If we were playing word association with the term “oral hygiene,” you'd probably answer “brushing.” And you would be right—brushing cleans tooth surfaces of accumulated bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease.
But brushing is only half of the oral hygiene equation: You also need to remove dental plaque between teeth where brushing can't reach. And, that requires that other practice—flossing.
Unfortunately, brushing is more popular than its hygienic sibling because many people find traditional thread flossing more difficult and messier than brushing. That can make it tempting to skip flossing—but then you're only getting half the benefit of oral hygiene for reducing the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
There is, however, a way to floss that doesn't involve a roll of thread: oral irrigation. This form of flossing uses a countertop device that directs a pressurized spray of water between teeth through a handheld wand. The directed spray loosens and then flushes away accumulated plaque.
Oral irrigators (also known as water flossers) have been an important tool for decades in dental offices, and have been available for home use since the 1960s. In the last few years, though, the devices have become more compact and easier to use. More importantly, studies have shown they're as effective in removing between-teeth plaque as regular flossing.
These irrigation devices are especially useful for people wearing braces. The attached brackets and wires make it extremely difficult to maneuver flossing thread between teeth. Because of this (as well as similar difficulties in brushing), patients are more susceptible to dental disease while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
But a 2008 study showed that oral irrigators are quite effective for braces wearers in removing between-teeth plaque. It found those who used an irrigator after brushing removed five times the amount of plaque than those that only brushed.
Even if you're not wearing braces, you may still find an oral irrigator to be a useful flossing alternative. Speak with your dentist for recommendations on what to look for in an oral irrigator and tips on how to use it. It could make a positive difference in your dental health.
If you would like more information on how best to keep your teeth and gums clean, 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.”
Although energy drinks are but a blip on the historical timeline compared to coffee or tea, they've displaced these traditional stimulants among nearly half of today's adolescents and young adults. But these sweetened “processed” drinks are also controversial among healthcare experts—particularly the effect they may have on dental health.
Besides the added sugar found in many energy drinks—a prime food source for harmful bacteria—many energy drinks and their cousins sports drinks contain significant amounts of acid. High levels of acid soften and erode tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay.
During one experimental study, portions of tooth enamel were subjected to a number of name-brand energy and sports beverages. Over the course of a few days, researchers recorded significant enamel loss, especially involving the energy drink samples.
Abstaining from both energy and sports drinks is a sound way to avoid enamel erosion (the best hydrator, it turns out, is simply water). But if you do wish to continue consuming these beverages, here are a few common sense precautions for reduce the risk of harm to your teeth.
Partake only at mealtimes. Among its many abilities, saliva is able to neutralize oral acid and bring the mouth to a neutral pH level within 30 minutes to an hour. But if you're sipping on high-acid beverages throughout the day, your saliva may not be able to compensate effectively. Drinking energy drinks only during a meal helps saliva do its acid-buffering job better.
Rinse with water afterwards. Rinsing with a little water after eating or drinking something acidic can help reduce the pH levels in the mouth. That's because water is by and large neutral on the acidic/alkaline scale. Because it's not adding more, rinsing with water dilutes any concentrations of acid that may still be lingering in your mouth.
Don't brush immediately. Brushing is essential to overall hygiene, but if you do it right after you eat or drink, you could be doing more harm than good. That's because elevated acid levels that naturally occur after consuming foods and beverages can temporarily soften and demineralize the surface enamel. Brushing could remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. If you wait an hour to brush, you'll be giving saliva time to “re-mineralize” your enamel.
If you would like more information on the role of beverage acid in dental 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 “Think Before Your Drink.”
Miley Cyrus's rise to fame began when she was cast in the Disney series Hannah Montana. She played the title character, Hannah Montana, a famous singing star hiding her true identity, ordinary girl, Miley Stewart. In her real life at the time, Miley Cyrus had her own little secret—she was undergoing orthodontic treatment to straighten her smile.
Like many teenagers (as well as many adults), Cyrus's dental bite wasn't in proper alignment. She could have gone the traditional way by straightening her smile with braces fixed to the front of her teeth. It's an effective treatment, but the metallic hardware can overwhelm a person's appearance.
With her various roles in the public spotlight, Cyrus and her family wanted an effective but out-of-sight method for moving her teeth. They chose a relatively new one called lingual braces. Unlike traditional braces, the hardware for lingual braces is fixed on the back of the teeth (or the tongue side, hence the term “lingual”).
Lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial (“lip”) braces can, just through different mechanics of movement. Its main appeal is that the hardware is hidden behind the teeth, so only you and your orthodontist need know you're wearing braces.
There is also less risk of damage to the mouth or the braces themselves if you're in a sport or profession where you're at high risk for facial blows. And unlike patients with traditional braces, you'll have an unobstructed view of your progress over the course of treatment.
Lingual braces do tend to cost more than traditional braces. Some patients also have difficulty at first with speaking and tongue comfort, though most grow accustomed to the braces within a couple of weeks. Because lingual braces are relatively new, there's been a limited number of orthodontists offering it.
But lingual braces are just one of the ways to straighten teeth. Modern dentistry offers several ways to give you your dream smile. If you have dental problems or would like to improve the look of your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation, and we can discuss your options. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Lingual Braces” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
After years of research, we're confident in saying that brushing and flossing daily are essential for maintaining a healthy mouth. A mere five minutes a day performing these tasks will significantly lower your risk of dental disease.
We're also sure about the essentials you'll need to perform these tasks: a soft-bristled toothbrush using fluoride toothpaste, and a roll (or picks) of dental floss. The only deviation might be a water flosser appliance instead of flossing thread.
Unfortunately, some folks deviate even more from the norm for both of these tasks. One of the strangest is a social media trend substituting regular toothpaste with substances containing activated charcoal. The proponents of brushing with charcoal claim it will help whiten teeth and kill harmful microorganisms. People brushing with a black, tarry substance also seem to make for good “gross-out” videos.
There's no substantial evidence to support these claims. Perhaps proponents of charcoal's whitening ability are assuming it can remove stains based on its natural abrasiveness. It could, however, remove more than that: Used over time, charcoal could wear down the protective enamel coating on your teeth. If that happens, your teeth will be more yellow and at much greater risk for tooth decay.
When it comes to flossing (or more precisely, removing food material from between teeth), people can be highly inventive, substituting what might be at hand for dental floss. In a recent survey, a thousand adults were asked if they had ever used household items to clean between their teeth and what kind. Eighty percent said they had, using among other things twigs, nails (the finger or toe variety) and screwdrivers.
Such items aren't meant for dental use and can harm tooth surfaces and gum tissues. Those around you, especially at the dinner table, might also find their use off-putting. Instead, use items approved by the American Dental Association like floss, floss picks or toothpicks. Some of these items are small enough to carry with you for the occasional social “emergency.”
Brushing and flossing can absolutely make a difference keeping your teeth and gums healthy. But the real benefit comes when you perform these tasks correctly—and use the right products for the job.
Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
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