Dental plaque, that gritty bacterial film coating your teeth, is the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. You can see and feel a lot of it—but not all of it. Some deposits can lodge snugly between your teeth, and can cause dental disease just as much as what's out in the open.
The problem with between-teeth plaque is that even a solid brushing habit might not effectively remove it. That's why you flossing should also be part of your daily oral hygiene.
If the thought of flossing, however, causes you to let out an audible sigh, we understand. Flossing typically engenders less enthusiasm than brushing, mainly because many find flossing time consuming and difficult to do.
If traditional flossing isn't your bag, we may have a reasonable alternative. Oral irrigation is a hygiene method for removing plaque between teeth using a pressurized water spray. You direct the water spray between your teeth using a handheld wand (which somewhat resembles a power toothbrush) and small hose attached to a countertop pump appliance.
A mainstay in dental offices, oral irrigators (or water flossers) have been available for home use since the 1960s. They're ideal for people who have problems with manual dexterity or who may not want to contend with flossing thread. They also make it easier for patients wearing braces to clean between their teeth, a monumental task using regular floss.
As to effectiveness, oral irrigation appears to match that of regular flossing, especially for orthodontic patients. Clinical studies in the early 2000s compared patients with braces using oral irrigation with those who were brushing only. Those using irrigation were able to remove five times as much plaque as the other group.
There are a number of comparable oral irrigation brands on the market from which to choose, and your dentist can advise you on features to look for when purchasing one. Just be sure you're using some method, oral irrigation or traditional flossing, to remove disease-causing plaque from between your teeth—either will go a long way in keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on flossing methods, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
At what age should you begin treating a poor bite? Many might say with braces around late childhood or early adolescence. But some bite problems could be addressed earlier—with the possibility of avoiding future orthodontic treatment.
A crossbite is a good example. In a normal bite, all of the upper teeth slightly cover the lower when the jaws are shut. But a crossbite occurs when some of the lower teeth, particularly in back, overlap the upper teeth. This situation often happens when the upper jaw develops too narrowly.
But one feature of a child's mouth structure provides an opportunity to intervene and alter jaw development. During a child's early years, the palate (roof of the mouth) consists of two bones next to each other with an open seam running between them. This seam, which runs through the center of the mouth from front to back, will fuse during puberty to form one continuous palatal bone.
An orthodontist can take advantage of this separation if the jaw isn't growing wide enough with a unique device called a palatal expander. This particular oral appliance consists of four, thin metal legs connected to a central mechanism. The orthodontist places the expander against the palate and then uses the mechanism to extend the legs firmly against the back of the teeth on both sides of the jaw.
The outward pressure exerted by the legs also widens the seam between the two palatal bones. The body will respond to this by adding new bone to the existing palatal bones to fill in the widened gap. At regular intervals, the patient or a caregiver will operate the mechanism with a key that will continue to widen the gap between the bones, causing more expansion of the palatal bones until the jaw has grown to a normal width.
The palatal expander is most effective when it's applied early enough to develop more bone before the seam closes. That's why it's important for children to undergo bite evaluation with an orthodontist around age 6. If it appears a bite problem is developing, early interventions like a palatal expander could slow or stop it before it gets worse.
If you would like more information on interceptive orthodontics, 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 “Palatal Expanders.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Advances in technology often lead to greater choices for things like automobiles or smartphones. In recent decades, advances in orthodontics have given families another choice besides braces for straightening teeth: clear aligners.
Clear aligners are a series of computer-generated mouth trays of clear plastic that are custom made for an individual patient's teeth. Like braces, these trays worn in the mouth put pressure on the teeth to move in a desired direction. Patients wear an individual tray for about two weeks and then change it out for the next tray in the series. Each subsequent tray is designed to pick up where the former tray left off in the progress of tooth movement.
Although treatment takes about as along as braces, clear aligners have some distinct advantages. First and foremost, their clear plastic construction makes them nearly invisible to outside observers. This makes them ideal for appearance-conscious teens (or adults) who may be embarrassed by the look of metallic braces.
And unlike their fixed counterpart, clear aligners can be removed by the wearer for meals, hygiene and the rare special occasion. As a result, patients with aligners aren't as restricted with food items and have an easier time keeping their teeth clean and avoiding dental disease than braces wearers.
But although definitely a benefit, removability can be potentially problematic depending on the maturity level of the patient. To be effective, an aligner tray must remain in the mouth for the majority of the time—too much time out negates the effect. Patients, then, must be responsible with wearing aligners as directed.
Clear aligners may also not work for treating difficult bites, especially those that require targeted movement (or non-movement) of select teeth. In those cases, braces may be the necessary treatment. But this situation has changed in recent years with the development of new devices and techniques that increase the range of bite problems clear aligners can treat.
Depending then on the bite problem and a patient's level of personal responsibility, clear aligners can be a viable orthodontic choice. And just like braces, they too can improve both dental function and appearance.
If you would like more information on orthodontic options for teens, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
Losing teeth can make it more difficult to eat, not to mention the effect it can have on your smile. But that could be just the beginning of your problems. Missing teeth can contribute to extensive bone loss within your jaws and face. Here's why.
Bone is like any other living tissue—cells develop, function and eventually die, and new cells take their place. Forces generated during chewing stimulate this new growth, helping the jawbone maintain its normal volume and density.
But you lose this stimulus when you lose teeth. This can cause a slowdown in bone cell regrowth that can eventually diminish bone volume. And it can happen relatively quickly: you could lose a quarter or more of jawbone width around a missing tooth within a year.
As this loss continues, especially in cases of multiple missing teeth, the bone can eventually erode to its base level. This loss of dental function can make chewing more difficult, place more pressure on the remaining teeth and adversely affect facial appearance. It could also prevent an implant restoration to replace missing teeth.
Dentures and other forms of dental restoration can replace missing teeth, but not the chewing stimulus. Dentures in particular will accelerate bone loss, because they can irritate the bony gum ridges they rest upon.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can slow or even stop bone loss. Implants consist of a metal post, typically made of titanium, imbedded into the jawbone at the site of the missing tooth with a life-like crown attached. Titanium also has a strong affinity with bone so that bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the implant's surface. This can produce enough growth to slow, stop or even reverse bone loss.
This effect may also work when implants are combined with other restorations, including dentures. These enhanced dentures no longer rest on the gums, but connect to implants. This adds support and takes the pressure off of the bony ridge, as well as contributes to better bone health.
If you've lost a tooth, it's important to either replace it promptly or have a bone graft installed to help forestall any bone loss in the interim. And when it's time to replace those missing teeth, dental implants could provide you not only a life-like solution, but a way to protect your bone health.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
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