October brings fall leaves, pumpkins — and National Dental Hygiene Month. As you change your summer clothes for a fall wardrobe, it may also be time to change your toothbrush for a new one. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months. If that sounds like a lot, just think: This small but very important tool gets a lot of use!
If you brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time as recommended by the ADA, that’s two hours of brushing action in one month. Three to four months of twice-daily brushing makes for six to eight hours of brushing time, or a couple hundred uses. This is all an average toothbrush can take before it stops doing its job effectively.
Toothbrush bristles are manufactured to have the right amount of give, tapering, and end-rounding for optimal cleaning. When new, a toothbrush can work its way around corners and between teeth to remove dental plaque. Old bristles, however, lose the flexibility needed to reach into nooks and crannies for a thorough cleaning. Worn bristles may curl, fray or break — and can scratch your gums or tooth enamel. A toothbrush with stiff, curled bristles does not leave your mouth feeling as clean. This may lead to brushing too often or too hard, which is bad for your gums.
A good rule of thumb is to replace your toothbrush every season — unless you see signs that you need a new one sooner. For example, if you wear braces, you may have to replace your toothbrush more frequently since brushing around braces puts more wear and tear on the brush.
For healthy teeth and gums, make sure your primary oral hygiene tool is in tip-top shape. Taking care of the little things now can avoid inconvenient and expensive dental problems later. Don’t forget to schedule regular professional dental cleanings, and be sure to ask if you have any questions about your dental hygiene routine at home. To learn more about the importance of good oral hygiene, read “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health” and “Dental Hygiene Visit: A True Value in Dental Healthcare” in Dear Doctor magazine.
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
If you or a family member wears braces, you're used to visiting your orthodontist for adjustments and progress monitoring. But it's just as important that you continue regular visits with your family dentist, especially if you begin noticing abnormalities with your teeth and gums.
We need to be on alert for dental health because risks for disease increase during orthodontic treatment. Most oral infections arise from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. You avoid plaque buildup by brushing and flossing at least once a day and undergoing semi-annual office cleanings for any remaining plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
Braces, however, can complicate hygiene. It's harder to get into areas blocked by the brackets and wires with your brush or floss. This can quickly give rise to gingivitis, a form of periodontal (gum) disease characterized by gum swelling. If not treated, gum disease could eventually cause the gums to detach from the teeth and lead to bone and tooth loss.
The brackets and wires can also irritate the gums and cause them to swell or overgrow, a condition called hyperplasia. This further complicates proper hygiene, which then increases the risk for infection even more.
It takes more time and effort to brush and floss effectively while wearing braces. But it's necessary to prevent these problems. Interproximal brushes (which fit in the spaces between teeth) can help, as well as special floss threaders. You might also consider a water flosser, which use a high-pressured water spray to remove plaque between teeth.
And, don't neglect seeing us on a regular basis. If you notice gum swelling, redness or bleeding, contact us as soon as possible.
If the swelling is due to hyperplasia, treatment could wait until after the braces come off, as long as there doesn't appear to be any gum detachment from the teeth. If there is, though, you may need to see a periodontist (a gum specialist) for further evaluation. It may be necessary in advanced cases to remove the braces to treat the underlying gum condition.
It pays to keep a close eye on your teeth and gums while wearing braces. Catching problems before they become too serious will help ensure your new smile is just as healthy as it is attractive.
If you would like more information on dental care while undergoing orthodontic 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 “Gum Swelling during Orthodontics.”
Everyone loves a concert where there's plenty of audience participation… until it starts to get out of hand.Â Recently, the platinum-selling band Fifth Harmony was playing to a packed house in Atlanta when things went awry for vocalist Camila Cabello. Fans were batting around a big plastic ball, and one unfortunate swing sent the ball hurtling toward the stage — and directly into Cabello's face. Pushing the microphone into her mouth, it left the “Worth It” singer with a chipped front tooth.
Ouch! Cabello finished the show nevertheless, and didn't seem too upset. “Atlanta… u wild… love u,” she tweeted later that night. “Gotta get it fixed now tho lol.” Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of ways to make that chipped tooth look as good as new.
A small chip at the edge of the tooth can sometimes be polished with dental instruments to remove the sharp edges. If it's a little bigger, a procedure called dental bonding may be recommended. Here, the missing part is filled in with a mixture of plastic resin and glass fillers, which are then cured (hardened) with a special light. The tooth-colored bonding material provides a tough, lifelike restoration that's hard to tell apart from your natural teeth. While bonding can be performed in just one office visit, the material can stain over time and may eventually need to be replaced.
Porcelain veneers are a more long-lasting solution. These wafer-thin coverings go over the entire front surface of the tooth, and can resolve a number of defects — including chips, discoloration, and even minor size or spacing irregularities. You can get a single veneer or have your whole smile redone, in shades ranging from a pearly luster to an ultra-bright white; that's why veneers are a favorite of Hollywood stars. Getting veneers is a procedure that takes several office visits, but the beautiful results can last for many years.
If a chip or crack extends into the inner part of a tooth, you'll probably need a crown (or cap) to restore the tooth's function and appearance. As long as the roots are healthy, the entire part of the tooth above the gum line can be replaced with a natural-looking restoration. You may also need a root canal to remove the damaged pulp material and prevent infection if the fracture went too far. While small chips or cracks aren't usually an emergency (unless accompanied by pain), damage to the tooth's pulp requires prompt attention.
If you have questions about smile restoration, please contact us and schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
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