I don't know about y'all, but personally, I can name about three trillion things I would rather do than go to the dentist. I mean, my dentist and his team are nice enough, but between laying on my back, looking at those tools, and holding my breath to hear if there's any news that I'd prefer to avoid—it can all be overwhelming, a tad bit uncomfortable…oh, and not exactly the cheapest, either. Apparently, I am not alone because it's been reported that only 58 percent of folks see their own dentist on an annual basis. That's not good either because, aside from the fact that we need our teeth to eat (and look presentable), there are all sorts of health issues that are tied to poor oral hygiene including cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, diabetes, infertility, and even dementia.
And while I'm not trying to scare you into seeing your dentist, what I will say is the last time I waited and then went, I had to get the root canal from hell. And you know what? It could've been avoided if I had simply not skipped out on my annual visit. It also wouldn't have become as "big" as it did if I had paid attention to a couple of these you-really-need-to-get-to-the-dentist-ASAP warning signs, too. Don't say a sis didn't warn you.
1. Incessant Bad Breath
There is someone I went to high school with who, no joke, had some of the worst-smelling breath on the planet. On many days, I was around her after gym and lunch, so I know she brushed her teeth, but damn—when she talked, it still always smelled like something died up in there. I hope she's OK because bad breath isn't always automatically a hygiene issue. Sometimes it's a red flag that someone has an underlying disease like diabetes, acid reflux, or, in some cases, even cancer.
All of the mint toothpaste and Altoids in the world won't fix those things, so aside from not sucking the life out of everyone around you, for the sake of your health and well-being, incessant bad breath is something that should not be ignored.
2. Gum Pimples
If you're not exactly sure what a gum pimple is, I'm not referring to canker sores. (Another name for those is aphthous ulcers and they are basically surface-layer sores in your mouth.) No, what I'm talking about are bumps that have pus in them. Sometimes, what that means is an abscess has developed and you have a dental infection of some sort. If you choose to ignore it or even pop it yourself, the infection could ultimately spread and lead to far more serious issues like sepsis. It could even go to your brain and lead to fatality. So yeah, you should make an appointment with your dentist if you happen to notice any of these along your gum line.
3. Dry Mouth
Our mouths were designed to be wet with saliva at all times. This means that if, no matter how much fluid you take in, you just can't seem to shake having dry mouth, that is something else that could potentially be cause for concern. Not only does saliva keep bacteria at bay while helping to fight decay that leads to cavities, a lack of saliva production could be an indication of things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Dry mouth is one of the most slept-on reasons to go to the dentist, but a valid one nonetheless.
4. Cracking Teeth
Do you have a cracked (or crumbling) tooth that seems to have come out of nowhere? You know that you haven't eaten anything hard and you also know that you haven't neglected your teeth in any way, so what in the world could it be? One guess is you are producing an excessive amount of stomach acid that is damaging your enamel. There's only one way to find out for sure, though. You already know what I'm gonna say.
5. Receding Gums
Here's something to take pretty seriously. Did you know that, not only do half of all Americans have gum disease, but gum disease in an advanced stage? Aside from bleeding and swollen gums, another pretty telling sign that gum disease is starting to get the best of your oral health and well-being is if you notice that your gums are receding anywhere. Since there is a direct correlation between gum disease and other health-related issues like diabetes and heart challenges, don't let this one slip either. The state of your overall health could very well depend on it.
6. Teeth Sensitivity
While there are plenty of commercialized oral products out on the market that profess to treat teeth and gum sensitivity if this is something that has just recently started to happen, make an appointment to see your dentist.
When you react, excessively, to hot or cold foods, what that could mean is that you've got some tooth decay, a loose filling, or an exposed tooth root somewhere. The only real way to treat any of this is professionally.
7. Weird-Feeling Tongue
Your tongue is a breeding place for bacteria. That's why it's important to make the time to brush it every time you brush and floss your teeth. Not only will it remove a considerable amount of bacteria and germs, it will also reduce your risk of getting periodontal (gum) disease while helping to keep your breath smelling fresh throughout the day.
