Health is on everyone's mind, especially after dealing with COVID-19 this past year. Beyond the immediate concerns of coping with this novel coronavirus, many are taking a closer look at improving their overall well-being. If that describes you, then don't forget this very important component of good health—your teeth and gums.
It's easy to see the body as just a collection of individual organs and anatomical structures. But in reality, all these individual parts are intertwined—if one part is unhealthy, it could directly or indirectly impact the health of all the others.
That's especially true in the mouth. There's some evidence that both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease can increase inflammation throughout the body, and worsen conditions like diabetes. And problems like chronic jaw joint pain or teeth loss could make it more difficult for the body to meet its nutritional needs.
In other words, you need to take just as much care of your teeth and gums as you do the rest of your body. In recognition of Oral Health Month this June, here's how.
Clear away plaque. Dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates daily on tooth surfaces, is the most common cause of tooth-destroying dental diseases. Removing plaque buildup every day with brushing and flossing is the single best thing you can do personally to maintain optimal oral health.
See your dentist. Even so, the most thorough hygiene regimen can miss a few plaque deposits. These can then harden into tartar (or calculus) that's nearly impossible to remove with brushing or flossing. A regular dental cleaning clears up any lingering plaque and tartar to further lower your disease risk.
Eat a "tooth-friendly" diet. A diet high in carbohydrates (particularly refined sugar) and processed foods can spell trouble for both the body and the mouth. But whole foods rich in micronutrients like calcium, potassium, or vitamin D, strengthens your teeth and gums against tooth decay or gum disease.
Maintain your dental work. Dental work like fillings, crowns, implants or bridges aid dental health and function, not to mention appearance. But they can wear over time, so keep up regular dental visits to assess their condition and make any needed repairs. Be sure you also clean them and the rest of your mouth daily.
A healthy body depends on a healthy mouth. Following these steps for better oral health will go a long way in achieving optimum physical well-being.
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
For some, the excitement over their braces coming off gets dampened a bit with the prospect of now having to wear a retainer. But it has to be—newly realigned teeth have a tendency to revert to their previous positions out of a kind of “muscle memory.” A retainer prevents that from happening.
But as essential as it is, the standard retainer is almost as noticeable as braces, a major reason why many patients are less than enthusiastic about wearing them. And, because it's common for them to become lost when out of the mouth, replacing one becomes an added expense.
But there's another option—the bonded retainer. This retainer consists of a metal wire bonded to the back of the teeth to prevent them from moving. Because it's fixed in place, only a dentist can remove it.
The bonded retainer addresses the previous two issues associated with a removable retainer. Because it's behind the teeth rather than in front, it's out of sight to others. And, because it's fixed in place, there's no danger of losing it.
But unlike its removable cousin, which can be taken out for oral hygiene, the bonded retainer can make flossing more difficult. And, by nature, a bonded retainer must be worn all the time; a removable retainer allows for a more flexible schedule later in the treatment of a few hours a day.
So, which retainer option is best for you or another family member? A bonded retainer may be more attractive for appearance's sake, if it must be worn indefinitely, or if there's a high probability of the teeth moving out of alignment. And, it might be the right choice where there's a concern about a patient's ability to keep up with a removable retainer.
If you do decide to go with a bonded retainer, ask your dental hygienist for training on using floss with the fixed appliance—this can help improve oral hygiene. Whatever you choose, bonded or removable, your retainer will help you keep that new, beautiful, straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
There are many things to be concerned about with your infant. Thumb sucking shouldn't be one of them—at least not yet. Practically universal among young children, the habit normally fades by age four with no real harm.
If it persists beyond that age, however, it can lead to a poor bite (malocclusion). Late thumb sucking may also have a connection with another problem—the inability of a child to transition from an infantile swallowing pattern to an adult pattern.
A baby while swallowing thrusts their tongue forward to help create a seal around a breast or bottle nipple during nursing. This normally changes about age 4, though, to a positioning of the tongue against the roof of the mouth when swallowing. But if they don't transition and continue to thrust the tongue forward, it can place undue pressure on the front teeth and cause them to develop too far forward.
The result may be an open bite, in which a gap exists between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut. An open bite can also happen with late thumb sucking, but instead of the tongue, their thumb presses against the teeth.
As to thumb-sucking, parents should encourage their child to stop the habit beginning around age 3, if they haven't already begun to do so. The best approach is to use some form of positive reinforcement such as praise or treats. The sooner the habit ceases after age 4, the lower their risk for developing an open bite.
You may also need to be alert to continued tongue thrusting while swallowing, which may still continue even after they no longer suck their thumb. In that case, your child may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), a series of exercises directed by a trained therapist to retrain the muscles involved with swallowing. This therapy could further help a child properly transition to an adult swallowing pattern.
Open bites can be corrected orthodontically later in life. But by being alert to your child's oral habits, as well as the way they're swallowing, you and your dentist may be able to intervene and eliminate or at least lessen the development of this type of problem bite.
If you would like more information on how to manage thumb sucking, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
If you're looking for a cosmetic enhancement with a “light” touch, you can't beat dental veneers. These custom-made wafers of dental porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, heavy staining or gaps, revitalizing your smile.
But with traditional veneers, a minimal impact doesn't mean no impact at all. Although they're quite thin—often a millimeter or less—they can still look bulky when bonded to unprepared teeth. Dentists usually remove a small amount of surface enamel to help them appear more natural.
The alteration itself is painless, and only the bare minimum of enamel is removed. Even so, the alteration is permanent—the tooth will require a veneer or other form of restoration from then on. But a new kind of veneer may make it possible to avoid any enamel removal, or much less. These no-prep or minimal-prep veneers are even thinner, between 0.3 and 0.5 millimeters.
With these ultra-thin veneers, your dentist may only perform a little minor enamel re-shaping, particularly the sides of the teeth, to ensure a good fit. As thin as they are—akin to that of a contact lens—no-prep veneers can be bonded to the teeth surface without the need for fitting them under the gum line.
No-prep veneers are ideal for people with smaller than normal teeth, or that appear smaller due to other facial features. This also includes teeth that have worn down from age or teeth grinding, or those that are misshapen in some way. They also work well with people who have a narrow smile where less teeth than normal are visible in the “smile zone.”
They can also be used with patients who have oversized or prominent teeth, but it may still require some enamel removal. The only qualification for anyone receiving ultrathin veneers is that their enamel is in reasonably good health.
Because there's little to no alteration of the teeth, no-prep veneers can be reversed. Removing them, though, is no easy task, so you'll still need to think long-term before obtaining one. All in all, though, no-prep veneers in the right setting can still transform your smile without much permanent change to your teeth.
If you would like more information on no-prep veneers, 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.