Navajo Health Foundation /Sage Memorial Hospital

P.O. Box 457, Ganado, AZ 86505

       Tel. (928) - 755 4500


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Table of Contents

  1. Exam Appointment Day
  2. What is tooth decay ?
  3. What are early childhood caries?
  4. What is periodontal disease?
  5. What is a root canal?
  6. What are sealants?
  7. What should I do if my tooth gets knocked out during sports?
  8. What should I do for a toothache?
  9. What is oral cancer?
  10. Teeth Grinding

Exam Appointment Day

Exams are scheduled once a month. There is one day set aside just for this. Patients can call or walk-in for an appointment on this exam day and will be schedule for their first visit at a different date.

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What is tooth decay ?

Tooth decay is more commonly known as cavity or caries. Tooth decay is caused by your teeth being exposed to foods that are high in starch and sugars. (Example: soda pop, candy, cakes and even certain fruits and juices) The breakdown of these foods release bacteria that turns into plaque, a colorless film. Plaque left on the tooth over long periods of time will demineralize your tooth causing tooth decay.

             Common symptoms of a cavity may include:  

·        A painful toothache

·        High sensitivity to hot or cold liquid temperatures.

·        White spots or decay; Tooth discolorations

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What are early childhood caries?

Early childhood caries occurs when sweetened liquids such as milk, formula, or juices are given and left to pool in a baby’s mouth for long periods of time.  When your baby’s first tooth erupts, avoid allowing your infant to sleep with a bottle in its mouth or nighttime breastfeeding.

Encourage your child to drink from a cup as he/she approaches their first birthday.


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What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease also called gum disease is an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. It is caused by plaque or bacteria. If left along the gum line, the bacteria can irritate and cause inflammation. The gums will begin to swell and bleed which allows the bacteria to go deeper under the gum line.

            The early stage of periodontal disease is called gingivitis. The gums will become red, swollen and will bleed easily. This stage is still reversible and can be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.

            If unchecked, gingivitis will reach a more critical stage called periodontitis in which treatment options narrow. Inflammation begins to allow surrounding bone to demineralize and dissolve. As the bone dissolves, the teeth can become loose, fall out or will have to be removed by a dentist.


            Early symptoms of gum disease:

·        Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth

·        Red, swollen or tender gums

·        Gums that have pulled away from the teeth

·        Bad breath

·        Pus between your gums and teeth

·        Loose teeth

·        Bad taste in your mouth

·        Change in your bite or your teeth alignment

·        Change in the fit of partial dentures

 *Pregnant women can be more susceptible to gingivitis because of hormonal increase that can exaggerate the way the gum tissues react to the bacteria in plaque. The plaque is the major cause of gingivitis. Pregnant women need to brush frequently to control plaque during their pregnancy.


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What is a root canal?

Before root canals were used, if you had a tooth with a dead nerve, you would probably lose that tooth. Now dentists use root canals to save the tooth.

            Deep inside each tooth is an area of soft tissue called the pulp which carries the tooth’s nerves, veins and lymph vessels. Root canals are very thin, small divisions of nerves that branch off from the pulp chamber down to the tip of the root of your tooth. A tooth has between one and four root canals. When the pulp becomes infected, usually from a deep cavity or fracture that allows bacteria to get inside, it can die. A damaged pulp will increase blood flow to the area and build up pressure causing pain in that tooth when you eat or drink. If untreated, it will form a pus or abscess.

            Root canal therapy is performed in order to save the damaged or dead pulp of the root canal of the tooth. First, the dead pulp tissue and root canal will be completely cleaned out and reshaped. Then the canal will be filled with a rubber-like material to prevent another infection. The tooth is then permanently sealed with a filling and crown. This procedure allows you to keep your tooth. A root canal procedure usually requires at least two visits.


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What are sealants?

Sealants are a special material put on your teeth. Sealants act as a barrier to prevent bacteria from collecting and staying on the grooves and pits of teeth. Sealants are best for permanent first molars that erupt usually around the age of 6 and second molars at age twelve.

            Children get the greatest benefit from sealants because it helps prevent future cavities as they get older.


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What should I do if I get my teeth knocked out during sports?

First, don’t panic. If you act quickly, you may be able to save your tooth.

  ·        First, gently pick up your lost tooth by the top or “crown”- not by the bottom or “root”. If you are unable to replace the tooth easily back in its socket, put the tooth in a small container filled with low-fat milk, saline or salty solution or your own spit.

 ·        Rinse your mouth with water and put a cold compress or towel with ice on your face near where the tooth came out. This will help keep the swelling down and make it easier for the dentist to treat.

 ·        If your tooth is knocked loose (and not out), push it back into its original position and bite down so the tooth does not move.

 ·        Visit the dentist as soon as possible-the longer your tooth is out of the mouth, the less likely that it will be able to be saved.

What should I do for a toothache?

To comfort your child or yourself, rinse the mouth with water. Apply a cold compress or ice wrapped in a cloth. Do not put heat or aspirin on the area. Visit your dentist as soon as possible.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is a cancer in the mouth. Majority of oral cancer occurs in people 45 years of age or older. Men are twice more likely to develop the disease than women. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer and of all major cancers, oral cancer has the worst five-year survival rate. Because oral cancer is not diagnosed in its early stages, less than half of these patients are cured. 

The tongue is the most frequent source, followed by the floor of the mouth, the soft palate tissues in the back of the tongue, lips and the gums. The combination of tobacco and alcohol increases the risk 15% more than non-users. If not treated, this disease can spread and cause chronic pain, loss of function, irreparable facial and oral disfigurements and even death. Tobacco is the leading cause of this disease.

Warning signs

    Red, white or discolored lesions, patches or lumps in or around the mouth. The early stages are typically painless but as the cancer spreads, these lumps or lesions become painful.


A mouth sore that lasts longer than two weeks


Swelling or growth of lumps anywhere in your mouth or neck


Red or white patches in the mouth or on the lips


Repeated bleeding from the mouth or throat


Difficulty swallowing


Persistent hoarseness

If you suspect you have oral cancer or have these symptoms, see your dentist for screening immediately. If oral cancer is diagnosed early, it can be treated and survival rate increases tremendously.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding commonly occur at night during sleep. Most times you don’t even know you grind your teeth. Teeth grinders or “bruxers” often

            Signs of Bruxism

·       Tips of teeth appear flat

·       Teeth are worn down so much that the enamel has rubbed off exposing dentin or the inside of the tooth.

·       Pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or jaw making a popping or clicking sound.

·       Tongue indentations

 Your dentist can prescribe therapy or provide a plastic mouth guard (night guard) to help protect the teeth while you sleep. This can help future damage.


Sage Dental
Copyright © 2004  [NHF / SMH]. All rights reserved.
Revised: March 04, 2005 .
                       Serving Navajo Members since 1901