How to Conduct a Dental Self-Examination

Self-examination is natural. Most of us do it every day. We check our faces in the mirror in the mornings and evenings (sometimes in-between), looking for wrinkles, blemishes and spots; and we check our hair for loss, grey­ing, dandruff or split ends. Some of us note the color of our tongues or the whites of our eyes at the same time. We check our hands for cuts or broken nails, and in the bath or shower check other parts of the body, such as breasts. But most of these are easy to see and, for the most part, we know what we are looking or feeling for.

 

We also clean our teeth at least once a day, or should do, and this is the perfect time to indulge in a spot of self-examination of the mouth and teeth. However, it has to be made clear at the outset that we wish neither to turn people into dental hypochondriacs nor to lead them to believe that their own efforts can replace those of dentists. The problem with self-examination is that few of us know exactly what we are looking for, and if we see nothing wrong we tend to believe that everything is all right. Unfortunately, as we shall explain, this may not be the case at all. It is important not to be lulled into a false sense of security. However, if we guard against complacency, we can use self-examination as a valuable way of spotting early signs of dental and mouth disease.

 

Color Change

The first thing we can note is any change in the color of our teeth. While it is easy to see whether this has happened to the front teeth, a strong light source is needed to see anything meaningful in the back of the mouth. You can buy an angled mirror rather like the one that dentists use, and with practice this may help. Color changes can happen for several reasons. Heavy smokers know only too well that their teeth get stained. Some foodstuffs, red wine, turmeric, betel nuts and even tea also can discolor teeth severely; in fact, any food or drink that contains coloring can stain the plaque that coats uncleaned teeth. Some people may be taking medication that stains their teeth, but they should have been warned in advance that this might happen.

 

Plaque

These changes, however, are not the main focus of our interest. The most common sight is a whitish film, most easily seen on the front surfaces of the front teeth. You can scrape it off with a fingernail. This is not food debris. It is plaque. Like rust in cars it serves no useful purpose. We do not want it. It is the cause of both tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque is entering ordinary language – toothpastes and mouthwashes now advertise themselves as counteracting plaque. The main thing to say about it is that, if you see it, get rid of it by brushing it off. This, indeed, is the prime purpose of teeth cleaning.

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