8 Dental Problems You Can Fix Yourself


I need to watch my mouth. In fact, I probably should wash it out with soap, too. A confession: I haven’t been to my dentist in more than a year. Actually, more like two. Okay, three tops. I actually don’t remember the last time I was there. I just remember the drilling.

What’s my problem? For one, appointments are always six months out. I don’t know how my schedule looks next week, much less next May. Last time, I simply forgot about it and was slapped with a $50 dental fine. When I called to plead my paper-thin case, the only thing they gave me was another appointment six months later. I had to cancel that one at the last minute. Big meeting.

I’m not asking for your sympathy. (But if you happen to know of a drive-thru dentist, please send the address!) If I’m being completely honest, if I didn’t dread dental visits so much, I’d make time for them. And I will, I swear. After all, many studies have revealed compelling link between oral health and overall health. In other words, if your mouth is sick, you will be too.

There is one silver lining to my negligence: I take brushing and flossing very seriously. And I’ve learned to do some of my own dental work. I’m not suggesting you cancel your next dental appointment, but here are eight quick fixes you can do yourself:

Cause: Exposed nerve roots, often from receding gums
Treatment: Lay off the whitening, tartar-control, and baking-soda toothpastes—they’re abrasive and can contain phosphates, which make teeth sensitive. Don’t brush too hard, which can lead to other dental problems, such as recessed gums, says Sherri Worth, D.D.S., a celebrity cosmetic dentist. If pain persists, visit your dentist for a prescription fluoride treatment to toughen up your choppers.

Causes: Blake Griffin, inline skates, texting on inline skates
Treatment: Rinse it with milk and push it back in right away, then bite down gently on a soft cloth or moistened tea bag to hold it in place. Knocking out a tooth tears the periodontal ligaments, but some might still cling to the tooth. If reconnected early enough, they can reattach to the gums. The tooth will feel strong in a few days and could be good as new in a month or two, says Dr. Worth. Want to make sure? See a dentist.

Causes: Hot pizza, impatience
Treatment: You might not think this can cause dental problems, but burning the roof of your mouth softens the tissue, making it more prone to infection, says Pia Lieb, D.D.S., a cosmetic dentist in New York City. She recommends using Kenalog in Orabase, an over-the-counter corticosteroid paste that creates a protective coating on the burn and speeds healing.


Causes: Hot coffee, improper flame-breathing technique
Treatment: Rinse your mouth with a solution of 1 teaspoon of salt and a cup of warm water. “It’s actually very soothing,” says Dr. Worth. The salt can draw infection to the surface of the tissue, where the body eliminates it, and salt helps neutralize the acidic environment that fosters bacteria.

Cause: Possibly temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, which can lead to splitting headaches marked by pain radiating down the front of your ears to your jaw. The improper alignment of your jaw leads to unconscious grinding of the teeth, often at night.
Treatment: “Your muscles are looking to find comfort, so you move your jaw around constantly,” Dr. Lieb says. Try sleeping on your side or back with a supportive pillow, instead of facedown.

Causes: There are numerous possible causes—but Cap’n Crunch, Doritos, salsa, and other sharp and spicy foods can further irritate the sore. Avoid mixing them.
Treatment: Apply vegetable oil to a cotton ball and hold it against the sore three or four times a day. “The oil helps coat the sore and protect it from irritation,” says Mary Ellen Camire, Ph.D., a food science professor at the University of Maine.


Causes: Popcorn, peanuts, the passage of time
Treatment: You can use sugarless chewing gum (chew it first) or soft wax to caulk the hole and reduce the sensitivity, says Bruce Freund, D.D.S., a general dentist in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Pharmacies often sell temporary filling materials, if you don’t have gum handy.


Causes: Gingivitis (gum disease), tobacco use
Treatment: Gum disease is no small matter. If you have it, you’re seven times more likely to develop heart disease, and 63 percent more prone to pancreatic cancer. You can ease the pain by swishing peppermint tea around your mouth. But you have to fix the underlying problem as well. Along with amping up your brushing and flossing routine, lay off the sugar (start by avoiding these 12 Foods Your Dentist Wouldn’t Eat). A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that people who regularly added sugar to coffee, tea, or cereal were 69 percent more prone to pancreatic cancer than those who didn’t.