Laying out goals for the New Year is a great way to inspire yourself to make positive changes that can improve your health. For example, many habits—both good and bad—affect the health of your teeth and gums. Here’s a list of risky habits to kick, and mouth-healthy habits to adopt:
Habits That Risk Oral Health
Smoking. As if oral cancer weren’t enough to worry about, smoking also promotes gum disease and tooth loss. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, smokers have double the risk of gum disease compared to nonsmokers. And according to the Academy of General Dentistry, smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as nonsmokers. For help quitting, visit smokefree.gov.
Snacking. Nibbling all day can create the perfect conditions for tooth decay—especially if your snacks contain sugar and other carbohydrates. Sticky snacks like cookies, crackers, chips and candy bars that cling to teeth tend to remain in the mouth and attract decay-causing oral bacteria. The acid these bacteria produce can penetrate the enamel of your teeth, causing cavities.
Soft Drinks. Speaking of tooth-eroding acid, soft drinks have plenty of it. And this includes both regular and diet varieties of soda, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks. The healthiest drink for your teeth is water!
Brushing. You probably brush your teeth every day already, but are you doing it correctly? To get the most benefit from this healthy habit, brush twice each day for a full two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with toothpaste that contains fluoride, and don’t scrub too harshly!
Flossing. Yes, it’s worth the effort! If you don’t floss, you’ll miss cleaning about 40% of your tooth surfaces. A toothbrush just can’t reach in between teeth, where decay-causing dental plaque can hide. If you find dental floss difficult to work with, try using disposable floss holders.
Regular Dental Checkups. Keep up a regular schedule of professional teeth cleanings and exams! This allows us to remove any hardened dental plaque (tartar) that has built up on your teeth, screen you for oral cancer, and treat minor dental problems before they become major ones. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to review your at-home oral hygiene.
If you have any questions about how to improve your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home” and “10 Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.”
Wearing braces takes time, but if all goes well the changes to your smile will be well worth it. In the meantime, though, you’ll have to contend with one particular difficulty—keeping your teeth clean of disease-causing, bacterial plaque.
Don’t worry, though—while keeping dental disease at bay with braces can be challenging, it is doable. Here are 4 tips for minimizing your chances of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease during orthodontic treatment.
Eat less sugar. Like any living organism, bacteria must eat—and they’re especially amenable to sugar. The more they have access to this favorite food source, the more they multiply—and the greater your risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Eating fewer sugary foods and snacks and more dental-friendly ones helps restrict bacteria populations in your mouth.
Brush thoroughly. Brushing with braces can be difficult, especially in areas blocked by orthodontic hardware. You need to be sure you brush all tooth and gum surfaces around your braces, including above and below the wire running through the brackets. A soft multi-tufted microline bristle brush is a good choice for getting into these hard to reach places. Brushing around braces takes more time, but it’s essential for effective plaque removal.
Use flossing tools. Flossing is important for removing plaque from between teeth—but, unfortunately, it might be even more difficult to perform with braces than brushing. If using string floss proves too daunting consider using a floss threader or a similar device that might be easier to maneuver. You can also use a water irrigator, a hand-held device that sprays water under pressure to loosen and flush away between-teeth plaque.
Keep up regular dental visits. While you’re seeing your orthodontist regularly for adjustments, you should also see your general dentist at least every six months or more. Besides dental cleaning, your dentist also monitors for signs of disease and can prescribe preventive measures like antibacterial mouth rinses. Of course, if you see abnormalities, like white spots on your teeth or red, puffy or bleeding gums, contact your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner a problem can be addressed the less impact it may have on your orthodontic treatment and overall oral health.
If you would like more information on caring for teeth and gums while wearing braces, 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
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.”
Pregnancy is a very special and exciting time for expectant women and their families. At this time, many moms-to-be make careful choices to try and do what’s best for themselves and their babies. Wondering what’s the right way to take care of your oral health when you’re expecting? Here are answers to a few of the most common questions about dental care during pregnancy.
Q: Does pregnancy make a woman more susceptible to dental problems?
A: Yes. Pregnancy causes big changes in the levels of certain hormones, and these in turn have a powerful influence on your body. For example, many expectant moms experience food cravings and morning sickness at certain times. Changing hormone levels can also affect your oral health in various ways, including making your gums tender, swollen, and highly sensitive to the harmful bacteria in plaque.
Q: What are “pregnancy tumors” in the mouth?
A: These are benign (non-cancerous) overgrowths of tissue that sometimes develop on the gums during the second trimester. Often appearing between the teeth, these swollen reddish growths are thought to be caused by plaque bacteria. They sometimes go away on their own when pregnancy is over, but may be surgically removed if they don’t.
Q: Is it normal to have bleeding gums during pregnancy?
A: It’s not uncommon, but it does indicate that you need to pay careful attention to your oral hygiene at this time. Pregnancy hormones can cause the tiny blood vessels in your gums to become enlarged; when plaque bacteria are not effectively removed from the mouth, the gums may become inflamed and begin to bleed. This condition is often called “pregnancy gingivitis.” If left untreated, it can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. That’s one reason why regular brushing and flossing are so important during pregnancy — as are routine professional cleanings.
Q: Is it safe to have dental cleanings and checkups during pregnancy?
A: Yes; in fact, it’s a very good idea to have at least one. Studies have shown that women who receive dental treatment during pregnancy face no more risks to their developing babies than those who don’t. On the other hand, poor oral health is known to cause gum disease, and is also suspected of being linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes. Routine dental exams and professional cleanings can help you maintain good oral health and avoid many potential problems during this critical time.
Q: Should I postpone more complicated dental work until after I have a baby?
A: It depends. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found it was safe for pregnant women to have routine procedures like fillings, root canals, and extractions, even if they require local anesthesia. So treatments that are essential to an expectant mother’s health shouldn’t be put off. However, if you’re planning to have cosmetic dental work, it might be best to err on the side of caution and wait until after your baby is born.
Have more questions about oral health during pregnancy? Contact our office or schedule a consultation — and be sure to let us know that you are pregnant, so we can make sure you get the extra attention you need. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”
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