What Lies Beneath

Potential problems lurk in every cranny of your mouth. Here's a look behind the basics, what can happen, and how to fix it. —M. G.

The Problem: Chipped tooth. Causes: A fall over your handlebars, a nick from a beer bottle, or bruxism, aka clenching and grinding your teeth, which can lead to painful TMJ disorders.

Who treats it: General dentist.

How to treat it: Simple chips can be fixed with cosmetic bonding, tooth-colored putty that's hardened with UV light and polished to appear like a natural tooth. "Severe chips may require porcelain veneers or crowns to restore the function and aesthetic of the tooth," says Dr. William Cranford of Cranford Dental.

The Problem: Gingivitis or periodontitis, both of which can stem from not putting your dentist's goody bag to use — skipping regular brushing and flossing. Symptoms include inflammation, bleeding, and infection.

Who treats it: Periodontist.

How to treat it: Revamping your brushing and flossing routine, as well as visiting the dentist for a thorough cleaning, will help gingivitis. In some advanced cases of periodontitis, surgical intervention may be required to regenerate bone that is missing, says Dr. Sean Rogers Hair of Markham & Hair.

The Problem: Constant pain or soreness in the jaw.

Who treats it: General dentist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon.

How to treat it: TMJ—a painful joint disorder — is treated with bite splints or night guards to prevent grinding. If these conservative methods fail, oral surgeons may perform jaw surgery.

The Problem: Oral cancer. Dentists do routine checkups, including X-rays of the mouth, to look for changes in mucosal tissue (red and white spots, lumps and bumps) in the gums, throat, tongue, palate, cheeks, and lips. "Most of the time people don't even know they have it," Hair says.

Who treats it: General dentist or oral surgeon.

How to treat it: A general dentist will usually detect the area during a routine exam, then an oral surgeon will perform a biopsy and remove cancerous spots.

The Problem: Overcrowding, infections of the gum, swelling of the jaw, not to mention serious pain, says Dr. Cranford. Most mouths are too small to handle more teeth, so it's often recommended you get your wisdom teeth pulled.

Who treats it: Oral surgeon.

How to treat it: Using advanced sedation techniques (you won't even know what hit ya), an oral surgeon will remove your wisdom teeth.

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