To have a beautiful, healthy smile you’ll need to keep those pearly whites clean and plaque-free. Good dental hygiene, though, isn’t a solo act: It’s a duet best performed by you and your dental health provider. While you’re responsible for brushing and flossing every day, your dental hygienist gives your teeth a thorough cleaning every six months (or more). The American Dental Hygienists Association commemorates every October as National Dental Hygiene Month to recognize both the importance of hygiene and the professionals who assist you in keeping your teeth as clean as possible.
The focus for this emphasis on brushing, flossing and professional cleaning? A slick, slimy substance called dental plaque. This thin film of bacteria and food particles builds up on tooth surfaces after eating and gives rise to infections that cause tooth decay and gum disease. And it doesn’t take long without proper brushing and flossing, for a gum infection called gingivitis to start in only a matter of days. Daily hygiene reduces your risk of that happening: Brushing removes plaque from the broad, biting surfaces of the teeth, while flossing takes care of the areas between teeth that brushing can’t access.
So, if you can remove most of the plaque yourself, why see a dental hygienist? For two reasons: First, while daily hygiene takes care of the lion’s share of plaque, it’s difficult to clear away all of it. Over time, even a small amount of missed plaque can increase your disease risk. However, a professional cleaning that uses special hand tools and ultrasonic equipment can easily clean away this leftover plaque.
Second, some of the soft plaque can interact with saliva to form a hardened, calcified form called calculus or tartar. It can harbor bacteria just like the softer version, and it’s next to impossible to dislodge with brushing and flossing. Again, a trained hygienist with the right tools can effectively break up and remove calculus.
There are also additional benefits that come from regular dental visits to your hygienist. For one, hygienists can provide practical instruction and tips to help you brush and floss more effectively. And, after cleaning your teeth, they can point out areas with heavy plaque and calculus deposits. That can help you focus more of your future brushing and flossing efforts on those areas.
So, a shout-out to all the dental hygienists out there: These dedicated professionals work hard to keep your teeth clean. And a big high-five to you, too: Without your daily commitment to brushing and flossing, your smile wouldn’t be as beautiful—and healthy.
If you would like more information about best dental hygiene practices, please contact us to schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Hygiene Visit” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Although naturally resilient, your teeth still face some significant dangers. Tooth decay and gum disease, “enemies” within the mouth, can severely damage your teeth and eventually lead to their loss.
But there are also external dangers just as devastating — traumatic injuries that can happen in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, we can treat even the most serious of these injuries and increase the chances of an injured tooth’s survival.
Here are some of those common dental injuries:
Chipped or Fractured Teeth. This is a case where a part of the tooth has been broken but it’s still firmly rooted in the mouth. If small portions of the enamel or dentin (the next underlying layer of the tooth) have been chipped, we may be able to reattach them or fill the affected tooth area with a natural-colored filling (larger broken portions may require a complete crown). If the damage has injured or exposed the inner pulp, a root canal treatment might be in order to prevent infection and reduce pain.
Dislocated (Luxated) Teeth. A dislocation occurs when the impact moves the tooth in an abnormal way in the socket. We must first reposition the tooth and, if need be, stabilize it by splinting it to neighboring teeth. This type of injury may also require a root canal treatment.
Knocked out (Avulsed) Teeth. It’s quite possible to replant a knocked out tooth — if you act quickly. Without touching the root, the tooth should be rinsed with cold, clean water and then placed into the empty socket within five minutes of the injury. If placement isn’t possible, the tooth should be placed in a container with milk or with some of the injured person’s collected saliva (to keep the root from drying out), and sent with the injured person to treatment. We need to see the injured person as soon as possible to make sure the tooth is repositioned properly and take other measures to protect it. We’ll also need to monitor it for proper healing for awhile.
Although some injuries may be too severe to save a traumatized tooth, seeking immediate treatment certainly increases the chances for survival. If you or a family member experiences such an injury, keep calm and contact us immediately.
If you would like more information on treating dental injuries, 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 “Trauma & Nerve Damage to Teeth.”
When you awake in the morning do you still feel exhausted? Are you irritable during the day, unable to think or focus clearly? Is your loud snoring bothering your bed partner?
If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, you may have sleep apnea. This happens when an obstruction (usually the tongue) blocks the airway during sleep, preventing you from breathing. Your brain notices the drop in oxygen and wakes you to re-open the airway. The arousal lasts only a few seconds, and you may not even notice. But because it can happen many times a night, these waking episodes can rob you of the deep sleep your body needs.
Sleep apnea is more serious than simply waking up grumpy. Over time, it could contribute to dangerous health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. If you’re noticing any of these signs, it’s important then that you undergo a complete examination by a physician or dentist trained in sleep-related issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce sleep apnea. One of the most common is continuous airway pressure (CPAP): This method uses a small pump that pushes pressurized air through a face mask worn while the patient sleeps. The forced air keeps the airway open and reduces apnea episodes.
While it’s an effective method, it can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to use—some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask while they sleep. But if your sleep apnea symptoms are mild to moderate, your dentist may be able to provide an alternative therapy with a specially designed oral appliance.
Similar to a mouthguard or retainer, a sleep apnea appliance worn during sleep holds the lower jaw forward, which helps move the tongue away from the airway. It’s much less cumbersome (and noisy) than a CPAP machine. And your dentist can custom design and fabricate your appliance for a comfortable fit.
Not all cases of sleep apnea can benefit from such an appliance, or even from CPAP therapy. Extreme cases could require surgery to remove tissues blocking the airway. But most sleep apnea patients don’t require this invasive intervention. Getting checked by a qualified medical professional could open the door to a more convenient and effective way to a better night’s sleep.
When you’re buying a tool or appliance, you compare brands for the best quality you can afford. There’s another important item that deserves the same level of scrutiny: your toothbrush. Choosing the right one for you can make a huge difference in your oral hygiene effectiveness.
But a visit to your store’s dental care aisle can dim your enthusiasm. You have plenty of options involving all manner of shapes, sizes and features. Perhaps too many: After a while, the sheer number of choices can paralyze your decision-making process.
You can streamline this selection process by concentrating on a few important toothbrush basics. First up for consideration: the bristles. While you may think a good stiff brush would be best, it’s actually the opposite—most dental professionals recommend softer bristles. That’s because hard bristles can potentially damage your teeth and gums over time.
Softer bristles are gentler on your teeth and just as effective for removing plaque, if you use the right technique and thoroughly brush all tooth surfaces. And look for rounded bristles, which are friendlier to your gums.
Next, look for a brush that feels right in your hand. If you have problems with manual dexterity, look for one with an oversized handle. Some brushes come with angled necks and tapered heads, which you may find effective in reaching less accessible back teeth. This might mean trying different brushes until you get one that’s right for you. Don’t worry, though, you’re not buying a brush for life—in fact, you should change out your brush every three to six months.
You’ll also rarely go wrong buying a toothbrush with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance on the packaging. This seal signifies the toothbrush has undergone testing and met the ADA’s standards for hygiene effectiveness. While some manufacturers of effective brushes don’t pursue this seal, you can be sure one with it has passed the test of quality.
It makes all the difference in the world having the right tool for the job. Be sure your toothbrush is the right one for you.
If you would like more information on toothbrushes and other dental care products, 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 “Sizing up Toothbrushes: How to Choose the Right Brush for Optimal Oral Health.”
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