So…you faithfully brush and floss your teeth every day. Kudos to you! Along with regular dental visits, daily hygiene is the best thing you can do to keep your teeth and gums disease-free.
Dental plaque, that thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on teeth, is the number one cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Thoroughly removing it daily through brushing and flossing drastically reduces your chances for disease.
But just the acts of brushing and flossing aren’t enough—both are skills requiring some level of mastery for truly effective plaque removal. Otherwise, any leftover plaque could be an invitation for infection.
So, how can you tell if you’re getting the job done? One way is a quick swipe of the tongue across your teeth after brushing: If they still feel gritty rather than smooth, chances are you left some plaque behind.
A more comprehensive method, though, is with a plaque disclosing agent, a product found in stores that sell dental care items. These kits contain liquids, tablets or swabs that when applied to the teeth right after brushing or flossing temporarily dye any leftover plaque a particular color. You’ll be able to see the results for yourself in the mirror.
A plaque disclosing agent can also reveal patterns of remaining plaque that indicate where you need to improve your hygiene efforts. For example, a scalloping effect along the gum line could mean you’re not adequately reaching high enough in these areas with your brush as well as your floss.
The dye effect is temporary, but it might take a few hours for the staining to fade away. You should also avoid swallowing any solution and avoid getting it on your clothes. And while disclosing agents can help improve your hygiene skills, your dentist or hygienist is still your best resource for dental care advice—so keep up those regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on best 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
You might be a bit apprehensive if your dentist recommends a root canal treatment, especially if it's your first. That's understandable: Popular culture has portrayed the root canal as an unpleasant experience.
But as a routine dental procedure, root canal treatments have been responsible for saving millions of decayed teeth. And, with local anesthesia, the procedure is painless. In fact, a root canal treatment stops pain that often results from advanced tooth decay.
So, let's take the mystery out of the root canal. Here's the 411 on this vital but often misunderstood dental procedure.
Why the name “root canal”? The terms for the procedure—root canal therapy, root canal treatment or simply “root canal”—arise from one of the principal parts of the tooth involved, root canals. These are tiny passageways that lead from the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp, to the tooth roots. While treatment often focuses on decay or diseased tissue within the pulp, the root canals can be infected too and must be included in the later filling process.
Who can perform a root canal? All general dentists are trained in basic root canal procedures. Depending on your tooth's condition, your family dentist may be able to perform it. But if your tooth has an intricate root canal network or some other complication, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth and root treatments. Endodontists can perform advanced root canal techniques and have the specialized equipment to handle intricate cases.
What happens during a root canal? Although details may vary depending on the type of tooth and extent of decay, there's a basic process for all root canal procedures. After numbing the tooth and surrounding tissues, the dentist drills into the tooth to access the inner pulp chamber and root canals, then removes the diseased tissue and disinfects the empty chamber and canals. After preparing the canals, the dentist then fills the empty spaces. This, and subsequent sealing and crowning, protects the tooth from future decay.
After the procedure you may have some minor soreness for a few days, which is usually manageable with mild pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. This discomfort will diminish with time, and your tooth will have a new lease on life.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Treatment.”
While retainers are often viewed as a nuisance, they’re crucial to protect the gains made with bite correction. Without them, all of the progress achieved through braces or clear aligners could be lost.
Here’s why: The same elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament that holds teeth in place also allows them to move incrementally in response to changes in the mouth. That’s why we can move teeth with braces or aligners, which put pressure on the teeth toward a desired direction of movement while the periodontal ligament does the rest.
But the mechanics can also work in reverse: With pressure relieved when the braces are removed, the teeth could revert to their original positions through a kind of “muscle memory.” The light pressure provided by a retainer is enough to keep or “retain” teeth in their new positions.
The best known retainer is a removable appliance. Initially, a patient wears it continuously and only takes it out during oral hygiene. Wear duration may later be reduced to night time only and eventually not at all, depending on a patient’s individual needs.
While effective, removable retainers do have some downsides. Like braces, they’re visible to others. And because they’re removable, they’re frequently misplaced or lost, leading to the added expense of a new one.
An alternative is a bonded retainer, a thin piece of wire attached to the back of the newly moved teeth to keep them in place. Because it’s behind the teeth it’s not visible—and there’s no misplacing it because only a dentist can take it out.
A bonded retainer is a good option, especially if a patient is immature and not as diligent about wearing or keeping up with their appliance. But it can make flossing difficult to perform, and if they’re removed or broken prematurely, the teeth could revert to their former positions.
If you decide to go with a bonded retainer, be sure you get some tips from your dental hygienist on how to floss with it. And if you decide later to have it removed early, be sure to replace it with a removable retainer. Either of these two options can help you keep your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
As we get older, we become more susceptible to chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. We can also begin to see more problems with our teeth and gums.
Whether it's ourselves or an older loved one, oral health deserves a heightened focus as we age on prevention and prompt treatment. Here's what you can do to protect you or a family member's teeth and gums during the aging process.
Make accommodations for oral hygiene. Keeping your mouth clean of disease-causing plaque is important at any age. But it may become harder for someone getting older: Manual dexterity can falter due to conditions like arthritis or Parkinson's Disease. Older adults with decreased physical ability may benefit from larger gripped toothbrushes or those modified with a bicycle handle. Electric power brushes are another option, as are water irrigators that can do as effective a job of flossing as threaded floss.
Watch out for “dry mouth.” Older adults often develop chronic dry mouth due to saliva-reducing medications they might be taking. It's not just an unpleasant feeling: Inadequate saliva deprives the mouth of acid neutralization. As a result, someone with chronic dry mouth has a higher risk for tooth decay. You can reduce dry mouth by talking with your doctor about prescriptions for you or a family member, drinking more water or using saliva boosting products.
Maintain regular dental visits. Regular trips to the dentist are especially important for older adults. Besides professional cleanings, dentists also check for problems that increase with aging, such as oral cancer. An older adult wearing dentures or other oral appliances also needs to have them checked periodically for any adverse changes to fit or wear.
Monitor self-care. As long as they're able, older adults should be encouraged to care daily for their own teeth. But they should also be monitored in these areas, especially if they begin to show signs of decreased mental or physical abilities. So, evaluate how they're doing with brushing and flossing, and look for signs of tooth decay or gum disease.
Aging brings its own set of challenges for maintaining optimum dental health. But taking proactive steps and acting quickly when problems arise will help meet those challenges as they come.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
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