Little things add up. Like your three meals a day, which could total over 87,000 by the time you're eighty. If you average a full night's sleep every night, you will have whiled away over a quarter of a million hours in slumber by your diamond birthday. And if you're the typical American, you will also have spent over 900 hours (or nearly 40 days) brushing your teeth.
If that last example sounds like a lot, it's actually not: If it's a daily habit, that's about two minutes of brushing a day. But that little bit of time could have an incredible impact on your dental health over a lifetime. That's why dental providers commemorate October as National Dental Hygiene Month to call attention to just how important those 900-plus hours can be to a healthy mouth.
Brushing is important because of what a few strains of bacteria can do to your oral health. While most of your mouth's microscopic inhabitants do no harm (and some are even beneficial), the malevolent few cause tooth decay and gum disease, both of which could lead to tooth loss.
These bacteria live in and feed off of a thin biofilm of food particles called dental plaque. Over time, plaque and tartar (a hardened, calcified form) can build up on tooth surfaces. As it grows, so does the mouth's bacterial population and the risk for disease. In fact, just a few days of undisturbed plaque growth is enough time for a gum infection to get started.
Brushing your teeth removes this plaque accumulation, which reduces the bacterial levels in your mouth. A thorough brushing of all surfaces usually takes about two minutes, but it must be done every day to keep plaque at bay. So, yes, a little time spent brushing every day can be a big deal. That said, though, it's not the be-all and end-all of oral hygiene. You should also floss daily since plaque accumulates just as readily in the spaces between teeth where brushing can't reach. We, along with the American Dental Association, recommend brushing twice a day and flossing once a day for optimal oral health.
But no matter how proficient you are with brushing and flossing, you may still miss some spots. Be sure, then, that you also see us regularly for dental cleanings to thoroughly clean your teeth of plaque and fully minimize your risk of dental disease.
Oral hygiene only takes a little of your time each day. But it does add up—not only in the “days” you'll spend doing it, but in a lifetime of better dental health.
If you would like more information about getting the most out of your daily oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
The top cause for adult tooth loss isn't decay or trauma—it's periodontal (gum) disease. The disease may begin with the gums, but it can ultimately damage underlying bone enough to weaken its support of teeth, causing them to loosen and fall out.
But that's not the end of the havoc gum disease can wreak. The consequences of an uncontrolled infection can ripple beyond the mouth and worsen other health problems like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis.
The common link between gum disease and these other conditions is the inflammatory response, a natural mechanism to fight infection caused by disease or trauma. This mechanism changes blood vessels to increase blood flow to hasten the travel of protective white blood cells to the injury or disease location.
But if this mechanism that supports healing becomes chronic, it can actually do harm. The chronic inflammation that occurs with gum disease can damage mouth structures, just as inflammation from diabetes or arthritis can damage other parts of the body. And any form of chronic inflammation, even that found in gum disease, can worsen other inflammatory diseases.
You can lessen this link between gum disease and other conditions—as well as improve your oral health—by preventing or seeking prompt treatment for any periodontal infection in the following ways:
- Practice daily brushing and flossing to clear away bacterial dental plaque, the main cause of gum disease;
- See your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups;
- See your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, common signs of a gum infection;
- Stop smoking to lower your risk for both gum disease and tooth decay;
- Adopt a healthy diet, which can help you lose weight (a factor in diabetes and other inflammatory diseases) and strengthen your immune system;
- Manage other inflammatory conditions to lessen their effect on your gum disease risk.
Taking these steps can help you avoid the inflammation caused by gum disease that might also affect the rest your body. Seeking prompt treatment at the first sign of an infection will also minimize the damage to your teeth and gums and the effect it could have on the rest of your health.
If you would like more information on prevention and treatment of gum disease, 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 “Gum Disease & Systemic Health.”
