Posts for: December, 2014
If you’re in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, perhaps you’ve made familiar promises like losing weight, running a 5k race or joining a gym. How about this one: “I resolve this year to take better care of my teeth.” Better yet, you needn’t wait for the next January 1st — you can begin better oral hygiene habits today.
Although maybe not as glamorous as other self-improvement habits, oral hygiene still promises huge benefits not only for your teeth and gums, but also for your general health and possibly your wallet. Daily brushing and flossing reduces your risk of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, which can in turn reduce your long-term dental care costs. Besides, clean teeth just look better!
If brushing your teeth hasn’t been a regular habit for you, here are a few tips to get you on the right track:
Pick the right brush. For most people, a soft bristled, multi-tufted toothbrush is the best choice. If you’re not sure what kind of brush to use, ask us for recommendations.
Look for the basics in toothpaste. Store shelves are filled with toothpastes promising everything from teeth whitening to tartar control. Just be sure of two things: that the product contains fluoride (proven to reduce the risk of tooth decay) and it has the American Dental Association’s Seal of Approval. If you have sensitive teeth, ask us about toothpaste options that address this or other special situations.
Easy does it with the technique. Over-vigorous brushing can harm your teeth’s enamel and cause gum recession. Hold the brush handle between your fingertips with no more pressure than you would hold a pencil. Position the brush-head at the gum line at about a 45-degree angle and gently clean all your tooth surfaces. If you’re trying this approach for the first time, the task should take about two minutes.
Visit your dentist twice a year to keep on track. Think of your dental healthcare team as your “personal trainers” in oral hygiene. Besides monitoring your overall dental health and removing hard to reach plaque through semi-annual cleanings, they’ll also coach you on your new lifetime habit of better oral hygiene.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene, 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 “Oral Hygiene.”
Lasers have transformed our everyday lives, especially in healthcare. These intense beams of light of a single wavelength have revolutionized all manner of diagnostics and treatments, from general surgery to cosmetic therapy.
Dentistry has also been influenced by the laser revolution. Here are just a few of the areas where they’re growing in use and popularity.
Early disease detection. Laser instruments can take advantage of “fluorescence,” the tendency of bacteria to “glow” when exposed to certain wavelengths of light. This is proving more effective in detecting early tooth decay in pits and fissures (very tiny areas in a tooth’s biting surface) than traditional needle-like probing instruments called dental explorers. Newer lasers can now detect the same fluorescent qualities in soft tissues, which may reduce the detection time for oral cancer and make the difference between life and death.
Dental caries treatment. Lasers have become an alternative to the dental drill in treating teeth with dental caries (decay). Although with larger cavities lasers are somewhat slower than the conventional drill, they truly shine when it comes to early enamel caries and small cavities because they can be quite precise in the amount of tooth structure they remove. This feature allows them to be less invasive than a dental drill.
Periodontal treatment. Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection caused mainly by bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that have adhered to tooth surfaces. Lasers are emerging as an alternative to conventional periodontal (gum) surgery to treat voids or spaces below the gum line called periodontal pockets that have formed because of gum tissue detachment as supporting bone is lost. With their ability to target and destroy infected tissue without damaging nearby healthy tissue, lasers can achieve similar outcomes as traditional techniques but with less tissue damage and discomfort to patients afterward.
Research and development into laser technology continues to perfect these and other applications that promise to make dental procedures less invasive and more comfortable for patients.
Bacteria are bad… right? They can cause diseases like pneumonia, strep throat, and tooth decay. They are the reason we wash our hands with soap (or antibacterial gels) and cook (or refrigerate) our food. Yet it turns out that bacteria are also necessary to keep our bodies healthy — and new research is showing just how important these tiny microorganisms are to our well-being. Here are five facts you should know about bacteria.
The bacteria in our bodies outnumber our cells by a factor of 10 to 1. An estimated 100 trillion bacteria live inside the average human — but because they’re so small, they make up only 1-3 percent of our body mass.
The collection of bacteria we harbor is called our “microbiome.” Like the groundbreaking study of human DNA called the Human Genome Project, recent research is leading to a “map” of our bacterial makeup. This revolutionary study is called — you guessed it — the Human Microbiome Project.
No two people have exactly the same microbiome. But in general, the bacteria that live in a particular spot on the body (the mouth, for example) play the same roles in different individuals. Research has also shown that a healthy microbiome looks very different from a diseased microbiome.
