Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lemons Can Hurt Your Teeth

Cold lemonade on a hot day...  Lemon in hot tea on a cold day... They may both sound good to you, but your teeth may not agree. Lemons and lemon juice have a very high acid content which can irritate your gums and wear away the enamel on your teeth, leading to dental erosion

You can enjoy your lemons and still take care of your teeth. Some tips include: drink acidic beverages with a straw, to minimize their contact with your teeth and drink water after you eat to help to wash away the acid.

Another thing to do, which may seem counterintuitive, is to wait an hour or so after eating or drinking acidic food before you brush your teeth. Abrasive materials contained in some toothpastes may damage your enamel, which gets weakened by the acid.

Of course, your dentist can check for signs of dental erosion.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dentistry is a Good Investment

We all know what's happening with the economy.  Money is tight all over. The stock market is like a roller coaster. The holiday season is approaching and your disposable income is shrinking. As you think about opening those new accounts to finance a new TV or sofa, think about the gift that keeps on giving: dentistry.

In addition to accepting cash, insurance and the credit cards you already have, many dentists offer financing, both internally and through outside companies such as CareCredit or Capital One. Perhaps it is time to get that dental work you've been putting off. Maybe 'tis the season for your dream smile.

In addition to improving your appearance, taking care of your teeth can have far-reaching health benefits. It can help prevent gum disease and heart problems, to name just two.  Can a new TV do that for you?  

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dental Avoidance--an Amazing Talent!

One of my operators told me today about a patient who called and said they were in pain. He asked how bad the pain was, and the caller said, "On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 25." "Oh," he said, "then you probably want to get in to see a dentist right away." "No," she said, "I could wait until tomorrow."

Remarkable how much people are willing to go through to avoid seeing a dentist, as if putting it off helps. She was just finding a dentist in case the pain reached a 50, I guess. (On a scale of 1 to 10, of course.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dentures--an Unfortunate Choice

I visited my 92-year-old aunt this summer, and brought with me some sweet corn that had been picked that morning.  If you have never tasted a fresh ear of Rhode Island native sweet corn, there is no describing it.

I thoughtlessly forgot that my aunt wore dentures (probably for 30 years) and could not eat the corn for lunch, at least not off the cob.  My wife, who is capable of eating 8 ears of this corn in one sitting, was more than willing to relieve my aunt of her serving.

Dentures can be a real limitation, and now that there are dental implants I hope that more and more people will learn about them and realize what a good investment they are.  But if you can't afford them, at least get dentures that fit really well.  

Eating is one of the pleasures of life, and there's no reason not to enjoy it your entire life.  Taking care of your teeth to avoid losing them is obviously the best approach.  That means finding a dentist that you love and will see regularly.

My aunt, she grabbed the corn back from my wife and sliced it off the cob and ate it.  She's old, but she's not crazy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out of Control Tartar

With all the toothpastes out there claiming to do everything from whitening your teeth to making them harder, we're starting to hear the word "tartar", as in "tartar control", thrown around more. So what exactly is it?

Tartar, or dental calculus (no, not math problems for your teeth) is a hard material that develops between your teeth over time when you don't get your teeth professionally cleaned often enough, and sometimes even when you do. It accumulates faster if you don't brush your teeth regularly or floss.

Basically what it's doing is filling in the areas around and between your teeth. But it's not acting as a protective shield--it's more like the opposite. It's formed by an invisible layer of bacteria on your teeth called plaque, and it develops into a whitish, hard material that has fed on the sugars and starches you've eaten (and not brushed away.) And what it does is create acidic waste that will slowly travel down between your teeth and gums and separate them.

I was talking to a dentist recently who had a patient with so much plaque that as the dentist started to remove it the patient thought the dentist was breaking his teeth apart and got very upset!

A quick test: run your tongue along the back of your lower front teeth. Can you feel the separation between the teeth, or is it smooth from one end to the other? If it's smooth, you probably have filled in the spaces with tartar. Time to see a dentist quick!

While getting a dental cleaning with a lot of tartar can be a bit unpleasant, this just means you should improve your dental hygiene and see the dental hygienist more often. Waiting won't make it better, that's for sure.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saving a Lost Tooth

I was just listening to one of my operators talk to a caller who had a tooth knocked out, and I reminded him that many times a tooth can be saved when it has been completely knocked out and is still intact. If the tooth is broken off from the part below the gum, it's no longer possible to save it, but if you can see that it is the whole tooth, you have a chance.

The most important thing to remember is to get to a dentist with the tooth right away, and to wrap it in a small cloth soaked with milk. This will preserve the tooth and keep it from dehydrating, and often a dentist can put the tooth back in place and the root will take hold.

So if you knock out a tooth somehow, make sure you find it, and get to your dentist (or one of ours) immediately.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tobacco May Steal Your Teeth

By now we should all be aware of the risks associated with smoking and tobacco: lung disease, heart disease, low birth weight, etc.  One thing you might not know about is that tobacco can cause oral health issues like gum disease (periodontitis) as well. This can ultimately lead to tooth loss. This can be true whether you smoke, use smokeless tobacco or even have exposure to secondhand smoke.

