Like a second New Year’s Day, the month of September offers its own chance to make a brand new start: It’s back-to-school season! This can be an exhilarating time—a chance to meet new friends, face new challenges and set new goals. It’s also a great time to get started on the things that can keep your children healthy all year long…like a routine visit to the dental office.
Preventive dental visits are one of the most important ways to help keep a smile in top condition—not just for kids, but for people of any age. They are also one of the best values in health care, because so much can be accomplished in such a short time. What exactly happens at a routine visit? Here’s a brief run-down:
- A professional teeth cleaning clears sticky plaque and hardened tartar from places where your brush can’t reach. These deposits can harbor the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease, and removing them helps prevent more serious problems from getting started.
- A complete dental exam involves a check for cavities, but it’s also much more: It includes screening for gum disease, oral cancer, and other potential maladies. X-rays or other diagnostic tests may be performed at this time; any changes can be observed, and the need for preventive or restorative treatments can be evaluated.
- The growth and development of children’s teeth is carefully monitored, from the first baby teeth to the third molars. If orthodontic work or wisdom teeth removal could benefit your child, this is a great time to discuss it. Adults may also benefit from ongoing evaluation for gum recession and other potential issues.
- Keeping your teeth and gums healthy also depends on how you take care of them at home. A routine office visit is a great opportunity to “brush up” on proper techniques for tooth brushing and flossing, and to ask any questions you may have about oral hygiene.
So if you have youngsters starting a new school year—or if you’re looking to make a fresh start toward good oral health yourself—make it a point to stop in to the dental office for a routine visit this season!
If you would like more information about maintaining good oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children” and “Dental Hygiene Visit: A True Value in Dental Healthcare.”
Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
If your smile is, to put it mildly, “unattractive,” you may think only extensive and expensive dental work can change it. But depending on your teeth’s actual condition, you might be able to obtain a new smile with a less-invasive option: porcelain veneers.
As their name implies, veneers are thin layers of dental porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to cover imperfections. They’re custom designed and manufactured by a dental technician to match the natural color, shape and size of the teeth they’re covering and to blend with neighboring teeth.
Veneers are quite effective for heavily stained, chipped or moderately misaligned teeth that are otherwise healthy. They can even be used to address slight gaps between teeth and restore worn teeth to make them appear larger and more youthful.
Overall, they’re less invasive than other dental restorations. That said, though, most veneers will still require some alteration of the affected teeth. This is because although quite thin they can still appear bulky after they’re bonded to the teeth. We can minimize this by removing a small amount of a tooth’s outer enamel. While this alteration is modest compared to other restorations, it’s nonetheless permanent– your teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
Veneers also require special consideration while biting. You’ll need to exercise care and avoid biting hard items like candies (or using your teeth as tools) or the veneer could break. Similarly if you have a teeth grinding habit, you may want to consider having a custom guard created that you wear at night to prevent solid contact between your teeth. The excessive force generated while grinding or clenching teeth could also shatter veneers.
Veneers may not be the answer in all cosmetic dental situations, such as extensive disfigurements or bite problems. To know for sure if your particular dental condition could benefit, see your dentist for a complete dental examination and discuss whether obtaining veneers is a viable option for you. If so, you may be able to gain a much more attractive smile from this less invasive but no less effective option.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers and other dental restorations, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
What do a teenager with a poor bite, a senior citizen with multiple missing teeth or a middle-aged person with a teeth grinding habit all have in common? They may all depend on a dental appliance for better function or appearance.
There’s a wide variety of removable dental appliances like clear aligners or retainers for orthodontic treatment, dentures for tooth loss or night guards to minimize teeth grinding, just to name a few. But while different, they all share a common need: regular cleaning and maintenance to prevent them from triggering dental disease and to keep them functioning properly.
The first thing to remember about appliance cleaning is that it’s not the same as regular oral hygiene, especially if you have dentures. While they look like real teeth, they’re not. Toothpaste is a no-no because the abrasives in toothpaste designed for tooth enamel can scratch appliance surfaces. These microscopic scratches can develop havens for disease-causing bacteria.
Instead, use liquid dish detergent, hand soap or a specific cleaner for your appliance with a different brush from your regular toothbrush or a specialized tool for your particular appliance. Use warm but not very hot or boiling water: while heat indeed kills bacteria, the hot temperatures can warp the plastic in the appliance and distort its fit. You should also avoid bleach—while also a bacteria killer, it can fade out the gum color of appliance bases.
Be sure you exercise caution while cleaning your appliance. For example, place a towel in the sink basin so if the appliance slips from your hands it’s less likely to break hitting the soft towel rather than the hard sink. And while out of your mouth, be sure you store your appliance out of reach of small children and pets to avoid the chance of damage.
Cleaning and caring for your appliance reduces the risk of disease that might affect your gums or other natural teeth. It will also help keep your appliance working as it was designed for some time to come.
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