To have a beautiful, healthy smile you’ll need to keep those pearly whites clean and plaque-free. Good dental hygiene, though, isn’t a solo act: It’s a duet best performed by you and your dental health provider. While you’re responsible for brushing and flossing every day, your dental hygienist gives your teeth a thorough cleaning every six months (or more). The American Dental Hygienists Association commemorates every October as National Dental Hygiene Month to recognize both the importance of hygiene and the professionals who assist you in keeping your teeth as clean as possible.
The focus for this emphasis on brushing, flossing and professional cleaning? A slick, slimy substance called dental plaque. This thin film of bacteria and food particles builds up on tooth surfaces after eating and gives rise to infections that cause tooth decay and gum disease. And it doesn’t take long without proper brushing and flossing, for a gum infection called gingivitis to start in only a matter of days. Daily hygiene reduces your risk of that happening: Brushing removes plaque from the broad, biting surfaces of the teeth, while flossing takes care of the areas between teeth that brushing can’t access.
So, if you can remove most of the plaque yourself, why see a dental hygienist? For two reasons: First, while daily hygiene takes care of the lion’s share of plaque, it’s difficult to clear away all of it. Over time, even a small amount of missed plaque can increase your disease risk. However, a professional cleaning that uses special hand tools and ultrasonic equipment can easily clean away this leftover plaque.
Second, some of the soft plaque can interact with saliva to form a hardened, calcified form called calculus or tartar. It can harbor bacteria just like the softer version, and it’s next to impossible to dislodge with brushing and flossing. Again, a trained hygienist with the right tools can effectively break up and remove calculus.
There are also additional benefits that come from regular dental visits to your hygienist. For one, hygienists can provide practical instruction and tips to help you brush and floss more effectively. And, after cleaning your teeth, they can point out areas with heavy plaque and calculus deposits. That can help you focus more of your future brushing and flossing efforts on those areas.
So, a shout-out to all the dental hygienists out there: These dedicated professionals work hard to keep your teeth clean. And a big high-five to you, too: Without your daily commitment to brushing and flossing, your smile wouldn’t be as beautiful—and healthy.
If you would like more information about best dental hygiene practices, please contact us to schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Hygiene Visit” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in oral health, 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
Although techniques and materials have changed, dentists still follow basic principles for treating tooth decay that date from the late 19th Century. And for good reason: They work. These principles first developed by Dr. G.V. Black—the "father of modern dentistry"—are widely credited with saving millions of teeth over the last century.
One of the most important of these treatment protocols is something known as "extension for prevention." In basic terms, it means a dentist removes not only decayed tooth structure but also healthy structure vulnerable to decay. But although effective in saving teeth, practicing this principle can result in loss of otherwise healthy tissue, which can weaken the tooth.
But with new advances in dentistry, decay treatment is getting an overhaul. While Dr. Black's time-tested protocols remain foundational, dentists are finding new ways to preserve more of the tooth structure in a concept known as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
Better diagnostic tools. Because tooth decay can ultimately infect and damage the tooth's interior, roots and supporting bone, the best way to preserve more of the tooth structure is to treat it as early as possible. Now, new diagnostic tools like digital x-rays, microscopic magnification and optical scanning are helping dentists detect and treat decay earlier, thus reducing how much tissue is removed.
Better prevention methods. Oral hygiene and regular dental care are our basic weapons in the war with tooth decay. In addition, utilizing topical fluoride in combination with a milk-derived product called CPP-ACP dentists can get more of the cavity-fighting organic compound into the tooth enamel to strengthen it against acid attack.
Better treatment techniques. Using air abrasion (a fine particle spray that works like a miniature sandblaster) and lasers, dentists can now remove decayed structure with less harm to healthy tissue than with a traditional dental drill. And new, stronger dental fillings like those made with composite resins require less structural removal to accommodate them.
With these innovative approaches, dentists aren't just saving teeth, they're preserving more of their structure. And that can improve your overall dental health for the long-term.
If you would like more information on minimally invasive dentistry, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
The CAT scan is a relatively recent technique in dentistry, used to get an image of what’s happening deep within your jaws. You may be wondering what a CAT scan tells us that a conventional x-ray picture does not, and whether it is worth the extra expense to get one. And how does a CAT scan compare with a conventional x-ray in terms of radiation exposure?
CAT stands for “computer assisted tomography.” Often it’s just called a CT scan, for “computerized tomography.” The word “tomography” comes from roots meaning “slice” and “write.” Tomographic techniques take repeated two dimensional pictures, similar to repeatedly slicing through an object, and then assembles them with a computer to produce a three dimensional (3-D) image.
The latest type of CT scan used in dentistry is called CBCT, or Cone Beam Computed Tomography. The Cone Beam refers to a spiral beam of x-rays, which is used to create a series of two dimensional images from which a computer creates a 3-D image. Such an image is of great value in assessing problems and planning treatment.
Here are just a few examples of how a CBCT scan can be used. Orthodontists can see skeletal structures and developing teeth that are still inside the jawbone while planning strategies for directing the teeth in order to arrive at a better bite. Oral surgeons can find impacted or missing teeth, see their locations, and view their proximity to nerves and sinuses, assisting them in planning surgeries. These scans are particularly useful for root canal specialists because they show root canals that are less than a millimeter wide and even reveal accessory canals that may not be visible on conventional x-rays. In cases of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, a CBCT during sleep can be used to view a person’s airway and how it may be blocked by the tongue and other soft tissues in a person’s throat during sleep.
Compared to background radiation, the amount of radiation delivered in dental x-rays is minimal. A CBCT delivers a dose of radiation that is less than a typical full mouth x-ray series but more than a typical two dimensional panoramic radiograph. Generally CBCT scanners deliver lower doses than medical CT scanners.
With one low-dose CBCT scan, we can get an accurate idea of the internal structure of your bones and teeth and how they are situated in relation to each other. Prior to the availability of such images, many of these relationships had to be discovered in the course of a surgery or other treatment. Thus such a scan can aid greatly in the quality of treatment you will receive.
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