For most of us, brushing and flossing is a routine part of daily life. But has it become such a routine that you may not be getting the most out of your daily regimen?
First, let's be clear about what you're trying to accomplish with these two important hygiene tasks, which is to remove as much accumulated dental plaque as possible. This thin film of bacteria and food particles is the primary cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
So how can you tell if you're effectively cleaning dental plaque from your teeth? Here are 4 ways to check your brushing and flossing skills.
The tongue test. Move your tongue across the surface of your teeth, especially at the gum line, immediately after brushing and flossing. "Plaque-free" teeth will feel smooth and slick. If you feel any grittiness, though, you may be missing some plaque.
Floss check. For a similar effect after your daily hygiene take a fresh piece of floss and run it up and down your teeth. If the teeth are clean and you are using un-waxed floss, the floss should "squeak" as you move it up and down.
Disclosing agents. You can also occasionally use a plaque disclosing agent. This product contains a solution you apply to your teeth after brushing and flossing that will dye any leftover plaque a specific color. Disclosing agents are handy for uncovering specific areas that require more of your future hygiene attention. And don't worry—the dye is temporary and will fade quickly.
Dental visits. For the ultimate test, visit your dentist at least twice a year. Not only can dental cleanings remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened tartar), but your dentist or hygienist can evaluate how well you've been doing. Consider it your "final exam" for oral hygiene!
Be sure to also ask your dental provider for tips and training in better brushing and flossing. Becoming more effective at these critical tasks helps ensure you're keeping your teeth and gums free of disease.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
Do-it-yourself (DIY) whitening kits are a popular option for restoring a healthy shine to stained and dulled teeth. They're relatively safe and generally live up to their packaging claims.
But a home kit might not always be your best option. Here are 4 reasons why DIY whitening might not be right for you.
You're on the early side of your teen years. Tooth whitening at home is quite popular with teenagers. For older teens it doesn't really pose a dental risk as long as you use the product appropriately (more on that in a moment). However, the immature enamel of younger teens' permanent teeth is still developing and can be vulnerable to damage by whitening processes.
You don't follow instructions well. Not to say you have this particular character quirk — but if you do you may run into trouble with DIY whitening. Home kits are safe if you follow their instructions carefully. If you use them to excess as one 13-year old boy was reported to have done, you could severely (and permanently) erode your teeth's protective enamel.
Your teeth are in need of dental work. Tooth whitening can't fix everything that may be contributing to an unattractive smile. It's always better to have issues like dental disease or chipped teeth addressed first before whitening. And, if your tooth discoloration originates from inside your tooth, a whitening kit won't help — they're only designed for staining on the enamel's outside surface. You'll need a special dental procedure to whiten internal (or intrinsic) tooth staining.
You want to control the amount of brightness. Home kits don't have the level of fine-tuning that a clinical procedure can achieve. While the bleaching agent in a professional whitening solution is much stronger than a home kit, your dentist is trained in techniques that can vary the amount of bleaching, from a softer white to dazzling “Hollywood” bright. And clinical whitening usually takes fewer sessions and may last longer than a home kit.
If you're interested in teeth whitening, see your dentist for a dental examination first before purchasing a DIY kit. Even if you decide to do it yourself, your dentist can give you buying advice for whitening kits, as well as how-to tips.
If you would like more information on tooth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Losing a tooth affects not only your smile but your overall dental health too. A dental implant solves both issues: it replaces the whole tooth, including the root, to merge durability with a life-like appearance.
For teenagers with a missing tooth, however, an implant may not be a good idea, at least until they've physically matured. Although their permanent teeth have usually all come in by puberty, the jaws and facial structure continue to develop into early adulthood. An implant placed too early could appear misaligned when the jaw fully matures.
The best approach for teens is a temporary replacement until they're physically ready for an implant. There are two good options: a removable partial denture (RPD) or a fixed bonded bridge.
Common among adults, an RPD is also a viable replacement for a teenager's missing tooth. An RPD consists of a prosthetic (false) tooth set in a nylon or acrylic base that resembles gum tissue. Metal clips formed in the RPD fit over adjacent teeth to hold the appliance in place; this also makes it easy to remove for cleaning or sleep time. We typically recommend an acrylic base for teens because it's easier to adjust if the RPD's fit becomes loose.
To hold it in place, a traditional bridge uses crowns on either side of the replacement tooth to bond over the natural teeth next to the open socket. Because this requires permanently altering the support teeth, we recommend a bonded bridge that doesn't.
This modified bridge uses wing-like strips of dental material on the back of the false tooth that project outward. With the tooth in place, we bond the extending portions of these projections to the back of the adjacent teeth, which secures the false tooth in place.
Of the two options, the bonded bridge is more comfortable, buys the most time and looks the most natural. But it will cost more than an RPD. Bite issues, teeth grinding, overall gum health or your child's level of hygiene conscientiousness could also nix it as a viable option.
Either choice will effectively replace your child's missing tooth until it's time for a permanent restoration. We'll help you weigh all the factors to determine which one is best for your situation.
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