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From the moment you are born to the moment you pass, dental hygiene is important. Most of us remember only the visits to the office as a kid, the fillings covering our candy-born cavities. Some of us see dentures in our future. But there is more to it than that - healthy teeth require lifelong care and awareness of the problems even the healthiest mouth can bring - tooth grinding, wisdom teeth, and the ever-present tooth decay.

Why should you have your wisdom teeth removed? The thought of removing these third molars isn't enticing - especially for those over forty, as bone surrounding the tooth becomes denser with age, making the tooth even more difficult to remove. But there are plenty of good reasons to go under the knife.

The cause of nearly all wisdom tooth-related problems is the failure of the tooth to fully emerge from the gum - such teeth are called 'impacted'. Impacted wisdom teeth may place pressure on the surrounding teeth, become irritated, and food and bacteria can become trapped under the gum that covers the teeth, infecting it. Wisdom teeth are also difficult to reach with a toothbrush or tooth floss.

Despite the widespread modern image of the smiling medieval peasant, his blackened teeth jutting in angles out of his mouth, tooth decay was a rare occurrence before the 1700's brought the spread of sugar plantations in the Americas. As sugar became more available, cavities - called 'caries' in the dental community, from the Latin word 'rot' - followed.

Cavities affect people of all ages, not just children. As they age, the changes occurring in adults' mouths foster tooth decay, the gums recede from the teeth, exposing tooth roots to plaque. Even infants are at risk: the practice of putting one's child to bed with a bottle filled with sweetened milk or fruit juice can cause decay.

The chalky, sometimes squeaking, sound of tooth grinding can alert your partner to your problem, even while you remain asleep and unaware. Other tell-tale signs include tooth wear, headaches, sensitive teeth, and fatigue and pain in the muscles of the face. Tooth grinding, called bruxism, is a condition with a variety of causes. Stress, calcium deficiency, pinworms, and an abnormal bite are all causes of tooth grinding. If your bruxing is caused by stress, it can be easily cured by relaxation techniques and cutting down on things like coffee and soda. However, if it is caused by any of the latter, it is best to consult a dentist for treatment. Since multiple factors can contribute to bruxism, you should see your dentist at the first realization of tooth grinding - neglecting it can lead to more serious problems, such as hearing loss.

It isn't just your problem, either. Children of tooth grinders are more likely to grind their teeth. This is why it's important for proper dental hygiene to start at the beginning of your child's life - and right now in your own, if not earlier. Even before your child's first baby tooth comes in, you can prevent decay from getting an early start by watching for baby bottle tooth decay and caring for setting an example with your own dental hygiene. And when in comes that first baby tooth - to the dentist office you must go. Considering tooth whitening?

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