For most of us, brushing and flossing is a routine part of daily life. But has it become such a routine that you may not be getting the most out of your daily regimen?
First, let's be clear about what you're trying to accomplish with these two important hygiene tasks, which is to remove as much accumulated dental plaque as possible. This thin film of bacteria and food particles is the primary cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
So how can you tell if you're effectively cleaning dental plaque from your teeth? Here are 4 ways to check your brushing and flossing skills.
The tongue test. Move your tongue across the surface of your teeth, especially at the gum line, immediately after brushing and flossing. "Plaque-free" teeth will feel smooth and slick. If you feel any grittiness, though, you may be missing some plaque.
Floss check. For a similar effect after your daily hygiene take a fresh piece of floss and run it up and down your teeth. If the teeth are clean and you are using un-waxed floss, the floss should "squeak" as you move it up and down.
Disclosing agents. You can also occasionally use a plaque disclosing agent. This product contains a solution you apply to your teeth after brushing and flossing that will dye any leftover plaque a specific color. Disclosing agents are handy for uncovering specific areas that require more of your future hygiene attention. And don't worry—the dye is temporary and will fade quickly.
Dental visits. For the ultimate test, visit your dentist at least twice a year. Not only can dental cleanings remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened tartar), but your dentist or hygienist can evaluate how well you've been doing. Consider it your "final exam" for oral hygiene!
Be sure to also ask your dental provider for tips and training in better brushing and flossing. Becoming more effective at these critical tasks helps ensure you're keeping your teeth and gums free of disease.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
For people with edentulism (total loss of teeth), removable dentures is a viable option for regaining both lost function and an attractive appearance. From the moment they begin wearing them, denture wearers can chew food, speak and smile with confidence.
But there are downsides to dentures, especially if they’re not cared for properly. Dentures put pressure on the gums and bony ridges of the jaw, which can cause bone to dissolve (resorb) and decrease its volume over time. Without proper maintenance they can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that not only lead to bad breath but, in cases of partial dentures, can increase the risk of dental disease. They could also contribute to serious systemic diseases.
You can reduce some of these risks by following these 3 important denture maintenance tips. Doing so will help extend the life of your dentures, as well as keep your mouth healthy.
Clean your dentures at least once a day. In addition to taking your dentures out and rinsing them with water after eating, you should also brush them daily with dish detergent, antibacterial soap or denture cleaner — but not toothpaste, which is too abrasive. Effervescent (fizzing) cleaning tablets also aren’t a viable substitute for manual brushing in removing disease-causing plaque from denture surfaces.
Take your dentures out at night while you sleep. Wearing dentures 24/7 can hasten bone loss, as well as increase your chances of dental disease or even more serious illnesses. A recent study, for example, found nursing home patients who left their dentures in at night were twice as likely to experience serious complications from pneumonia as those who didn’t. While you sleep, store your dentures in water or in a solution of alkaline peroxide made for this purpose.
Brush your gums and tongue every day. Keeping your gum surfaces clean will help reduce the levels of bacteria and other microbes that can cause disease. You can either use an extra-soft tooth brush (not the one you use to clean your dentures) or a damp washcloth.
Periodontal (gum) disease is a serious infection that can damage more than periodontal tissues — supporting bone structure is also at risk. Any bone loss could eventually lead to tooth loss.
To stop it from causing this kind of damage, we must match this disease's aggressiveness with equally aggressive treatment. The various treatment techniques all have the same goal: to remove bacterial plaque, the source of the infection, from all oral surfaces, including below the gum line. Buildup of plaque, a thin film of food particles, after only a few days without adequate brushing and flossing is enough time to trigger gum disease.
The basic removal technique is called scaling, using hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) above or just below the gum line. If the disease or infection has advanced to the roots, we may use another technique called root planing in which we shave or “plane” plaque and tartar from the root surfaces.
Advancing gum disease also causes a number of complex problems like abscesses (localized infections in certain areas of gum tissue) or periodontal pockets. In the latter circumstance the slight normal gap between tooth and gums becomes deeper as the tissues weaken and pull away. This forms a void or pocket that fills with inflammation or infection that must be removed. Plaque buildup can also occur around furcations, the places where a tooth's roots divide off from one another.
It may be necessary in these more complex situations to perform a procedure known as flap surgery to gain access to these infected areas. As the name implies, we create an opening in the gums with a hinge, much like the flap of a paper envelope. Once the accessed area has been cleansed of plaque and infected tissues (and often treated with antibiotics to stop further infection), the flapped tissue is closed back in place and sutured.
To avoid these advanced stages it's important for you to see us at the first sign of problems: swollen, red or bleeding gums. Even more important is to reduce your risk for gum disease in the first place with dedicated daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental visits for more thorough cleaning.
Gum disease can be devastating to your long-term dental health. But with diligent hygiene and early aggressive treatment you can stop this destructive disease in its tracks.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
What's so special about dental implants — and why should you consider one to replace a missing tooth?
Although they've only been widely available for thirty years, dental implants have climbed to the top of tooth replacement choices as the premier restorative option. Since their debut in the 1980s, dentists have placed over 3 million implants.
There's one overriding reason for this popularity: in structure and form, dental implants are the closest replacement we have to a natural tooth. In fact, more than anything else an implant is a root replacement, the part of the tooth you don't see.
The artificial root is a titanium post surgically imbedded into the jaw bone. Later we can attach a porcelain crown to it that looks just like a visible tooth. This breakthrough design enables implants to handle the normal biting forces generated in the mouth for many years.
There's also an advantage in using titanium dental implants. Because bone cells have a special affinity to the metal, they will grow and attach to the implant over time. Not only does this strengthen the implant's hold within the jaw, the added growth also helps deter bone loss, a common problem with missing teeth.
It's this blend of strength and durability that gives implants the highest success rate for any tooth replacement option. Over 95% of implants placed attain the 10-year mark, and most will last for decades.
Dental implant treatment, however, may not be possible in every situation, particularly where significant bone loss has occurred. They're also relatively expensive, although more cost-effective than other options over the long term.
Even so, implants can play an effective and varied role in a dental restoration. While single implants with attached crowns are the most common type of replacement, they can also play a supporting role with other restorative options. As few as two strategically placed implants can provide a more secure connection for removable dentures or fixed bridges.
You'll need to first undergo a thorough dental examination to see if implants could work for you. From there, we'll be happy to discuss your options for using this "best of the best" restoration to achieve a new, beautiful smile.
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 “Dental Implants 101.”
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