If we were playing word association with the term “oral hygiene,” you'd probably answer “brushing.” And you would be right—brushing cleans tooth surfaces of accumulated bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease.
But brushing is only half of the oral hygiene equation: You also need to remove dental plaque between teeth where brushing can't reach. And, that requires that other practice—flossing.
Unfortunately, brushing is more popular than its hygienic sibling because many people find traditional thread flossing more difficult and messier than brushing. That can make it tempting to skip flossing—but then you're only getting half the benefit of oral hygiene for reducing the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
There is, however, a way to floss that doesn't involve a roll of thread: oral irrigation. This form of flossing uses a countertop device that directs a pressurized spray of water between teeth through a handheld wand. The directed spray loosens and then flushes away accumulated plaque.
Oral irrigators (also known as water flossers) have been an important tool for decades in dental offices, and have been available for home use since the 1960s. In the last few years, though, the devices have become more compact and easier to use. More importantly, studies have shown they're as effective in removing between-teeth plaque as regular flossing.
These irrigation devices are especially useful for people wearing braces. The attached brackets and wires make it extremely difficult to maneuver flossing thread between teeth. Because of this (as well as similar difficulties in brushing), patients are more susceptible to dental disease while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
But a 2008 study showed that oral irrigators are quite effective for braces wearers in removing between-teeth plaque. It found those who used an irrigator after brushing removed five times the amount of plaque than those that only brushed.
Even if you're not wearing braces, you may still find an oral irrigator to be a useful flossing alternative. Speak with your dentist for recommendations on what to look for in an oral irrigator and tips on how to use it. It could make a positive difference in your dental health.
If you would like more information on how best to keep your teeth and gums clean, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
Knowing what to do—and what not to do—when your child is sick can greatly affect their health and well-being. That's especially true with dental problems.
Here then are some Dos and Don'ts for 3 common problems children experience with their teeth and gums.
Teething. An infant's first teeth breaking through the gums is a normal but often unpleasant experience. Fortunately, teething episodes only last a few days. And, there's usually no need to see the dentist unless they have a fever or diarrhea while teething. In the meantime:
- Do: provide them chilled (not frozen) cloth or plastic items to bite and gnaw, and massage their gums to relieve painful pressure. You can also give them an age-appropriate dose of a mild pain reliever.
- Don't: rub any medication on their gums, which can irritate them and other soft tissues. Never use alcohol or aspirin to alleviate teething discomfort. And avoid using anything with benzocaine, a numbing agent which can be hazardous to young children.
Toothache. Whether a momentary sensitivity to hot or cold or a sharp, throbbing pain, a child's toothache often signals tooth decay, a bacterial disease which could eventually lead to tooth loss.
- Do: make a dental appointment at your child's first complaint of a toothache. Ease the pain with a warm-water rinse, a cold compress to the outside of the jaw, or a mild pain reliever.
- Don't: rub medication on the teeth or gums (for similar reasons as with teething). Don't apply ice or heat directly to the affected tooth or gums, which can burn them.
Bleeding gums. Gum bleeding from normal brushing or flossing, along with red or swollen gums, may indicate periodontal (gum) disease. Although rare in children, it can still happen—and it can put an affected tooth in danger.
- Do: see your dentist if bleeding continues for a few days. Continue to brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush around the gums to remove plaque, a thin-biofilm most responsible for gum infection.
- Don't: brush aggressively or more than twice a day, which could unnecessarily irritate and damage the gums. And don't stop brushing—it's important to remove plaque buildup daily to lessen the gum infection.
Brushing and flossing daily, and dental visits at least twice a year: These are the essential things you should be doing to protect your teeth and gums against dental disease. But you're also getting an automatic assist from your body through saliva, that humble fluid swishing around in your mouth, to protect your oral health.
It's more than simply “mouth water”: Without saliva and its various components, your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease would be much higher. Here are 4 ways saliva helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Cleansing. Chewing prepares your food for digestion, but in the process produces tiny particles of food debris. Settling on tooth surfaces, these bits become part of the dental plaque that forms on your teeth and develops the ideal breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps rinse away much of this debris—particularly sugar, the primary food source for bacteria.
Protection. Saliva is the first line defense against disease-causing microorganisms entering the mouth. The primary source of this protection is a protein-based antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which directly fights infection-causing organisms. Another protein in saliva, lactoferrin (also found in tears), interferes with bacterial growth.
Buffering. The main enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid, produced by oral bacteria and the foods that we eat. Saliva neutralizes acid to help the mouth maintain its normally neutral pH range. And it works fast: Saliva can buffer acid and restore balance within thirty minutes to an hour after eating.
Re-mineralization. It's normal for acid to build up after eating, and for it to quickly remove minerals from surface enamel, a process called de-mineralization that can soften and weaken the enamel. But saliva helps restore some of these lost minerals as it's neutralizing acid. This re-mineralization re-strengthens enamel against tooth decay.
Saliva is so important for maintaining a healthy mouth, it's worth your efforts to protect it. Diminished saliva production not only produces an unpleasant dry mouth, it may increase your risk for disease. If this is a constant problem, speak to your dentist about causes and remedies. You'll be doing your teeth and gums a favor.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in maintaining 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
During this time of year, many of us dust off traditional family recipes and make our favorite holiday treats. There is, however, a small price to pay for all that nostalgic goodness in the shape of a few extra pounds to deal with in the new year. We may also be increasing the risk for something even more unpleasant: tooth decay.
The main cause, of course, is a certain carbohydrate integral to many holiday goodies: sugar. We humans love it, but so do oral bacteria that readily devour any sugar lingering in our mouth after eating. This fuels bacterial reproduction, which in turn increases the production of acid that softens tooth enamel.
There are a number of strategies you can follow to reduce this effect. You can remove sugar completely from your holiday preparations—and risk family and friends “voting you off the island.” Or, you can try these tips for easing the impact of holiday sugar on your dental health.
Look for ways to reduce sugar. Just because you're not throwing the sugar bowl out the window doesn't mean you have to go all out using it. Instead, try to modify older recipes (or look for newer versions) to decrease the amount of sugar in candies and baked goods. You may also consider alternative sweeteners like sucralose that tolerate high baking temperatures.
Balance savory with sweet. Not all holiday treats need to be sweet—you can add items that take advantage of more savory seasonings. For example, try offering up popcorn with a sprinkling of cinnamon or other holiday spice, or a creative assortment of cheeses (which in turn promote saliva flow to neutralize acid).
Combine treats with mealtimes. Continuous snacking may be part of the holiday tradition, but it can also raise the risk for tooth decay. Acidity increases when we eat, but saliva normally neutralizes it within thirty minutes to an hour. However, saliva can get overwhelmed during continuous snacking, resulting in longer periods of high acidity that damages tooth enamel. Instead, try to combine snack times with mealtimes.
Don't neglect your oral hygiene. Even though things can get hectic during the holidays, make a point of keeping up daily brushing and flossing. Regular hygiene keeps dental plaque, a thin film of harmful bacteria and food particles (including sugar), from building up on your teeth. Reducing plaque lowers your overall decay risk. Attention to oral health through your day-to-day dental hygiene routine along with regular professional cleanings and checkups is the best thing you can do to avoid dental disease.
The holidays should be a joyous time for you and your family. They can also be a healthy time for your teeth and gums, if you minimize the role of sugar in your holiday treats.
If you would like more information about boosting your dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
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