Posts for: August, 2014
The main strategy in fighting dental disease is to try to prevent it in the first place. The success of this strategy depends largely on effective oral hygiene with three essential elements: daily brushing, daily flossing, and semi-annual checkups with professional cleaning.
Many people have little trouble incorporating brushing into their daily routine; flossing, though, is a different matter for some. They may feel it’s too time-consuming or too hard to perform. Patients with orthodontic appliances especially may encounter difficulty navigating the floss around the appliance hardware.
Flossing, though, is extremely important for removing bacterial plaque, the primary aim of oral hygiene. This thin film of food remnant that builds up and sticks to the teeth is the breeding ground for bacteria that cause both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s important that as much plaque as possible is removed from the teeth and gum surfaces every day. While brushing removes plaque from the open surfaces of the teeth, flossing removes plaque clinging between teeth and around the gums that can’t be accessed with a toothbrush.
If traditional flossing is too difficult, there’s a viable alternative using an oral irrigator. Also known as a water flosser, an oral irrigator directs a stream of pressurized, pulsating water inside the mouth to blast away plaque in these hard to reach places. The hand applicator comes with a variety of tips that can be used for a number of dental situations, such as cleaning around braces or implants. In home use since the early 1960s, the latest versions of oral irrigators have proven to be very effective, especially for orthodontic patients — research shows an oral irrigator used in conjunction with brushing can remove up to five times more plaque than just brushing alone.
That being said, traditional flossing is also effective at plaque removal when performed properly. Sometimes, resistance to flossing can be remedied with a little training during dental checkups. We can work with you on techniques to improve your flossing activity, as well as train you to use an oral irrigator.
Whichever method you choose, it’s important for you to incorporate flossing (or irrigation) into your daily routine. Removing plaque, especially in those hard to reach places, is essential for reducing your risk of developing destructive dental disease.
If you would like more information on flossing or oral irrigation, 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.”
Baseball legend Babe Ruth, President Ulysses S. Grant and George Harrison of the Beatles — these three notable people from different backgrounds and historical eras have a sad commonality — they all died from oral cancer. They are a reminder that regardless of one’s wealth or fame, no one is immune from oral cancer and its deadly effects.
Like other cancers, oral cancer is characterized by abnormal cell growth capable of spreading into nearby tissue or other parts of the body. Although oral cancer accounts for less than 3% of all occurring cancers, it’s among the most deadly: only 58% of oral cancer patients survive five years after treatment. This is mostly due to the difficulty of detecting oral cancer in its early stages; in fact, 30% of oral cancers have already spread (metastasized) when they’re finally diagnosed.
Early detection through careful monitoring is the best strategy for defeating oral cancer. If you have a predisposing factor like a family history of oral cancer, then regular screenings during dental checkups are a must. During an exam we may be able to detect abnormalities (like unusual white spots on the gums or jaws) that may signal a cancer in a pre-cancerous or early stage. You also should be on the lookout for a persistent sore throat or hoarseness, lingering mouth pain, a painless lump in the mouth or on the neck, or ear pain on only one side.
There are also conditions or behaviors that may increase your risk for oral cancer, like using tobacco (both smoke and smokeless) or consuming alcohol. If you use tobacco you should consider quitting it altogether; you should consider cutting back on alcohol consumption if you’re a moderate to heavy drinker. You should also avoid sexual behaviors that increase your chances of viral infection — research has found a link between oral cancer and the viral infection caused by the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV 16).
Improving your nutrition can also reduce your cancer risk. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables supplies the body with cancer-fighting nutrients, including antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by carcinogens. Studies have shown this kind of diet consistently lowers the risk of oral and throat cancer, as well as cancers of the esophagus, breast, prostate, lung and colon.
If you would like more information on oral cancer, 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 Cancer.”
When you’re trying to maintain a good oral hygiene routine, your toothbrush is bound to see a lot of action. Day in and day out, it gets used about twice a day, every day — morning and night, whether you’re feeling great or under the weather, in a hurry or not. And it's stored in the bathroom: a moist environment with the potential for exposure to plenty of bacteria (and not just the ones that live in your mouth). So after all of that service, does your toothbrush itself need any particular care or cleaning — and do you need to worry about getting sick from brushing?
Let’s answer the last question first. It’s very unlikely that you can re-infect yourself with an illness (a cold, for example) from using your own toothbrush. That’s because once you’ve been infected, the antibodies that are built up in response to the invading germs will generally prevent you from getting the same disease for some time afterward. Using someone else’s toothbrush, however, is a never a good idea — especially if they are sick (whether they show any symptoms or not), and doubly so if the bristles are still wet. It’s very possible to transfer all kinds of bacteria — even the bacteria that cause tooth decay — from person to person this way.