You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that someone playing hockey, racing motocross or duking it out in an ultimate fighter match had a tooth knocked out. But acting in a movie? That's exactly what happened to Howie Mandel, well-known comedian and host of TV's America's Got Talent and Deal or No Deal. And not just any tooth, but one of his upper front teeth—with the other one heavily damaged in the process.
The accident occurred during the 1987 filming of Walk Like a Man in which Mandel played a young man raised by wolves. In one scene, a co-star was supposed to yank a bone from Howie's mouth. The actor, however, pulled the bone a second too early while Howie still had it clamped between his teeth. Mandel says you can see the tooth fly out of his mouth in the movie.
But trooper that he is, Mandel immediately had two crowns placed to restore the damaged teeth and went back to filming. The restoration was a good one, and all was well with his smile for the next few decades.
Until, that is, he began to notice a peculiar discoloration pattern. Years of coffee drinking had stained his other natural teeth, but not the two prosthetic (“false”) crowns in the middle of his smile. The two crowns, bright as ever, stuck out prominently from the rest of his teeth, giving him a distinctive look: “I looked like Bugs Bunny,” Mandel told Dear Doctor—Dentistry & Oral Health magazine.
His dentist, though, had a solution: dental veneers. These thin wafers of porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask slight imperfections like chipping, gaps or discoloration. Veneers are popular way to get an updated and more attractive smile. Each veneer is custom-shaped and color-matched to the individual tooth so that it blends seamlessly with the rest of the teeth.
One caveat, though: most veneers can look bulky if placed directly on the teeth. To accommodate this, traditional veneers require that some of the enamel be removed from your tooth so that the veneer does not add bulk when it is placed over the front-facing side of your tooth. This permanently alters the tooth and requires it have a restoration from then on.
In many instances, however, a “minimal prep” or “no-prep” veneer may be possible, where, as the names suggest, very little or even none of the tooth's surface needs to be reduced before the veneer is placed. The type of veneer that is recommended for you will depend on the condition of your enamel and the particular flaw you wish to correct.
Many dental patients opt for veneers because they can be used in a variety of cosmetic situations, including upgrades to previous dental work as Howie Mandel experienced. So if slight imperfections are putting a damper on your smile, veneers could be the answer.
If you would like more information about veneers and other cosmetic dental enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
Each year millions of people endure repeated episodes of congestion, coughing and headaches, all the miseries that come with a sinus infection. Although it seems like all the action is occurring around the nose and upper face, the actual cause could be emanating from somewhere else—your teeth.
It can all begin with decay forming a small cavity in one of the upper back teeth. If it isn't caught and treated early, the decay can spread into the tooth pulp and root canals, tiny passageways to the root and bone. This may or may not cause a severe toothache or sensitivity as the tooth's nerves respond to the infection. These nerves, though, most often eventually die and the pain, if present, will subside—but not the infection.
Left untreated, the infection may then advance into the bone around the root tip, breaking it down and giving bacteria an entryway into the floor of the maxillary sinus that rests just above the upper jaw. Here bacteria can take up residence, occasionally flaring into a sinus infection. This chronic infection could go on for years with allergies mistakenly taking the blame.
If you have frequent bouts of sinusitis, a possible dental connection may be worth investigating. And in the dental profession, there may be no better “detective” for this than an endodontist. Specializing in interior tooth problems and treatments, an endodontist has the diagnostic equipment like CT or 3-D cone beam scanning to accurately image the teeth and upper jaw. With their advanced diagnostics, they're in the best position to uncover hidden tooth decay contributing to sinus problems.
Endodontists are also skilled in treating advanced tooth decay. The main procedure is known as root canal treatment, in which the dentist drills into the tooth's interior to remove infected tissue from the pulp and root canals. They then fill these empty spaces, seal and then crown the tooth for added protection.
After treatment and following up with your physician, you may find your sinus infections are less frequent. And by promptly seeking treatment at the first sign of tooth pain or sensitivity, you might prevent chronic sinusitis from even developing.
If you would like more information on how dental disease can affect overall health, 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”
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