Besides having facial wrinkles and horrible breath, it has been shown that smokers lose more teeth than non-smokers. In addition to the cosmetic effects , tooth loss can lead to a host of other problems. 

The next time you think about putting tobacco to your lips, imagine yourself with no teeth to greet it. Give your teeth a fighting chance. See your dentist regularly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gift Certificates for Smiles

A nice holiday gift for someone might be an in-office whitening at your dentist. Zoom and other in-office systems tend to work much better than the over-the-counter items, and you should always have your teeth examined before whitening just to make sure that they will whiten evenly and you don't have some other issue that should be dealt with first.

Almost any dentist would create a gift certificate for you, if they don't already have them, and certainly any 1-800-DENTIST member would do it, so they could go to a dentist near them.

A quick word about gift certificates. One of the worst ripoffs, in my mind, in the gift certificate business is the American Express gift cards that you buy in the supermarket and other places. First, you pay a premium on them, second, they expire, (which they shouldn't even be allowed to do--it's money!) and third, they charge a service fee every month of approximately 2%!!! So if you bought a $100 gift card and the person you gave it to waited a year, it would only be worth $74. And shortly after that, it would be worth $0. Nice for Amex, bad for everyone else.

So my advice is, avoid them. Get gift certificates at places that you know will give you the true dollar value that you paid for.

Give somebody a white (Christmas) smile. They'll think of you every time someone compliments them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Only Floss the Teeth You Want to Keep

Brushing your teeth is good, but it won't necessarily remove food and plaque from between your teeth. Flossing your teeth will get this done. Floss can reach where your toothbrush can't. It is available in many varieties: waxed or unwaxed, thin or wide and flavored or unflavored.

As good as it is for you, it must be done carefully and gently.  Improper flossing can hurt your gums.  Ask your dentist to show you the proper way to floss.

It isn't a stretch to say that, in addition to saving your teeth, flossing can actually help save your life.  Reducing bacteria in your mouth means reducing the chances of bacteria getting to your heart and to the rest of your body. There are studies that show a link between periodontal disease and coronary artery disease.

Speaking of flavored dental floss, I thought I'd leave you with this. It is for those of you who want to remove the bacon from between your teeth without losing the flavor. It's not an endorsement, but I do support whatever gets you to floss.... 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Long in the Tooth"

If you've ever heard that expression and wondered what the heck it meant, it refers to the fact that as we get older, our gums recede. This makes more of the tooth show, and therefore look longer. It means someone is old, in other words.

Getting long in the tooth isn't just an appearance issue. It means the lower part of the tooth that should be below the gumline is exposed. This is bad for a couple of reasons: first, the part of the tooth below the gums is not as dense, with much thinner enamel than the upper part of the tooth, so it decays a lot more easily; and second, it is more sensitive, to cold, heat, or even touch.

Seeing a dentist can keep you from getting long in the tooth for a long time. Have I mentioned this fact before?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quadrant Dentistry--the Best Way to the Best Bite

I've just returned from a seminar where one of the leading experts on CEREC, which is dental technology that allows a dentist to do crowns in a single appointment, was touting the advantages of what is referred to as "quadrant dentistry."

What this refers to is having your teeth repaired in sections rather than one at a time. A quadrant is one quarter of your teeth--think upper left, upper right, lower left, etc.--and working on all the teeth together provides a much more stable and longlasting restoration of your teeth.

Think of it this way. Your back molar has a huge metal filling in it that was put in when you were 17. The tooth in front of it has had a couple of cavities, and though the dentist used composite fillings, they are really only good for 5-8 years on average, and then they can start to decay on the sides and underneath. And now the tooth in front of that one has a new cavity.

Ideally, what your dentist should do is remove the fillings in the other two teeth at the same time as he or she is treating the cavity in the third tooth. This is better for two reasons: first, the older the fillings are, the more likely there is decay underneath, which can lead to infection and possibly needing a root canal; second, when you fix all the teeth in a row at the same time, they will all fit together better, and they will align better with the teeth above (or below) them.

When I was 35, I had a dentist go quadrant by quadrant through my mouth, removing old fillings and replacing them with new porcelain inlays and crowns (I had a lot of decay when I was younger). Because I did this, I have never had a root canal, and I don't expect I ever will. (I'm very regular in my checkups!) Were I to do it now, it would get done a lot faster if the dentist had a CEREC machine.

Many dentists are reluctant to suggest quadrant dentistry because their patients might think they are just out to make more money by doing unnecessary work. But the ones that believe in it and tell you about it are helping you to keep your teeth for a long, long time. Consider it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

DDS vs DMD -- Which Degree is Better?

I have gotten questions from potential patients regarding the distinction between a DDS and a DMD.  They want to know which one they should see.  Which is better?

Some schools confer a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree and others choose to award a DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree instead.  The training the dentist gets is typically similar, but the name of the degree granted is different.