Can bacteria really survive for any length of time on your toothbrush? The short answer is yes, as they can (and do) live almost everywhere. But for people in a normal state of health, there’s no real reason to worry: Through long exposure, your body is generally quite capable of defending itself from these microorganisms. The American Dental Association states, “[T]here is insufficient clinical evidence to support that bacterial growth on toothbrushes will lead to specific adverse oral or systemic health effects.”
However, if you or a family member have a compromised immune system (due to radiation treatment, chemotherapy or disease, for example), it might make sense to take some precautions. Using an antibacterial mouthrinse before you brush can reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth — and on your toothbrush. Washing the brush afterward with an antimicrobial cleaner or sanitizer can also decrease the level of bacteria that remains on the toothbrush.
For everyone else, it’s best to follow a few common-sense steps for toothbrush care: Rinse your brush with tap water after you use it, to remove any remaining toothpaste and debris; store it upright, where it can air-dry before it’s used again (not in a closed container, where bacteria can thrive); and get a new brush every three months. Your toothbrush is a major weapon in the fight against tooth decay — keeping it in good shape will help you maintain a healthy mouth and a healthy body.
If you have questions about toothbrushing or oral hygiene care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Hygiene Behavior.”
What if you had orthodontic treatments to enhance your smile — and nobody knew about it until it was all done?
That (almost) happened to British singer, cover girl and television personality Cheryl Cole. Since her big break in 2002, on the British reality show Popstars: The Rivals, Cole has had a successful music career, taken turns judging both the British and American versions of The X Factor, and graced the covers of fashion magazines like Elle and Harpers Bazaar.
And somewhere along the way, Cole wore an orthodontic appliance. It very nearly went undetected… until a colleague spilled the beans. That’s when Cole was forced to divulge her secret: For a period of time, she had been wearing clear aligners on her teeth. Until her frenemy’s revelation, only a few people knew — but when you compare the before-and-after pictures, the difference in her smile is clear.
So what exactly are clear aligners? Essentially, they consist of a series of thin plastic trays that are worn over the teeth for 22 hours each day. The trays are custom-made from a computerized model of an individual’s mouth. Each tray is designed to move the teeth a small amount, and each is worn for two weeks before moving on to the next in the series. When the whole series is complete, the teeth will have shifted into their new (and better aligned) positions.
Besides being virtually unnoticeable, aligners are easy to remove. This makes it easy to keep the teeth clean — and can come in handy for important occasions (like cover-photo shoots and acceptance speeches). But don’t remove them too frequently, or they won’t work as planned. If that’s a possibility (with teens, for example), aligners are available with “compliance indicators” to ensure they’re being worn as often as they should be. They can also be made with special tabs to hold a place for teeth that haven’t fully erupted (come in) yet — another feature that’s handy for teens.
So if you need orthodontic work but prefer to stay “under the radar,” ask us whether clear aligners could be right for you. Cheryl Cole did… and the results gave her something more to smile about.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Clear Orthodontic Aligners” and “Clear Aligners for Teenagers.”
One of our primary goals in dentistry is to deliver effective treatment to patients with the least amount of discomfort. This is especially true after a procedure — controlling pain and inflammation will actually help reduce recovery time.
There are many strong pain relievers available, including prescription opiates like morphine or codeine. It has been shown, however, that healing and comfort are enhanced with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) because they not only minimize pain, but they also reduce inflammation after a procedure. One common NSAID is Ibuprofen, which works by blocking prostaglandins, a substance released by inflamed, damaged tissues. NSAIDs are very popular with dentists and other health professionals because they act primarily on the inflammation site and don’t impair consciousness like opiates. They’re also usually less expensive than pain medication requiring a prescription.
While relatively safe, NSAIDs do have side effects that could cause serious problems for some patients. The most common caution regards NSAID’s tendency to thin blood and reduce the natural clotting mechanism, especially if taken habitually over a period of time. They can damage the kidneys and the stomach lining (causing ulcers or dangerous bleeding), and they’ve also been linked to early miscarriages and heart attacks.
For these reasons, NSAIDs are not recommended for pregnant women, patients with a history of stomach or intestinal bleeding, or patients being treated for heart disease. In the latter case, NSAIDs may interfere with the effectiveness of low-dose aspirin therapy (another type of NSAID) to prevent future heart attacks or strokes.
Health officials recommend all patients limit their dosage of a NSAID to no more than 2400 milligrams a day for short term pain relief, unless otherwise advised by a doctor. For the most part, a single 400 mg dosage is usually sufficient for pain control during a post-procedure recovery.
Your dentist will typically obtain your medical history before you undergo a dental procedure, including the medications you’re taking. Depending on your current health status and the type of procedure you’re undergoing, your dentist will recommend a pain control regimen to follow after the procedure is over.
Following those recommendations, and alerting your healthcare provider if you encounter any side effects from pain medication, will help assure your recovery period after dental work is short, safe and uneventful.
If you would like more information on the use of NSAIDs to control discomfort after a dental procedure, 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 Pain With Ibuprofen.”