It gradually dawned on our ancient ancestors that a healthy mouth was usually a clean one. To achieve that blessed oral state, they chewed on tree bark or employed primitive toothbrushes like bamboo sticks with hog hair bristles attached to their ends.
Today, we have better tools and methods for achieving a cleaner and healthier mouth. But these advancements do little good if a) we don't use them on a daily basis, and b) we're not proficient with them.
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, highlighting once again the importance of these two points for keeping teeth and gums as clean as possible. First and foremost, oral hygiene should never take a holiday—even a day or two of accumulated plaque, the bacterial biofilm that builds up on teeth surfaces, can trigger the occurrence of gum disease or tooth decay.
But while "showing up" every day to brush and floss goes a long way toward a healthy mouth, you also need to perform these tasks well. An inadequate job can leave residual plaque that could still cause disease.
Here are a few handy tips to improve your oral hygiene routine.
Do a thorough job. Plaque can be stubborn, clinging to the nooks and crannies of teeth and around the gum lines—and it can easily be missed while brushing. Be sure, then, to thoroughly work your toothbrush's bristles into all dental surfaces. Your efforts should take about 2 minutes to complete.
Don't be too aggressive. You may need "elbow grease" to clean your floors, but not your teeth. Too much pressure applied while brushing can damage enamel and gums. Instead, go easy when you brush and let the toothpaste's mild abrasives do the heavy lifting.
Use flossing tools. Many people avoid flossing because they find it too hard or cumbersome with traditional flossing thread. If this is a problem for you, consider using a flossing tool—a floss threader or pick, or even a water flosser appliance that uses pressurized water to break up and remove plaque.
Take the "tongue test." Wondering how well you're doing with your hygiene efforts? One quick way to find out is the "tongue test": Simply swipe your tongue across your teeth just after brushing and flossing. If they feel gritty rather than smooth, you may have left some plaque behind.
Besides your personal hygiene efforts, be sure you also have your teeth cleaned regularly by a dental hygienist to rid your mouth of any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque)—these can also cause dental disease. Professional care coupled with proficient daily hygiene will help ensure you have cleaner mouth and better dental health.
If you would like more information on the best ways to incorporate oral hygiene into your life, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
Our primary aim as dentists is to preserve teeth. There are times, however, when preserving a tooth is no longer worth the effort and we must recommend removing it. Fortunately, extracted teeth can be replaced with a functional and attractive restoration.
Today's top tooth-replacement option is the dental implant. Composed of a titanium metal post imbedded into the jawbone, a single dental implant can replace an individual tooth or a series of implants can support other restorations for multiple teeth. Besides being incredibly life-like, dental implants are highly durable and can last for decades.
But dental implants aren't an optimal choice for everyone. Their cost often matches their status as the premier tooth replacement method. And because they require a minimum amount of bone for proper implantation, they're not always feasible for patients with extensive bone loss.
But even if dental implants aren't right for you, and you want a fixed restoration rather than dentures, you still have options. What's more, they've been around for decades!
One is a bonded crown, which works particularly well for a tooth excessively damaged by decay, excessive wear or fractures. After removing all of the damaged portions and shaping the remaining tooth, we cement a life-like crown, custom created for that particular tooth, over the remaining structure.
Besides improving appearance, a crown also protects the tooth and restores its function. One thing to remember, though, is although the crown itself is impervious to disease, the remainder of the natural tooth isn't. It's important then to brush and floss around crowned teeth like any other tooth and see a dentist regularly for cleanings.
Dental bridges are a fixed solution for extracted teeth. It's composed of prosthetic teeth to replace those missing bonded together with supporting crowns on both ends. These crowned teeth are known as abutments, and, depending on how many teeth are being replaced, we may need to increase the number of abutments to support the bridge.
Although durable, crowns or bridges typically don't match the longevity of an implant. And, implants don't require the permanent alteration of support teeth as is necessary with a bridge. But when the choice of implants isn't on the table, these traditional restorations can be an effective dental solution.
If you would like more information on crown or bridge restorations, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
If you're a fan of former NFL player and current host of Good Morning America Michael Strahan, then you're well aware of his unique smile feature—a noticeable gap between his front teeth. So far, Strahan has nixed any dental work to correct the gap, often saying it was part of "who I am."
But if you follow him on Twitter, you may have been shocked by a video he posted on March 30th of him sitting in a dentist's chair. Calling it a "moment fifty years in the making," Strahan said, "Let's do it." After some brief video shots of a dental procedure, Strahan revealed a new gapless smile.
But some of his Twitter fans weren't buying it—given the timing, they sniffed an elaborate April Fool's Day ruse. It turns out their spider senses were on target: Strahan appeared once again after the video with his signature gap still intact, grinning over the reaction to his successful prank.
The uproar from his practical joke is all the more hilarious because Strahan has let it be known he's truly comfortable with his smile "imperfection." But it also took him awhile to reach that point of acceptance, a well-known struggle for many people. On the one hand, they want to fix their dental flaws and improve their smile. But then again, they're hesitant to part with the little "imperfections" that make them unique.
If that's you, here are some tips to help you better navigate what best to do about improving your smile.
See a cosmetic dentist. A cosmetic dentist is singularly focused on smile enhancement, and particularly in helping patients decide what changes they want or need. If you're looking for such a dentist, seek recommendations from friends and family who've changed their smiles in ways you find appealing.
Get a "smile analysis." Before considering specific cosmetic measures, it's best to first get the bigger picture through an examination called a "smile analysis." Besides identifying the defects in your smile, a cosmetic dentist will use the analysis to gauge the effect any proposed improvements may have on your overall facial appearance.
Embrace reality. A skilled cosmetic dentist will also evaluate your overall oral health and assess how any cosmetic procedures might impact it. This might change your expectations if it whittles down the list of enhancement possibilities, but it may help determine what you can do to get the best improved smile possible.
A great cosmetic dentist will work diligently with you to achieve a new smile that's uniquely you. Even if, like Michael Strahan, you decide to keep a trademark "imperfection," there may still be room for other enhancements that will change your appearance for the better.
When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).
About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.
While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.
While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.
You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.
Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.
ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.
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