In terms of bacteria, the mouth is one of the best-understood areas of the body. It has long been known that tooth decay can result when “bad” oral bacteria begin to outnumber their “good” counterparts. Now we are gaining a better understanding of how certain lifestyle factors — like cigarette smoking — may influence the bacterial balance in the mouth.
Understanding the microbiome may lead to new treatments for disease. Researchers hope that one day, certain serious diseases could be controlled by bacterial “transplants” that re-balance an individual’s microbiome. Maintaining a healthy microbiome could also help prevent many diseases.
So by all means, don’t stop brushing your teeth or washing your hands — this helps control bacteria that could harm you — but do remember that not all bacteria are harmful. One day, an infusion of bacteria might just cure your illness.
Ah, the baby teeth: those cute little pearl buttons that start to appear in a child’s mouth at around 6 to 9 months of age. Like pacifiers and bedtime stories, they’ll be gone before you know it — the last usually disappear by age 10-13. So if the dentist tells you that your young child needs a root canal, you might wonder why — isn’t that tooth going to be lost anyway?
The answer is yes, it is — but while it’s here, it has some important roles to play in your child’s development. For one thing, baby teeth perform the same functions in kids as they do in adults: Namely, they enable us to chew, bite, and speak properly. The primary teeth also have a valuable social purpose: they allow us to smile properly. If a baby tooth is lost prematurely at age 6, the child may suffer detrimental effects for five years or more — and that’s a long time for someone so young!
Even more important, baby teeth have a critical function in the developing mouth and jaw: Each one holds a space open for the permanent tooth that will eventually replace it — and it doesn’t “let go” until the new tooth is ready to come in. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost too soon, other teeth adjacent to the opening may drift into the empty space. This often means that the permanent teeth may erupt (emerge above the gum line) in the wrong place — or sometimes, not at all.
The condition that occurs when teeth aren’t in their proper positions is called malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite). It can cause problems with eating and speaking, and often results in a less-than-perfect-looking smile. It’s the primary reason why kids get orthodontic treatment — which can be expensive and time-consuming. So it makes sense to try and save baby teeth whenever possible.
Procedures like a root canal — or the similar but less-invasive pulpotomy — are often effective at preserving a baby tooth that would otherwise be lost. But if it isn’t possible to save the tooth, an appliance called a space maintainer may help. This is a small metal appliance that is attached to one tooth; its purpose is to keep a space open where the permanent tooth can come in.
If your child is facing the premature loss of a primary tooth, we will be sure to discuss all the options with you. It may turn out that preserving the tooth is the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. If you have questions about your child’s baby teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
You probably already know that using tobacco causes significant health risks: It increases your odds of getting various cancers and coronary diseases, to name just a few. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to kick the habit, even when they know they should. Tooth loss is another issue that can cause trouble for your health, in the form of bone loss, malnutrition, and social or psychological problems. Dental implants are a great way to replace missing teeth — but does smoking complicate the process of getting implants?
The short answer is yes, smoking can make implant placement a bit riskier — but in the big picture, it doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) have this procedure done if it’s needed.
Smoking, as you know, has harmful effects in your mouth (even leaving aside the risk of oral cancer). The hot gases can burn the oral cavity and damage salivary glands. Nicotine in smoke reduces blood flow to the soft tissues, which can affect the immune response and slow the processes of healing. At the same time, smoking promotes the growth of disease-causing oral bacteria.
How does this affect dental implants? Essentially, smoking creates a higher risk that implants may not heal properly after they are placed, and makes them more likely to fail over time. Studies have shown that smokers have an implant failure rate that’s twice as great as non-smokers. Does this mean that if you smoke, you shouldn't consider implants to replace missing or failing teeth?
Not necessarily. On the whole, implants are the most successful method of replacing missing teeth. In fact, the overall long-term survival rate of implants for both smokers and non-smokers is well over 90 percent — meaning that only a small percentage don’t work as they should. This is where it’s important to get the expert opinion of an implant specialist, who can help you decide whether implants are right for your particular situation.
If you do smoke, is there anything you can do to better your odds for having a successful dental implant? Yes: quit now! (Implants are a good excuse to start a smoking-cessation program.) But if you can’t, at least stop smoking for one week before and two weeks after implant placement. And if that is not possible, at least go on a smoking diet: restrict the number of cigarettes you smoke by 50% (we know you can at least do that!) Try to follow good oral hygiene practices at all times, and see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.