Every good oral hygiene regimen has two parts — the part you do (brushing and flossing) and the part we do (professional cleanings and checkups).
But what’s involved with “professional cleanings” — and why do we perform it? The “why” is pretty straightforward — we’re removing plaque and calculus. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food remnant that adheres to tooth surfaces and is the main culprit in dental disease. Calculus (tartar) is calcified plaque that occurs over time as the minerals in saliva are deposited in bacterial plaque. It isn’t possible for you to remove calculus regardless of your efforts or hygiene efficiency. Ample research has shown that calculus forms even in germ-free animals during research studies, so regular cleanings are a must to keep you healthy.
The “what” depends on your mouth’s state of health and your particular needs. The following are some techniques we may use to clean your teeth and help you achieve and maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Scaling. This is a general term for techniques to manually remove plaque and calculus from tooth surfaces. Scaling typically encompasses two approaches: instruments specially designed to remove plaque and calculus by hand; or ultrasonic equipment that uses vibration to loosen and remove plaque and calculus, followed by flushing with water and/or medicaments. Scaling can be used for coronal maintenance (the visible surfaces above the gum line) or periodontal (below the gum line).
Root planing. Similar to scaling, this is a more in-depth technique for patients with periodontal disease to remove plaque and calculus far below the gum line. It literally means to “plane” away built up layers of plaque and calculus from the root surfaces. This technique may employ hand instruments, or an ultrasonic application and flushing followed by hand instruments to remove any remaining plaque and calculus.
Polishing. This is an additional procedure performed on the teeth of patients who exhibit good oral health, and what you most associate with that “squeaky clean” feeling afterward. It’s often performed after scaling to help smooth the surface of the teeth, using a rubber polishing cup that holds a polishing paste and is applied with a motorized device. Polishing, though, isn’t merely a cosmetic technique, but also a preventative measure to remove plaque and staining from teeth — a part of an overall approach known as “prophylaxis,” originating from the Greek “to guard or prevent beforehand.”
If you would like more information on teeth cleaning and plaque removal, 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 “Teeth Polishing.”
Between infancy and the onset of puberty, your child will grow one set of teeth, lose it and grow another; their jaw structure will also change dramatically. This rapid development sets the course for their oral health later in life.
That’s why it’s so important to care for their teeth and gums in these early stages through daily hygiene and regular dental visits for disease prevention and treatment. Hygiene is the cornerstone of this care, and should begin in earnest when your child’s first tooth erupts in the gums, by first gently cleaning around the newly erupted teeth and gums after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad.
As they pass their first birthday you can switch to a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and just a smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Children should begin learning to brush around age 2, first by modeling you as you brush together. They should be adept enough by age 6 to brush on their own, at which time you can introduce flossing. We’re more than happy to advise you on technique for both of these hygiene tasks.
Age one is also the time for them to begin regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. This will help us stay ahead of any developing decay or other issues and perform preventive treatments like dental sealants or fluoride applications. It will also help your child become comfortable with the dental office, which can make it easier for them to develop a long-term habit of regular dental care.
There are also habits you should practice (or avoid) that support good oral health for your child. For example, you shouldn’t allow them to sleep with a pacifier or a bottle filled with anything but water. Breast milk and formula contain some forms of sugar that bacteria can feed on; if this becomes too frequent it can result in higher acid levels that soften enamel and lead to decay. You should also take preventive actions to protect your child from teeth-damaging injuries like playing too close to hard furniture.
All these common sense measures support your child’s oral development. You can then let Nature takes its course as your child develops a healthy mouth for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on oral care for children, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Tooth decay doesn’t suddenly appear out of the blue. Cavities and other damage are the result of a long process that begins with bacteria living in a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces known as plaque. These bacteria thrive on sugars from leftover food in your mouth and then produce acid as a waste product. Chronic high levels of acid cause your enamel, the protective layer of your teeth, to soften and erode.
While there are treatment options at each stage of decay — including crowning or even tooth replacement — the best approach is to try to prevent plaque buildup that supports disease-causing bacteria. Here are 3 of the best ways you can do that.
Brush and floss daily. It usually takes 12-24 hours for enough plaque buildup to support bacteria. By brushing and flossing at least once a day, you can remove most of this buildup, with twice a year dental cleanings to remove hard to reach plaque you may have missed. Be sure to use fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen enamel against high acid. And wait a half hour to an hour after eating before brushing to give saliva time to reduce the acid level in your mouth.
