Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
Straightening your teeth with braces or other orthodontic gear is a positive step toward a healthier and more attractive smile. You'll likely be pleased with your smile when they're removed.
But you may also notice something peculiar once the braces are off—dull, white spots on your teeth. These spots, usually located under or around braces hardware, are where mouth acid has “demineralized” calcium and other minerals in the enamel. As beginning tooth decay, these spots are a sign your hygiene efforts weren't sufficient in cleaning your teeth of plaque.
In many cases, the spots will improve on their own after the braces are removed. We can also strengthen the enamel with fluoride pastes or gels, or inject tooth-colored resin within the spot to restore the enamel's translucence and improve appearance.
But the best approach is to try to prevent white spots from occurring at all. Here's what you need to do.
Keep up your oral hygiene. Even though more difficult with braces, you still need to brush and floss to protect your teeth from tooth decay. To make it easier, take advantage of special brushes designed to clean around orthodontic brackets and wires. A floss threader can also help you better access between teeth—or switch to a water flosser instead of floss thread.
Practice a “tooth-friendly” diet. A diet high in sugar and acid could short-circuit your best hygiene efforts. Certain beverages are big offenders: sodas, energy and sports drinks, and even “natural” juices. Instead, eat foods high in vitamins and minerals like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.
Get your teeth cleaned regularly. While you're seeing your orthodontist for scheduled adjustments, don't neglect regular cleanings with your family dentist. Professional cleanings at least every six months reduce the risk of dental disease. These regular visits are also a good time for your dentist to check your teeth for any signs of dental problems associated with your braces.
It's not easy to keep your teeth clean while wearing braces, but it can be done. With help from a few handy tools and continuing care from your dental professionals, you can avoid unsightly white spots.
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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Straightening your smile doesn't happen overnight—it can involve months or even years of orthodontic treatment. And although the end result is well worth it, the long process can make it difficult to keep your gums healthy, especially while wearing braces.
Gum swelling in particular is a common problem for braces wearers with two potential sources. First, orthodontic hardware makes it difficult to keep teeth clean of dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that can cause gum disease. Plaque and its hardened counterpart tartar can trigger a gum infection, which in turn triggers inflammation. As a result, affected gums appear swollen and red, and can easily bleed.
Gum tissues may also react to braces pressing against them and develop hypertrophy (or hyperplasia), an increase in individual tissue cell growth. If this overgrowth occurs, it may not get resolved until after your braces have been removed.
As long as the hypertrophy doesn't appear to have weakened gum attachment with the teeth, it's usually not a big concern. But what is a concern is that hypertrophy could increase a braces wearer's difficulties with oral hygiene and give rise to a true gum infection that could endanger dental attachment. Advanced cases could require surgical correction or removal of the braces altogether to adequately treat the infection.
The best way to avoid a worst case scenario is to be as diligent as possible with daily brushing and flossing. Fortunately, there are several tools that can make it easier with braces. Interproximal brushes, tiny brushes that can fit into the narrow spaces between the teeth and the braces, can be used in conjunction with your regular toothbrush.
Flossing is also easier if you use a floss threader or a water flosser. The latter utilizes a pump to emit a pulsating jet of water to break loose plaque between teeth and flush it away. Clinical studies have shown the effectiveness of water flossers for removing plaque in braces wearers as opposed to not flossing at all.
A faithful daily hygiene practice and twice-a-year cleanings and checkups with your regular dentist can help minimize your chances of gum swelling. Doing so will help ensure you'll complete your orthodontic treatment on the way to healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on teeth and gum 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
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