In November, many of us take time to reflect on what we are most thankful for—and good health is often put at the top of the list. If your teeth and gums have been trouble-free this year, congratulations! If not, here’s how to start making next year a better one for your oral health:
No Rushing When Brushing
It takes time to do a good job on the vital task of brushing your teeth. The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice each day for a full two minutes. That’s not a lot when you think about it: only 30 seconds to reach the front, back and chewing edge of every tooth in each quadrant of your mouth (upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right). Yet many people don’t regularly achieve the two-minute mark. So it’s a good idea to time yourself and see how long that actually is!
Clean In Between
Disease-causing dental plaque builds up not only on teeth, but also in between them. So it’s important to use floss or another interdental (between-the-teeth) cleaning aid. If you don’t floss, you’ll miss cleaning about a third of your tooth surfaces! Plaque left in place can harden into a deposit called calculus or tartar, which can only be removed at the dental office—not at home. When it remains on the teeth, tartar can irritate gums and promote dental disease.
Don’t Be a Stranger!
Practicing a good daily oral hygiene routine is essential for a healthy mouth, but regular dental exams and cleanings are also vital to maintaining your oral health. Routine dental visits are one of the best preventive healthcare values available. You’ll be screened for everything from cavities to oral cancer and alerted to any concerns that should be dealt with now—before they grow into bigger, more expensive problems later. So don’t be a stranger at the dental office!
Maintaining good oral health will help ensure your quality of life—today, tomorrow and throughout your life. That’s truly something to be thankful for.
If you have questions about oral health and hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Although distressing to many parents, infants and toddlers sucking their thumb is a common if not universal habit. Most children phase out of it by around age 4, usually with no ill effects. But thumb-sucking continuing into late childhood could prove problematic for a child’s bite.
Thumb sucking is related to how young children swallow. All babies are born with what is called an infantile swallowing pattern, in which they thrust their tongues forward while swallowing to ensure their lips seal around a breast or bottle nipple when they nurse. Thumb-sucking mimics this action, which most experts believe serves as a source of comfort when they’re not nursing.
Around 3 or 4, their swallowing transitions to a permanent adult swallowing pattern: the tip of the tongue now positions itself against the back of the top front teeth (you can notice it yourself when you swallow). This is also when thumb sucking normally fades.
If a child, however, has problems transitioning to an adult pattern, they may continue to thrust their tongue forward and/or prolong their thumb-sucking habit. Either can put undue pressure on the front teeth causing them to move and develop too far forward. This can create what’s known as an open bite: a slight gap still remains between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut rather than the normal overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower.
While we can orthodontically treat an open bite, we can minimize the extent of any treatments if we detect the problem early and intervene with therapies to correct an abnormal swallowing pattern or prolonged thumb sucking. For the former we can assist a child in performing certain exercises that help retrain oral and facial muscles to encourage a proper swallowing pattern. This may also help diminish thumb sucking, but we may in addition need to use positive reinforcement techniques to further discourage the habit.
To stay ahead of possible problems with thumb sucking or the swallowing pattern you should begin regularly taking them to the dentist around their first birthday. It’s also a good idea to have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 for any emerging bite problems. Taking these positive steps could help you avoid undue concern over this common habit.
If you would like more information on managing your child’s thumb-sucking habit, 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.”
Perhaps you haven’t thought of it quite this way, but saliva is one of the true wonders of the human body. This unassuming fluid performs a variety of tasks to aid digestion and help protect your mouth from disease. And you hardly notice it — except when it’s not there.
That’s the case for millions of people in America who have a chronic condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This happens when the salivary glands don’t secrete enough saliva, normally two to four pints daily.
Of course, we can experience mouth dryness when we first wake up (saliva flow ebbs while we sleep), feel stressed, use tobacco, or consume alcohol and certain foods like onions or spices. It becomes a problem, though, when periods of low saliva become chronic. Without its preventive capabilities, you’ll be at much higher risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Chronic dry mouth can occur for various reasons: systemic diseases like cancer or autoimmune deficiencies can cause it, as well as radiation or chemotherapy treatments. One of the most common causes, though, is medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. The surgeon general identifies over 500 known drugs that may inhibit saliva production, including some antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. It’s often why older people who take more medications than younger people suffer more as a population from dry mouth.
Because of its long-term health effects, it’s important to try to boost saliva flow. If your mouth is consistently dry, try to drink more fluids during the day. If you suspect your medication, see if your physician can prescribe a different drug. It also helps to drink a little water before and after taking oral medication.
We may also recommend medication or other substances that stimulate saliva or temporarily substitute for it. Xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that also inhibits bacterial growth, can help relieve dryness. You’ll often find it in gums or mints.
Chronic dry mouth is more than a minor irritation — it can lead to more serious conditions. In addition to these tips, be sure to also keep up your regular dental visits and maintain a daily schedule of oral hygiene to prevent dental disease.
If you would like more information on overcoming dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and Treatment of this Common Problem.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
Sending the kids back to school means it's time to start packing those lunch boxes! What your children eat and drink can have a big effect on their oral health. So it's important to know what the best choices are… and what to avoid. Here are some tips for sending your kids off with a tooth-healthy school lunch every day.
Tip 1: Avoid Sugary Drinks
The scientific evidence is overwhelming that sugar is the most important dietary factor in causing tooth decay, and soft drinks are the largest source of sugar in many kids' diets. Even natural fruit juices have unhealthy amounts of sugar. So when it comes to beverages, keep it simple: H₂0 is the way to go!
Tip 2: Get Creative With Shapes & Flavors
Healthy food that's low in sugar doesn't have to be boring! You can use cookie-cutters to shape calcium-rich cheese and whole-grain bread into flowers, stars — even dinosaurs. Unbuttered popcorn can be flavor-boosted with a dash of cinnamon or parmesan cheese. There are all kinds of ways to get creative.
Tip 3: Sweeten The Deal With Fruits & Veggies
While fruits and vegetables do have some sugar, they are a good choice for a healthy smile — and a healthy body. That's because they also contain plenty of water and fiber, which slows the body's absorption of the sugar… and even helps clean the teeth! Kids enjoy the naturally sweet taste of bite-sized fruits and vegetables like cherry tomatoes, baby carrots and seedless grapes. And the cheerful, bright colors of these nutritious little nuggets make them even harder to resist!
Of course, even with a healthy diet, your kids still need to practice good oral hygiene at home, and have regular professional cleanings at the dental office. If you have any questions about nutrition or oral hygiene, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. And have a happy, healthy — and delicious — return to school!
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