But what if you do take pretty good care of your tongue but happen to notice that it's been feeling pretty weird as of late? Should you chalk it up to not being that big of a deal? If by "weird" it has suddenly changed texture, color, or has lumps or bumps that you know aren't canker sores or "lie bumps", don't casually overlook that. Medical professionals often check for oral cancer via our tongue. It's another reason to see your dentist as soon you possibly can.
8. Swollen Jaw
Swollen jaw tissue could mean that you've gotten an infected tooth or even a cyst or tumor that is developing somewhere beneath your gum line. There's no way that you'll know for sure without a thorough examination and quite possibly a few X-rays, so if you feel or see any swelling, don't just "ibuprofen it away". Chances are, things will only get worse over time if you do.
One more. Each tooth contains nerves and blood vessels that help to keep it healthy. Another thing that the nerves do is help us to know when something that we put into our mouth is either hot or cold. When the pulp chamber of a tooth either gets exposed or becomes damaged in some way, that can first cause an extreme amount of pain. However, that's a good thing because it's a heads up that something is very wrong. The bigger problem is if we try and "Google our way through that" and then the nerve eventually dies, resulting in numbness. While on one hand that means the pain has subsided, what that doesn't mean is that the underlying problem has gone away or that it won't get worse over time. So, if you happen to notice any type of numbness anywhere, most definitely see your dentist. For the sake of your teeth—and your overall health.
Yeah, I know this wasn't the most pleasant read on the planet, but you know what? It's better to know what to look out for and book an appointment than to wait too late and have a world of oral issues that you didn't even know about. You need your teeth. Be proactive in taking care of them or you could live to regret it. Literally.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at email@example.com. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Russell and Nina Westbrook are one of those low-key, unproblematic couples we don’t talk about enough. They met in college and got married in 2015. They also have a beautiful family with three kids. While Russell is an NBA star, Nina is a licensed family and marriage therapist and a mental health advocate.
She recently launched the podcast The Relationship Chronicles with Nina Westbrook, and in the latest episode, she had none other than her husband on as a guest. The college sweethearts dived into important topics from marriage to children and how they navigate it all.
One of the topics they touched on was dealing with resentment in your relationship. The former MVP highlighted the sacrifices his wife has had to make in order for him to pursue a career in the NBA, and that’s why it’s also important for him to support his wife whenever he can.
“For me is respecting and understanding what your partner do and the time it takes,” Russell said. “Not kind of downplaying what they do, understanding the time and energy and effort they're doing to make sure whether it’s their job or making sure home is taken care of, and understanding that, I think that is the challenge of not being resentful.”
Nina agreed and also shared her thoughts on resentment. According to her, one of the best things couples should do is have their own identity and passions outside of the relationship in an effort to be fulfilled.
“I also think that when you’re in a relationship, that’s why it’s so important that each individual kinda pursue their own passions and follow their own dreams as I feel like it only becomes or leads to resentment when one person is not feeling fulfilled in what they're doing in their lives,” she explained.
“And so, they will start to look at the other partner who’s happy or excelling or promoting or moving along in their journey, then they’re left feeling stuck like they sacrificed themselves, their happiness, their career, their future and have not pursued it in the name of the relationship or their partner. So, it’s so much easier to avoid those feelings of resentment when you’re each equally pursuing your passions.”
The couple has many passions that they work on together and separately. Outside of basketball and his family, Russell has become known for his eclectic style and started the fashion brand Honor The Gift. Nina has her podcast, and she also started the mental health website Bene. Together, they run the Why Not? Foundation, which works with kids in underserved communities.
“I’m a firm believer that one person can’t be everything to you, so you have to sort of seek out those different friendships or groups or hobbies or activities that help to fulfill you,” Nina concluded.
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Feature image by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Religion of Sports