Brushing and flossing every day are important for preventing dental disease. The object is to remove as much bacterial plaque, the thin biofilm most responsible for disease, from your teeth and gums as possible.
But how do you know your hygiene efforts are that effective? You can of course do the “tongue test” â?? feel your teeth with your tongue after brushing and flossing and see if they feel smooth and “squeaky” clean. We can also give you a “report card” at your regular cleaning appointment. There is, however, a more precise way you can find out at home by using a plaque disclosing agent.
A plaque disclosing agent is a formulation that when applied to the teeth will temporarily dye any bacterial plaque present a distinct color. While dental hygienists occasionally apply them, they’re also available over the counter for use at home. They’re usually found in a solution, tablet or swab form in various flavors.
To use the product you first brush and floss, then swish the disclosing liquid around in your mouth for about 30 seconds before spitting it out (or chew the tablet or apply the swab as directed). The agent will react with any remaining plaque and dye it a bright color. There are even two-tone agents available that can differentiate between old and new plaque and dye them different colors.
Examining your teeth in a mirror will give you a good idea where you need to concentrate your attention when brushing and flossing. If, for example, you see dyed plaque more along the gum line and less in other places, then that’s where you should focus your hygiene efforts.
While the dye will eventually wear off on its own, you should take the opportunity to brush and floss again to remove any remaining dyed plaque. Not only does this provide a more thorough cleaning at that moment, you’ll also get a better sense of how “thoroughness” feels for future brushing and flossing.
It’s always good to know how well you’re doing with your dental hygiene efforts. A plaque disclosing agent can give you just the right feedback to help you improve.
If you would like more information on proper oral hygiene habits, 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.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
The various structures in your mouth — your teeth and gums, of course, as well as periodontal tissues that hold teeth in place within the jaw — all function together to create your smile. This includes muscles like the frenum, a fold of muscle tissue that connects the gums to the upper lip, which helps pull the lip upward when you smile.
Unfortunately, an overly large frenum could contribute to an unattractive space between your two upper front teeth. The problem occurs when the frenum grows beyond its normal range and runs between the front teeth to connect with the gums behind them at the forefront of the roof of your mouth. The resulting space that may develop can be closed with orthodontics, but unless the excess frenum tissue is addressed the space may eventually reopen.
The frenum is just one cause among many for a noticeably wide space, including bite problems (malocclusions), finger-sucking habits or missing teeth. We would, therefore, need to examine your mouth to determine the exact cause before beginning any treatment. If indeed the frenum is the source of the problem, it will be necessary to ultimately remove the excess portion through a procedure known as a frenectomy.
A frenectomy is a minor surgical procedure performed by a periodontist, oral surgeon or a general dentist with surgical training. After numbing the area with local anesthesia, the tissue behind the teeth is dissected or reduced in size with a small scalpel or a surgical laser. The wound is then closed with a few stitches; any post-surgical discomfort is usually minimal and managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication. The wound will completely heal within a few weeks.
Most frenectomies are performed after orthodontics to close the space. Removing it prior to tooth movement may result in scar tissue that prevents the space from closing. It’s also easier for the surgeon to gauge how much tissue to remove after space closure to avoid removing too much, which can leave a “black” triangular hole where gum tissue should normally be.
Treating an abnormally large frenum isn’t difficult, but it needs to be coordinated with orthodontic treatment for the best outcome. The end result is a smile that’s both healthy and attractive.
If you would like more information on teeth spacing problems, 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 “Space between Front Teeth.”
Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life, but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables.
That’s just one reason why it’s important to replace missing teeth as soon as possible. There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures.
Removable dentures are the classic “false teeth” that you put in during the day and take out at night. Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look as replacement teeth, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining).
Overdentures are removable dentures that hook onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. But overdentures, too, are not meant to be worn all of the time.
Fixed dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally a period of a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
A third of people treated for cancer develop adverse side effects within their mouth. But while these effects can be devastating to teeth and gums, there are ways to minimize the damage.
Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation work by destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also destroy normal cells. The accumulation of this “collateral damage” ultimately affects uninvolved areas and organ systems of the body. Chemotherapy, for example, can interrupt bone marrow blood cell formation and decrease the body's ability to fight infection.
These ripple effects can eventually reach the mouth. It's not uncommon for cancer patients to develop mouth sores or see an increase in tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The treatments may also inhibit saliva flow: because saliva neutralizes acid and provides other benefits that lower disease risk, dental disease is more likely to develop when the salivary flow is reduced.
The first step to minimizing these effects is to improve oral health before cancer treatment begins. An unhealthy mouth vastly increases the chances for problems during treatment. Cooperating with your cancer physicians, we should attempt to treat any diseases present as soon as possible.
During cancer treatment we should also monitor your oral health and intervene when appropriate. If at all possible, you should continue regular dental visits for cleaning and checkups, and more so if conditions warrant. We can also protect your teeth and gums with protective measures like antibacterial mouth rinses, saliva stimulation or high-potency fluoride applications for your enamel.
What's most important, though, is what you can do for yourself to care for your mouth during the treatment period. Be sure to brush daily with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. You can use a weak solution of one-quarter teaspoon each of salt and baking soda to a quart of warm water to rinse your mouth and soothe any sores. And be sure to drink plenty of water to reduce dry mouth.
While you're waging your battle against cancer, stay vigilant about your teeth and gums. Taking care of them will ensure that after you've won your war against this malignant foe your mouth will be healthy too.
If you would like more information on taking care of your teeth and gums during cancer 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
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