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Posts for category: Oral Health

ItTakesBothYouandYourHygienisttoKeepYourSmileHealthyandBeautiful

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.”

By Laura Elliff, DMD
September 25, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth erosion  
LimitAcidicBeveragestoProtectYourChildsToothEnamelfromErosion

Tooth enamel erosion is a serious issue for many children that can result in permanent impairment of oral health. The problem isn’t just bacterial acid that causes tooth decay — it’s also the high acid content of sodas, energy and sports drinks widely popular among children and teenagers today.

Enamel is made of the strongest substance in the human body, which enables it to shield the inner layers of the teeth from disease and other environmental factors. Its chief nemesis, though, is acid: when enamel interacts with high concentrations of acid for a prolonged time, its mineral content will begin to soften and dissolve, a process known as de-mineralization. Saliva is the enamel’s main protection against acid with the ability to neutralize (or buffer) acid and restore some of the enamel’s mineral content, usually within thirty minutes to an hour after we eat.

The high acid content of many popular beverages, however, can overwhelm saliva’s buffering ability, especially if a person is sipping for an extended time on an acidic drink. This kind of exposure is different from acid produced by bacteria that causes tooth decay: bacterial acid tends to concentrate in specific areas of the teeth, while the constant wash from acidic beverages will have a more generalized eroding effect on teeth.

This level of enamel loss is irreversible, which can leave a tooth in peril of decay and ultimate loss — and increase long-term dental care and costs. The best strategy is to have your child stop or significantly curtail drinking highly acidic beverages. Rather than drink sports beverages for hydration, substitute water, nature’s hydrator. Milk can also be a viable beverage substitute.

If you do allow some acidic beverages, try to limit them to mealtimes and discourage extended sipping. Look for drinks with added calcium as this can reduce the beverage’s erosive potential. The goal is to reduce the amount and duration beverage acid is in contact with tooth enamel.

Making these changes will help greatly to protect your child’s tooth enamel, and give saliva a chance to do its job protecting it. Your efforts will also increase your child’s chances of better dental health in the future.

If you would like more information on dental erosion, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Erosion.”

By Laura Elliff, DMD
September 15, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: snoring   sleep apnea  
NotaFanofUsingCPAPforYourSleepApneaConsideranOralAppliance

Do you wake up in the morning still feeling tired? Are you drowsy, irritable or have difficulty concentrating? And is your snoring habit a running joke around your household?

If you mostly answered yes, you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition is more than an irritation—it could also have major health implications if not addressed.

OSA occurs when the airway becomes temporarily blocked during sleep. The tongue (or other mouth structures like tonsils or the uvula) is often the cause as it relaxes and covers the back of the throat. Although you’re asleep, the brain notices the drop in oxygen and initiates arousal to unblock the airway. As this action usually only takes a few seconds, you may not fully awake every time; but because it can occur several times a night, it can rob you of the deep sleep you need for well-being.

If you’re diagnosed with OSA, your doctor may recommend continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP). This treatment uses a pump device to supply continuous pressurized air through a hose connected to a face mask worn during sleep. The elevated pressure helps keep the airway open.

While this approach is quite effective, many people find wearing the equipment uncomfortable or confining, and may choose not to use it. If that describes you, a qualified dentist may be able to provide you with an alternative called oral appliance therapy (OAT).

OAT uses a custom-made plastic oral appliance you wear while you sleep. The most common snaps over the teeth and uses a hinge mechanism to move the lower jaw (and the tongue with it) forward.

OAT is recommended for people with mild to moderate OSA, or those with severe symptoms who can’t tolerate CPAP. If you’d like to see if an OAT appliance could help you, contact us for a complete oral examination. Either treatment can improve your sleep and daily lifestyle, as well as help prevent certain health issues in the future.

If you would like more information on treatments for sleep apnea, 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 “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”

By Laura Elliff, DMD
September 05, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene   flossing  
IsTraditionalFlossingtooDifficultConsiderWaterFlossing

A critical part of effective, daily oral hygiene, flossing removes bacterial plaque from between teeth that can’t be accessed with brushing. Unfortunately, it’s often neglected — string flossing requires a bit more dexterity than brushing and can be difficult to do properly.

It can be even more difficult for people with implants or who wear orthodontic appliances. For brace wearers in particular, getting access to areas between teeth with string floss is next to impossible; the metal brackets and tension wire also have a tendency to catch and retain food debris that’s difficult to remove with brushing alone.

Water flossing, using a device called an oral irrigator, is an effective alternative that addresses many of these difficulties. First available for home use in the 1960s, an oral irrigator delivers pulsating water at high pressure through a handheld applicator that forcefully flushes material from between teeth.

There’s no question that string flossing is effective in plaque removal between teeth — but what about oral irrigators? A 2008 study looked at a group of orthodontic patients with braces who used oral irrigators and compared them with a similar group that only brushed. The study found that five times as much plaque was removed in the group using the oral irrigators as opposed to the group only brushing.

Oral irrigators may also be effective for people who’ve developed periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, oral irrigators coupled with ultra-sound devices are routinely used by dental hygienists to remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) in periodontal patients. As with regular oral hygiene, though, it’s important for patients with gum disease to include water flossing with daily brushing (at least twice a day) and regular cleaning sessions at the dentist to ensure removal of all plaque and calculus.

If you’re interested in using an oral irrigator, be sure to consult with us at your next appointment. Not only can we recommend features to look for in equipment, but we can also instruct you on the techniques to make water flossing an effective plaque remover.

If you would like more information on water flossing, 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.”

By Laura Elliff, DMD
August 26, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: x-rays  
BitewingX-raysYourQuestionsAnswered

Radiographic (x-ray) images are an indispensible diagnostic tool in dentistry. One of the most routine and useful types of x-rays dentists take is the so-called bitewing. Here are some things you may want to know about this common diagnostic procedure.

What are bitewing x-rays?
Bitewings reveal the presence and extent of decay in the back teeth, specifically in areas where adjacent teeth touch each other. Unlike other areas of the teeth, these contacting surfaces between adjacent teeth can’t be examined visually. Bitewings can also show areas of bone loss around teeth — a sign of periodontal disease; however, they are not taken for that purpose because bitewings will not show the complete root surface that is surrounded by bone.

Why are they called that?
The name “bitewing” refers to how the film — or sensor, in the case of a digital x-ray — is positioned in the mouth: The patient bites down on a little tab or wing that holds the apparatus in place.

How often do I need them?
This is determined on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of not exposing you to any more radiation than necessary — even the minimal amount found in a series of bitewing x-rays. Your individual susceptibility to caries (tooth decay) and personal dental history will play a major role in determining how frequently you need radiographic examination — and, for that matter, how often you need to come in for routine cleanings and exams.

Are they safe?
The safety of bitewing x-rays is best illustrated with a comparison to the regular daily radiation exposure we get every day from environmental sources, which is about 0.01 millisieverts — the unit of measure we use for radiation. A series of 4 bitewing x-rays exposes you to 0.004 millisieverts of radiation — less than half of the daily exposure. Undetected tooth decay, which can spread quickly through the softer inner layers of teeth, is considered much more dangerous!

If a bitewing x-ray shows that there is tooth decay, what happens next?
If the cavity is very small, we may be able to treat it during the same appointment. If not, we will make a separate appointment to make sure it is taken care of promptly. The sooner tooth decay is treated, the better!

What if I have more questions?
Contact our office, or schedule an appointment for a consultation.