Keeping your teeth and gums healthy isn't always easy—and it's even more of a challenge if you're wearing orthodontic appliances like braces. That's why a fair percentage of patients wearing braces also contend with tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
The reason is simple: The orthodontic hardware makes it difficult to fully reach all parts of teeth surfaces with your toothbrush or floss. As a result, you can miss removing some of the accumulated plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles most responsible for dental disease. And it only takes a short amount of time (just days with gum disease) for a bacterial infection to begin.
But while avoiding dental disease is difficult while wearing braces, it's not impossible. Here are 4 ways you can minimize your dental disease risk while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Be diligent with your daily hygiene. Even though it's more difficult, don't slack on daily brushing and flossing. It does require more time to work the brush around and between the wires and brackets, but taking the time will help you clear away more plaque you might otherwise miss. It may also help to switch to a multi-tufted, microfine bristled toothbrush if you're not already using one.
Use a water irrigator. If straight thread flossing is proving too difficult (and even with a floss threader), try using a water irrigator. This device emits a pulsating spray of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque between teeth. Clinical studies consistently show water flossing is effective for reducing plaque in orthodontic patients.
Lower your sugar intake. Sugar left over in the mouth is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay or gum disease. Reducing sugary foods and snacks can help reduce bacterial populations and lower your disease risk. You can also fortify your oral health with healthier foods that contain calcium and other minerals.
Keep up regular dental visits. In addition to your orthodontic adjustments, don't neglect your regular visits with your family dentist. Semi-annual cleanings help remove any plaque and calculus (calcified plaque) you may have missed. Your dentist can also monitor your health and boost your disease prevention through topical fluoride treatments or prescribed antibacterial mouth rinses.
If you would like more information on dental care 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.”
Over the last few months, federal, state and local officials have taken extraordinary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, some of these measures are beginning to ease. But for many of us, lingering concerns about exposure to the virus will continue to affect our daily lives—including routine activities like dental visits.
We may be asking the question “Is it safe?” for our everyday activities for some time to come. But in regard to seeing your dentist, the answer to that question is an unequivocal “Yes.” That's due not only to enhanced precautions put in place because of COVID-19, but also to longstanding practices in the dental profession to minimize the chances of infection.
In recognition this June of National Safety Month, we'd like to put your mind at ease that resuming dental care won't put you at undue risk of COVID-19 or any other infectious disease. Here's how:
Protocols. Everything we do to protect patients and staff from infection is part of an overall plan. This isn't optional: Both governments and professional organizations require it of every dental practitioner. Our plan, based on best practices for infection control, details the procedures we'll use to keep everyone involved in dental treatment, including you, safe from infection.
Barriers. Wearing masks, gloves or other protective equipment isn't a new practice arising from the current crisis—barrier protection has been a critical part of infection control protocols for many years. Rest assured that even during the most routine dental procedures, our staff will wear appropriate barrier equipment to reduce the possibility of infection during treatment.
Disinfection. Viruses and other infectious agents can live for some time on surfaces. To close this possible route of infection, we clean all clinical surfaces between patient visits with approved disinfectants. Instruments and equipment are thoroughly sterilized after each use. And any waste generated during treatment is separated from common waste and disposed of carefully following hazardous waste removal protocols.
It may be a slow return to many aspects of life we once took for granted. Your dental care doesn't have to be one of them. We were prepared before this crisis, and we'll continue to be prepared when it's over to keep you safe from infection.
If you would like more information about dental office safety, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
It's National Dairy Month and time to pay tribute to the aurochs, those shaggy creatures who once roamed the Fertile Crescent until people began domesticating them about 8,000 years ago. Today we call them cows, the source of nutritious dairy that can help us, among other things, maintain a healthier mouth.
Since the first auroch roundup, we humans have been drinking milk and eating cheese with abandon—excepting those who suffer from lactose intolerance or who avoid dairy for other reasons, such as the high saturated fat content of some dairy products. However, dairy confers many health benefits, so if you haven't quite made up your mind about this particular food group, you should consider that milk, cheese and other forms of dairy are chock-full of nutrients. And, it just so happens, some of these nutrients are especially beneficial for your teeth.
Calcium. You can get this important mineral from different foods, but dairy is loaded with it. Similar to our bones, tooth enamel absorbs calcium, which in turn strengthens it against decay.
Phosphorus. Phosphorus, another mineral found in dairy, is highly beneficial for overall health. In regard to teeth, phosphorus helps calcium maximize its strengthening ability in enamel.
Vitamin D. This nutrient helps your enamel absorb calcium, whereas a vitamin D deficiency increases your susceptibility to both tooth decay and gum disease.
Casein. This dairy protein can form a protective film over teeth. Coupled with other nutrients, this further reduces your risk of tooth decay.
Eating dairy is definitely beneficial for your dental health. If needed, you can select lactose-free dairy products. And to cut down on saturated fat, you can choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. You can, for example, drink non-fat or low-fat milk, or indulge in some non-fat Greek yogurt with granola or in a fruit smoothie. Cheese is also an excellent type of dairy for teeth because it reduces decay-causing acidity during and after meals. So try eating a bite of cheese by itself, or experiment by adding it to vegetable dishes or salads.
As in most things, incorporate dairy into your diet in moderation. A little of this popular food group can go a long way toward keeping your teeth healthy.
If you would like more information about nutrition and your dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “Nutrition: Its Role in General & Oral Health.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
We all need a good night's sleep, both in quantity and quality. That's why the Better Sleep Council promotes Better Sleep Month every May with helpful tips on making sure you're not only getting enough sleep, but that it's also restful and therapeutic. The latter is crucial, especially if you have one problem that can diminish sleep quality: nocturnal teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is the involuntary movement of the jaws outside of normal functioning like eating or speaking. You unconsciously grind teeth against teeth, increasing the pressure of biting forces beyond their normal range. It can occur while awake, but it is more common during sleep.
The habit is fairly widespread in children, thought to result from an immature chewing mechanism. Children normally outgrow the habit, and most healthcare providers don't consider it a major concern.
But teeth grinding can also carry over or arise in adulthood, fueled in large part by stress. It then becomes concerning: Chronic teeth grinding can accelerate normal age-related tooth wear and weaken or damage teeth or dental work. It may also contribute to jaw joint pain and dysfunction related to temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
If you notice frequent jaw tenderness or pain, or a family member says they've heard you grind your teeth at night, you should see us for a full examination. If you are diagnosed with teeth grinding, we can consider different means to bring it under control, depending on your case's severity and underlying causes.
Here are some things you can do:
Alter lifestyle habits. Alcohol and tobacco use have been associated with teeth grinding. To reduce episodes of nighttime teeth grinding, consider modifying (or, as with tobacco, stopping) your use of these and related substances. Altering your lifestyle in this way will likely also improve your overall health.
Manage stress. Teeth grinding can be a way the body “lets off steam” from the accumulated stress of difficult life situations. You may be able to reduce it through better stress management. Learn and practice stress reduction techniques like meditation or other forms of relaxation. You may also find counseling, biofeedback or group therapy beneficial.
Seek dental solutions. In severe cases, there are possible dental solutions to reducing the biting forces generated by teeth grinding. One way is to adjust the bite by removing some of the structure from teeth that may be more prominent than others. We may also be able to create a bite guard to wear at night that prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other.
These and other techniques can be used individually or together to create a customized treatment plan just for you. Minimizing teeth grinding will help ensure you're getting the most out of your sleep time, while protecting your dental health too.
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