DDS was the typical degree for a dentist until Harvard University added a dental school in 1867. The degrees granted by Harvard are in Latin. The Latin translation of DDS would have been CDD. They made the degree Dentariae Medicinae Doctor, or DMD.

So, it comes down to where the dentist attended dental school.  It is not a distinction based on the quality of the degree.  Regardless of the name of the degree, you should visit your dentist regularly.  If you don't have a dentist, find one today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dental Care for Babies - Don't Neglect It

We've talked about dental implants, veneers and various other ways to enhance the adult smile. Let's not forget the other end of the spectrum: sound oral hygiene should start when we are babies. Ignorance about this fact can explain why, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common chronic disease among children aged 5 to 17 is tooth decay. 

Dentists suggest gently brushing baby's gums even before teeth erupt. Use a soft cloth or gauze after each meal. This gets the child used to it so he will be accustomed to brushing when that first tooth finally makes an appearance. Flossing should begin as soon as teeth erupt next to each other. Your child should be encouraged to brush and floss on her own as soon as she is able.

Children's teeth should also be brushed after they are given medicine, due to the high acid content contained in many medicines for children. I've heard people refer to "baby teeth" as being less important than the "permanent teeth" that ultimately replace them.  Healthy teeth are important to a child's complete health and development.  Dental sealants and fluoride can also help.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking care of your teeth from the very beginning can prevent the need for those implants in adulthood.  Go to the dentist.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lumineers® Instead of Veneers

The latest and perhaps greatest thing that has happened in dentistry lately are Lumineers, or "no-prep veneers". This is dentist shorthand for describing cosmetic porcelain shells that can be attached to your teeth without any preparation, i.e., any drilling, shots or loss of tooth tissue.

These no-prep veneers essentially add a very thin layer of porcelain to the tooth. They are very strong and they can significantly change the shape and color of your smile. Many people who wouldn't consider veneers because of the drilling, shots, and discomfort are trying Lumineers.

Lumineers can't be universally applied. You may have too much decay or discoloration, or your teeth may be twisted in a way that the veneer can't cover it. You might need some orthodontics, or you may need to have one or more teeth prepared, which is to say drilled, but the goal in dentistry is to hang onto as much natural tooth tissue as possible, and Lumineers allow you to do that.

Some patients find that Lumineers make them talk a little funny. This is because their teeth are, in essence, thicker. They usually adjust to this in a couple of weeks. They will also break more easily than cosmetic veneers, and if you are a bruxer (you grind your teeth) it's going to be tough to keep Lumineers attached. But most of the time they are fine.

Cost is still fairly significant, close to what regular cosmetic veneers would be, but they can be done without any discomfort. They can also be removed easily if you decide you don't like them, or if you need something that is stronger (because the no-prep veneer breaks,) leaving the original tooth is intact. Look at it like a starter kit for cosmetic veneers, and it may eliminate the need for them, or put it off by several years.

Redoing your smile can really change your life. It can help with your confidence, your self-esteem and generally make you feel better about yourself. That's a wonderful thing in my book.

The procedure is simple. The dentist takes an impression of your existing teeth, designs how your smile will look, and then sends all that off to the lab that makes Lumineers. The next visit, the dentist will spend a couple of hours putting them on (assuming you've had several teeth done), with virtually no discomfort on your part, and then you walk away with a beautiful smile that you can eat with right away. Amazing stuff.

While Lumineers is the most recognized brand, there are a couple of other competitors, Venus Smile and Vivaneers. They are both made by very old, reputable companies in the dental industry, so it's really a matter of what your dentist recommends. See a dentist and ask about no-prep veneers as an option if you're not happy with the way your smile looks. A dentist can design and show you exactly how your smile will look.

I'm probably going to get them myself pretty soon, and if I do, I'll go into a lot more detail about the procedure.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bruxism: the Daily Grind for 3 Million People

I just ready a report that over 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from bruxism. In layman's terms, that means grinding your teeth, usually while you sleep. This is usually caused by stress, nervousness, insomnia or other psychological issues, but the result is rough on the teeth.

First, you end up grinding the enamel off your teeth. You can also be causing minor fractures in your teeth, weakening them and allowing bacteria to pass all the way to the root of your tooth. But losing the enamel is bad enough. Enamel is hard, what's below it isn't, and it decays a lot faster.

People also get headaches that are the result of bruxing or grinding. You can imagine that clenching your teeth against each other for hours would make your jaw tired and pretty quickly make your head ache.

Some people try to compensate for the damage done by bruxing by getting cosmetic veneers on their teeth. Unfortunately, many times these will break or pop off because of the continued pressure from the bruxing.

The only solution is seeing a dentist and treating the bruxism with a well-fitted night guard that both protects the teeth and puts the jaw in the right position. Don't try to find some cheap thing that you get in a drug store. This mouth guard, or dental splint, should fit perfectly, and only a dentist can make those measurements and design something that works.

And then try to relax. Think about meditation, vacation, or at least taking a few deep breaths every day.