Posts for category: Oral Health
Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.
But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.
For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.
The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.
So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.
It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.
If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.
Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.
As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
If you think there's not much difference between toothbrushes, a quick look on a retail oral care aisle might change your mind. About the only thing toothbrushes really have in common are a handle and bristled head.
Choosing the right toothbrush, therefore, might seem overwhelming. But choose you must: Your toothbrush is an essential tool in the fight against tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Without it, your odds for developing dental disease skyrocket.
Along with flossing, brushing is the best way to remove daily plaque buildup, that bacterial film most responsible for dental disease. Brushing also minimizes the buildup of tartar, the hardened form of plaque that's just as harmful as softer plaque. And, brushing stimulates your gum tissues to help prevent or lessen inflammation.
But back to all those brushes—with so many options to weigh, how do you come up with your best choice? Actually, there are some basic tips that can help you narrow things down.
Bristle stiffness. Considering other cleaning chores, you might think you'll need a stiff brush. The opposite—a soft-bristled brush—is usually true. Your toothpaste's mild abrasives and the mechanical action of brushing perform most of the plaque removal. And stiffer brushes could irritate and damage your gums or tooth enamel, leading to bigger problems.
Size and shape. Through a little trial and error (and advice from your dentist), you may find a brush with an angled or tapered neck helps you get into difficult places, especially around the back teeth. If you have problems with grip, you may also opt for a brush with a large diameter handle. Bottom line: Choose a brush you feel comfortable handling.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. Common on dental product packaging, this seal indicates that after rigorous testing the item meets the high standards of the American Dental Association, and that it does what the packaging says it does. Even so, some quality brushes don't have this seal, so ask your dentist their opinion on a particular brand.
There's one more critical component—how well you use your toothbrush. For that, ask your dentist or hygienist for tips on better brushing. Combining the right brush and technique goes a long way toward avoiding dental disease.
If you would like more information on choosing the right toothbrush for you, 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 “Sizing Up Toothbrushes.”
Although we've known for some time how tooth decay forms, it's still prevalent across the population—even more so than cancer or heart disease. Along with gum disease, it's a leading cause of tooth loss.
Fortunately, our knowledge about tooth decay has grown considerably, to the point that we now recognize a number of risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop this disease. By first identifying them in individual patients, we can take steps to address them specifically to reduce the chances of this destructive disease.
Genetics. Researchers have identified around 40 to 50 genes that can influence cavity development. The best way to assess your genetic risk is through family history—if numerous close family members contend with tooth decay, your risk may be high. If so, it's important to be extra vigilant with addressing other areas over which you have more control.
Saliva. Cavities are directly caused by oral acid, a byproduct of bacteria, that can erode tooth enamel over prolonged contact. This is minimized, though, through a normal saliva flow that neutralizes acid and helps remineralize enamel. But poor saliva production can slow acid neutralization. You can improve your saliva flow by drinking more water, changing medications or using saliva-boosting products.
Oral hygiene. You can reduce bacteria (and thus acid) by removing their "room and board"—dental plaque. This accumulating film of food particles harbors the bacteria that feed on it. Daily brushing and flossing, accompanied by regular dental cleanings, effectively removes dental plaque, which in turn lowers the levels of oral bacteria and acid.
Dental-friendly diet. Even if you diligently address the previous risk factors, your diet may fight against your efforts. Diets high in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, provide abundant food sources for bacteria. On the other hand, a diet primarily of whole foods rich in vitamins (especially D) and minerals like calcium and phosphorous strengthen teeth against decay.
Preventing tooth decay isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach. By identifying your own particular risk, we can craft a care strategy that can be your best defense against this destructive dental disease.
In an ideal world, your family's dental needs would mesh seamlessly with the family budget. Alas, it's not always that way, and it can often be a head scratcher figuring out how to pay for needed dental work.
You can reduce treatment costs with dental insurance, which could conceivably cut your bill in half. But dental policies often have payment caps and coverage limitations on materials and procedures. And unless someone else like an employer is paying for it, you'll have to subtract the premiums you're paying from any benefits you receive to reveal what you're actually saving.
Even with dental insurance, you can still have a remaining balance that exceeds what you can pay outright. You may be able to work out a payment plan with the dentist for extended treatments like braces, but this might not be possible in other cases.
That leaves financing what you owe with loans or credit cards. For the latter, it's highly likely your dentist accepts major credit cards. But since many cards charge high interest rates, you could pay a hefty premium on top of your treatment charges the more you extend your payments on a revolving account over time.
Your dentist may also participate with a healthcare credit card. Although similar to a regular credit card, it only pays for healthcare costs like dental fees. Interest rates may also be high like regular cards, but some healthcare cards offer promotional periods for paying a balance over a designated time for little to no interest. But late payments and overextending the promotional period could nullify this discount.
You might save more on interest with a loan that has a fixed interest rate and payment schedule rather than a credit card with revolving interest (although credit cards may be more suitable for smaller expenditures while a fixed loan works better for larger one-time charges). One in particular is a healthcare installment loan program, one of which your dentist might be able to recommend, which is often ideal for paying dental costs.
Paying for your family's needed dental care can be financially difficult. But you do have options—and your dentist may be able to assist you in making the right choice.