The American Dental Hygiene Association has designated October as National Dental Hygiene Month. Good dental hygiene is the best weapon against your mouth’s number one enemy: dental plaque.
Plaque, a sticky biofilm that forms on your teeth, is an accumulation of bacteria, other microorganisms, food debris, and other unpleasant components. It can make your teeth feel fuzzy or slimy. And worse, the bacteria in plaque can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
The best way to keep plaque at bay is by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day. But even though you can remove much of the plaque in your mouth with a toothbrush and dental floss, there are nooks and crannies that are hard to access with these basic oral hygiene tools.
Staying on top of dental plaque is an ongoing challenge. Immediately after teeth are cleaned, plaque starts to form again. And the longer plaque stays on teeth, the thicker it grows. Minerals in saliva become incorporated into the biofilm. As plaque takes on more minerals, it becomes calcified. This is when it hardens into calculus, or tartar. At this stage, tooth-brushing and flossing cannot disrupt the hardened layer of buildup, sometimes visible as yellow or brown deposits around the gum line.
This is why it’s important to schedule regular professional dental cleanings. At the dental office, we have special tools to remove tartar and get at those hard-to-reach places that your toothbrush and floss may have missed. If you have questions about dental hygiene, plaque control or another oral health issue, we are happy to talk with you. We are your partners in fighting plaque for a bright, healthy smile!
Read more about the topic in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
It's time to fire up the grill. So how about some tooth-healthy tips for a summer barbecue that will leave your belly satisfied and your teeth intact?
- Appetizers: Starting with appetizers, mind the chips. Tortilla chips can get lodged beneath your gums, potentially causing an abscess. Potato chips can stick to your teeth and invite decay-causing bacteria. How about a cheese or veggie platter instead? Cheese keeps tooth enamel strong, and raw vegetables will scrub your teeth clean.
- Main course: When it comes to meat with bones, like barbecued ribs or chicken drumsticks, bite carefully. Don't chew on the bones. Be especially cautious if you have any large fillings or porcelain veneers.
- Beverages: Avoid soda and lemonade. The dangerous duo of acid plus sugar in these drinks is the ideal formula for tooth decay. Water is the best choice for staying hydrated. Plus, it washes away debris in your mouth and helps neutralize the acid from food.
- After the meal: Need a toothpick? Watch out. They can act like miniature swords, piercing the gums. And wooden toothpicks might splinter, leaving an embedded fragment in your gums. So never leave home without your own supply of dental floss or flexible plastic toothpicks.
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
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