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Listen to your mouth: 6 signs you need to see the dentist

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Young children, a demanding job, a friend in need ― many things can cause preventive health care to fall by the wayside. Until a nagging symptom reminds you it’s been a while since your last checkup.

It’s tempting to put off seemingly minor dental issues until your schedule lightens up. But the warning signs below shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is especially true if you’re managing a chronic condition, like diabetes. Read more about the connection between oral health and overall health. By catching problems early on, you’ll save yourself precious time and money.

1. Bleeding after brushing or flossing

Blood on your toothbrush or in the sink isn’t normal. It could mean you’re developing gum disease ― also called periodontal disease ― an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. When untreated, gum disease can lead to bone loss around the teeth and eventually tooth loss. Other signs include red, swollen or tender gums, and discharge between the teeth and gums.

2. Receding gums

Some gum recession can be a normal part of the aging process: 88% of people over 65 experience recession around at least one tooth. But recession can also be a sign of gum disease. Regardless of the cause, retreating gums can expose the delicate roots of teeth, increasing the risk of decay, infection, pain and tooth loss. When it’s caught early, treatment can stop or even reverse the process.

3. Dry mouth

A healthy mouth is well lubricated by saliva, which washes away food particles and neutralizes the acids produced by plaque. If your mouth feels unusually dry, it could be a sign of illness. Your dentist can determine what’s causing your dry mouth and suggest ways to restore moisture and protect your teeth.

4. Loose or shifting teeth

Adult teeth should last a lifetime. If you notice slight movement or widening gaps, take it seriously. It could be a sign of infection or bone loss. Also look out for changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite, or changes in the fit of partial dentures.

5. Bumps and sores

Common canker sores will clear up on their own in one to two weeks. But other oral lesions need to be treated. A fungal infection called thrush, or candidiasis, can show up as white sores on the tongue, inner cheek, tonsils or roof of your mouth. People with diabetes are more prone to thrush, which thrives on high sugar levels in saliva. Medicine can treat thrush.

6. Toothache

Okay, this one’s obvious. But it bears repeating that toothaches shouldn’t be ignored. Pain and sensitivity can have many causes: a cavity, abscess, broken tooth, damaged filling or grinding your teeth. Only your dentist can determine what’s behind the pain, treat the underlying issue and help you avoid future problems.

Top 5 ways to keep your mouth healthy

Often there are no warning signs of early gum disease. So be sure to get regular checkups ― even when you’re experiencing no symptoms ― and take good care of your teeth at home:

  1. Brush at least twice a day for about two minutes each time.
  2. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles; firm bristles can damage gums.
  3. Floss once a day to clean away particles from between your teeth and below the gum line.
  4. Ask your dentist if you should use a fluoride rinse to help prevent decay.
  5. If you wear dentures, clean them every day. Remove stains and plaque buildup that can irritate your gums. Take dentures out when you sleep to help your gums stay healthy.