Cut back on sweets. You’re not the only one who loves sugary snack foods — so do oral bacteria. The more sugar and other carbohydrates they feast on, the more they produce acid. The best approach is to cut out sugar-rich snacks altogether and instead snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables or dairy products. Limit sweet treats to meal times.
Use decay-fighting supplements. Your mouth and hygiene efforts may need a little assistance, especially if you have low saliva flow. You can boost this with an artificial saliva supplement as well as with products containing xylitol, an alcohol-based sugar. Xylitol also has an added benefit in the fight against decay because it inhibits bacterial growth. And be sure to talk with us first before taking any dental supplement.
If you would like more information on dental hygiene and care, 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 “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
Did you ever brush your teeth and find that your gums were bleeding slightly? This unwelcome discovery is more common than you might think — and it might have something to tell you about your oral health. Here are five things you should know about bleeding gums.
- As much as 90% of the population occasionally experiences bleeding gums. It happens most often while brushing — and it’s often a sign of trouble, indicating that your gums are inflamed and/or you aren’t brushing or flossing optimally.
- Bleeding gums can be an early warning sign of gum disease. In its earliest stages, this malady is called gingivitis, and it’s quite common. About 10 to 15 percent of people with gingivitis go on to develop a more serious form of gum disease, called periodontitis. If left untreated, it can lead to gum recession, bone loss, and eventually tooth loss.
- A professional exam is the best way to tell if you have gum disease. Your dentist or hygienist may use a small hand-held instrument called a periodontal probe to check the spaces between your teeth and gums. When gum tissue becomes detached from the teeth, and when it bleeds while being probed, gum disease is suspected.
- Other symptoms can confirm the presence of gum disease. These include the presence of pus and the formation of deep “pockets” under the gums, where gum tissues have separated from teeth. The pockets may harbor harmful bacteria, and need to be treated before they cause more damage.
- Several factors may influence the health of your gums. How effectively you brush and floss has a major impact on the health of your gums. But other factors are important too: For instance, women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills sometimes have bleeding gums due to higher hormone levels. Diabetics and people with compromised immune systems often tend to have worse problems with periodontal disease. Certain drugs, like aspirin and Coumadin, may cause increased bleeding; smoking, by contrast, can mask the presence of gum disease by restricting blood flow.
It’s never “normal” to have bleeding gums — so if you notice this problem, be sure to have an examination as soon as you can. If you have questions about bleeding gums or periodontal disease, contact us or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Assessing Risk For Gum Disease.”
Besides reduced biting and chewing function, a missing tooth can cause an embarrassing inhibition to healthy social interaction. This can be especially so for teens who greatly value peer relationships and acceptance.
Be that as it may, we typically discourage a permanent replacement for teens with a missing tooth, particularly dental implants. While we value a patient’s psychological needs, the long-term effect on dental health may be too great to advise otherwise.
The effect we’re concerned with involves jaw growth and development. Although a person’s permanent teeth have usually all erupted by early adolescence, the jaws continue to grow until the late teens or early twenties. Natural teeth can adapt to this growth because the periodontal ligament that holds them in place allows for incremental tooth movement. The teeth move in response to jaw growth and are thus able to maintain their proper relationship and alignment in the jaw as growth occurs.
Dental implants, on the other hand, are imbedded into the jaw bone: they, therefore, can’t move like natural teeth and thus can’t adjust their position with jaw growth, particularly the upper jaw as it grows forward and down. This can result in the implants appearing as though they are left behind or retreat into the jaw. It can also affect the position of the gums and inhibit their growth around the implants.
It’s best then to hold off implants and other permanent restorations until the jaw has finished developing. That, however, isn’t always easy to determine: specialized x-ray diagnostics may help, but it’s not an exact science. Your input as a parent will also be helpful, such as whether you’ve noticed the end of growth spurts (not changing clothes or shoe sizes as often) or your child’s recent similarity in appearance to other adult members of your family. It thus becomes a judgment call, based on examination and experience, as to whether it’s safe to proceed with implants — and may require erring on the side of caution.
In the meantime, there are temporary restorations that can improve appearance while you wait for the appropriate time to undertake a permanent restoration. Two of the most useful are removable partial dentures (RPDs) or a bonded bridge, a less invasive form of the traditional bridge. With a proper assessment we can advise you on which option is your best choice.
If you would like more information on tooth restorations for teenagers, 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 “Teenagers & Dental Implants.”
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