed your teeth, because there are so many bacteria naturally occurring in our mouths, plaque (a thin film of food and other substances, including bacteria) can still form on your teeth, so that is why you should brush your teeth first thing in the morning.   You should remove the plaque and give your teeth a “head start” when you begin eating throughout the day, and also, brushing your teeth first thing in the morning will help freshen your breath.  Brushing the gums will help you avoid inflammation of the gums, which is known as gingivitis.  The gums have to be kept healthy, because they anchor the teeth, and if not looked after, your teeth could literally fall out.

All surfaces should be brushed as well as the gums.  An electric toothbrush is great to use, as it means the bristles can really get to what needs cleaning with the pressure of the device.

2.  Floss your teeth after brushing, using waxed floss.  Take a good length of waxed floss.  Wrap some of the floss around each index finger of each hand.  Start flossing between the teeth at the upper front, working your way along either side, and as you floss, wrap the used floss around your right index finger (if you are right-handed) and un-wrap some floss from your left index finger.  Make sure you floss between the back teeth, then go to the other side of the upper teeth.   Repeat for your lower teeth.

3.  Non-alcoholic mouth-wash is great for assisting in killing bacteria and reducing their effect upon the teeth and gums, and can be used daily.

4.  Carbohydrates, such as bread and flour products tend to coat the teeth, so after eating them it is a good idea to brush your teeth.  Calcium is a mineral required during the early stages of human development to produce teeth enamel.


A soft thin film of food debris, mucin, and dead epithelial cells on the teeth, providing the medium for bacterial growth.


A hard deposit on the teeth, consisting of organic secretions and food particles deposited in various salts, such as calcium carbonate. Also called dental calculus. Contains tartrate, the salt of tartaric acid.  Plaque becomes tartar, if not removed.  The build-up of sticky tartar allows more and more bacteria to flourish, and if left unchecked, acids from the bacteria will cause tooth decay.

Tooth enamel is made up of minerals, including calcium and phosphate.  Saliva is one of the mouth’s natural defences against de-mineralisation of the enamel.  Saliva helps to remove food from the teeth, contains bicarbonate that helps neutralise bacterial acid production, and delivers minerals such as calcium, phosphate and fluoride to the surface of the tooth, enabling remineralisation to take place.

Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from bacteria and is most important for infants and children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years old.   It occurs naturally in many foods and in water.

Dental Treatments

Scale and Clean, and Check-up

Your Dentist can do a “scale and clean” which means she/he scales or scrapes off the tartar on your teeth, and then she/he flosses your teeth and polishes them with a dental bur (a type of drill that polishes).

It is recommended that you visit the dentist evey 6 months for a “scale and clean” and for a check-up, and that means only twice a year.  The check-up part will mean a thorough examination of all of your teeth and of your gums, and recommendations for teeth repairs or dental treatment that is needed to keep your teeth in good order.  Tooth decay, also called tooth cavity or dental caries, may necessitate fillings to be put into the tooth.


A filling is the restoration of lost tooth structure with metal, porcelain or resin materials.  Fillings are used for decayed, cracked or chipped teeth, to restore the function of the tooth.  When one of your teeth ache, it could be due to decay of the tooth enamel and dentin, exposing the pulp and the nerve inside the tooth.  This hole in the tooth needs to be filled in.

You will be given a local anesthesia via a needle in the gums, to numb the area first.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t really hurt, contrary to the huge fright the thought of having a needle gives some people.  You may feel a tiny sting and some pressure as the needle goes in, but it is worth it so as not to feel the pain you would otherwise feel as your tooth is filled in.  The anaesthetic numbs the tooth’s nerve so that the nerve temporarily doesn’t conduct the sensation of pain.

Next, your dentist will remove decay from the tooth, using hand instruments or a drill. The dentist will use a high speed drill (the one with the familiar whining sound) to remove the decay and unsupported enamel of the tooth. Once the drill reaches the dentin, or second layer of the tooth, the dentist may use a lower speed drill. That’s because dentin is softer than enamel.

The space to be filled is shaped.  The dentist may put in a base or a liner to protect the pulp.  Some of these materials release fluoride to protect the tooth from further decay.

If your dentist is placing a bonded or composite filling, he or she will etch (prepare) the tooth with an acid gel before placing the filling. Etching makes tiny holes in the tooth’s enamel surface. This allows the filling to bond tightly to the tooth. Bonded fillings can reduce the risk of leakage or decay under the filling.

Dental amalgam (metal alloy or silver filling) is a strong, inexpensive material that is commonly used for filling teeth, especially the molars (back teeth). In recent years, alternative tooth-coloured filling materials (composite resin) have also become more common and affordable.

Did you know that modern dental amalgam is a metal alloy that is generally made up of mercury, silver and tin, with small amounts of copper and zinc?  It is pliable when first mixed and can be moulded into a tooth cavity, reducing the amount of natural tooth that needs to be removed in order to fit the filling.

Concerns have been raised about the use of dental amalgam because it contains mercury. While high levels of mercury are harmful to human health, the metal alloy in modern dental amalgam has low mercury content. Repeated international reviews of the scientific evidence have been unable to link the use of dental amalgam directly with ill health.  However pregnant women, women whom are breast-feeding and children are better off not getting silver fillings.

Some people feel sensitivity after having a filling. The tooth may be sensitive to pressure, air, sweet foods or cold. In most cases, the sensitivity will subside over one to two weeks. Until then, try to avoid anything that causes sensitivity, like cold foods or chomping on hard foods or eating sweet foods.  The sensitivity should subside.

Teeth can also be filled with gold or porcelain (ceramic)!!  The location and extent of the decay, cost of filling material, your insurance coverage, and your dentist’s recommendation will all help in determining the type of filling best for you.  The pages below will give you in depth information about the various types of tooth filling materials.


Part Two is in the next post

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