It gradually dawned on our ancient ancestors that a healthy mouth was usually a clean one. To achieve that blessed oral state, they chewed on tree bark or employed primitive toothbrushes like bamboo sticks with hog hair bristles attached to their ends.
Today, we have better tools and methods for achieving a cleaner and healthier mouth. But these advancements do little good if a) we don't use them on a daily basis, and b) we're not proficient with them.
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, highlighting once again the importance of these two points for keeping teeth and gums as clean as possible. First and foremost, oral hygiene should never take a holiday—even a day or two of accumulated plaque, the bacterial biofilm that builds up on teeth surfaces, can trigger the occurrence of gum disease or tooth decay.
But while "showing up" every day to brush and floss goes a long way toward a healthy mouth, you also need to perform these tasks well. An inadequate job can leave residual plaque that could still cause disease.
Here are a few handy tips to improve your oral hygiene routine.
Do a thorough job. Plaque can be stubborn, clinging to the nooks and crannies of teeth and around the gum lines—and it can easily be missed while brushing. Be sure, then, to thoroughly work your toothbrush's bristles into all dental surfaces. Your efforts should take about 2 minutes to complete.
Don't be too aggressive. You may need "elbow grease" to clean your floors, but not your teeth. Too much pressure applied while brushing can damage enamel and gums. Instead, go easy when you brush and let the toothpaste's mild abrasives do the heavy lifting.
Use flossing tools. Many people avoid flossing because they find it too hard or cumbersome with traditional flossing thread. If this is a problem for you, consider using a flossing tool—a floss threader or pick, or even a water flosser appliance that uses pressurized water to break up and remove plaque.
Take the "tongue test." Wondering how well you're doing with your hygiene efforts? One quick way to find out is the "tongue test": Simply swipe your tongue across your teeth just after brushing and flossing. If they feel gritty rather than smooth, you may have left some plaque behind.
Besides your personal hygiene efforts, be sure you also have your teeth cleaned regularly by a dental hygienist to rid your mouth of any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque)—these can also cause dental disease. Professional care coupled with proficient daily hygiene will help ensure you have cleaner mouth and better dental health.
If you would like more information on the best ways to incorporate oral hygiene into your life, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
Nina Parker, the host of Love & Hip Hop for six seasons, is now busy with the new game show Blockbusters and her own talk show The Nina Parker Show. But even with a full plate, she took time recently for some personal care—getting a new smile.
Parker's fans are familiar with her noticeable tooth gap. But a video on TikTok in February changed all that: In the video, she teasingly pulls away a mask she's wearing to reveal her smile—without the gap.
Parker and other celebrities like Madonna, Michael Strahan and David Letterman are not alone. Teeth gaps are a common smile feature, dating back millennia (even in fiction: Chaucer described the Wife of Bath as being "gap-toothed" in The Canterbury Tales).
So, what causes a tooth gap? Actually, a lot of possibilities. The muscle between the teeth (the frenum) may be overly large and pushing the teeth apart. There may be too much room on the jaw, so the teeth spread apart as they develop. It might also have resulted from tongue thrusting or late thumb sucking as a child, influencing the front teeth to develop forward and outward.
A tooth gap can be embarrassing because they're often front and center for all the world to see, but they can also cause oral health problems like complicating oral hygiene and increasing your risk for tooth decay. They can also contribute to misalignment of other teeth.
Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate a gap. One way is to move the teeth closer together with either braces or removable clear aligners. This may be the best approach if the gap is wide and it's contributing to misalignment of other teeth. You may also need surgery to alter the frenum.
You can also reduce less-pronounced gaps cosmetically with dental bonding or porcelain veneers. Bonding involves applying a type of resin material to the teeth on either side of the gap. After some sculpting to make it appear life-like, we harden the material with a curing light. The result is a durable, tooth-like appearance that closes the gap.
A veneer is a thin wafer of porcelain, custom-made to fit an individual patient's tooth. Bonded to the front of teeth, veneers mask various dental flaws like chips, deformed teeth, heavy staining and, yes, mild to moderate tooth gaps. They do require removing a small amount of enamel on the teeth they cover, but the results can be stunning—completely transformed teeth without the gap.
Getting rid of a tooth gap can be a wise move, both for your smile and your health. You may or may not take to social media to show it off like Nina Parker, but you can feel confident to show the world your new, perfect smile.
If you would like more information about treating teeth gaps and other dental flaws, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Space Between Front Teeth.”
After several treatment sessions your periodontal (gum) disease is under control. But, while we may have won this battle, the war rages on. To keep an infection from re-occurring we'll have to remain on guard.
Gum disease begins and thrives on a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque. The infection usually begins as gingivitis, which causes the gums to become red and swollen (inflamed). Untreated it can develop into periodontitis, a more advanced form that progresses deeper into the gum tissues resulting in bone loss.
To treat the disease, we must remove all the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) we can find no matter how deeply they've penetrated below the gum line. Since the deeper it extends the more likely surgical techniques may be necessary to consider, it's better to catch the disease in its earliest stages when plaque can be removed with hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment.
The appropriate treatment technique can effectively stop and even reverse gum disease's effects — but it won't change your susceptibility. Constant vigilance is the best way to significantly reduce your risk of another episode. In this case, our prevention goal is the same as in treatment: remove plaque.
It begins with you learning and applying effective brushing and flossing techniques, and being consistent with these habits every day. As your dentist, we play a role too: we may need to see you as often as every few weeks or quarter to perform meticulous cleaning above and below the gum line. We may also perform procedures on your gums to make it easier to maintain them and your teeth, including correcting root surface irregularities that can accumulate plaque.
Our aim is to reduce the chances of another infection as much as possible. "Fighting the good fight" calls for attention, diligence and effort — but the reward is continuing good health for your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on continuing dental care after gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations?”
Half of adults over age 30, and an astounding 70% over 65, have had some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Unchecked, a bacterial gum infection can spread into the supporting bone and destroy attachments between the teeth and gums. Because of its rapidity and aggressiveness, gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults.
But there may be even more harm caused by gum disease beyond losing teeth: There's growing evidence gum disease may worsen other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with gum disease are also more likely to suffer from one or more of these systemic conditions.
The link between gum disease and these other diseases appears to be inflammation. When tissue becomes injured or diseased, swelling (inflammation) occurs to isolate these tissues from the rest of the body. Under normal circumstances, this is a critical defense mechanism to protect the body overall.
But this response is a temporary measure—if it becomes chronic, it can actually damage the tissues it's trying to protect. This often happens with gum disease as inflammation can't overcome the gum infection, and both sides settle into a kind of trench warfare. The same story plays out with other diseases with an inflammatory response. And if the body is waging war with a gum infection, it can worsen these other conditions.
It's important then to take care of your gums and the rest of the body to minimize chronic inflammation. You can help prevent a gum infection by brushing and flossing every day and getting your teeth cleaned professionally at least every six months. You should also see your dentist if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, often the first signs of gum disease.
It can also benefit your gums if you're addressing other inflammatory issues in your body. Besides regular medical care, you can reduce your risk for other systemic diseases by eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight at an optimum level and avoiding smoking.
The individual parts of your body aren't isolated islands: Diseases that affect one can eventually affect all. By preventing or treating gum disease as early as possible, you'll also help reduce the effects of other systemic diseases.
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