It’s important for your child’s current and future health that we watch out for tooth decay. Taking x-rays is a critical part of staying one step ahead of this common disease.
But while x-ray imaging is commonplace, we can’t forget it’s still a form of radiation that could be potentially harmful, especially for a child whose tissues are rapidly developing. We must, therefore, carefully weigh the potential benefits against risk.
This concern has given birth to an important principle in the use of x-rays known as ALARA, an acronym for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” In basic terms, we want to use the lowest amount of x-ray energy for the shortest period of time to gain the most effectiveness in diagnosing tooth decay and other conditions.
A good example of this principle is a common type of radiograph known as a bitewing. The exposable x-ray film is attached to a plastic devise that looks like a wing; the patient bites down on it to hold it in place while the x-ray exposure takes place. Depending on the number of teeth in a child’s mouth, an appointment usually involves 2 to 4 films, and children are typically spaced at six months apart. Frequency of x-rays depends on your child’s tooth decay risk: lower risk, less need for frequent intervals.
Each bitewing exposes the child to 2 microsieverts, the standard unit for radiation measurement. This amount of radiation is relatively low: by contrast, we’re all exposed to 10 microsieverts of background radiation (natural radiation occurring in the environment) every day or 3,600 microsieverts annually. Even two appointments of four bitewings each year is a fraction of a percent of the background radiation we’re exposed to in the same year.
This conservative use of x-rays is well within safe parameters for children. As x-ray technology continues to advance (as with the development of digital imaging) we anticipate the exposure rate to diminish even more. Prudently used, x-rays remain one of our best tools for ensuring your child’s teeth are healthy and developing normally.
If you would like more information on the use of x-rays with 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Confused about which toothpaste to buy? You’re not alone — we’re all regularly confronted with multiple choices when we shop.
But you can simplify your decision-making process by first remembering that toothpaste has one main objective: helping to break down and remove dental plaque when you brush. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food particles that if you don’t remove through brushing and flossing could trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Toothpastes contain abrasives and detergents to help make this possible. Abrasives like hydrated silica are gritty substances that work with the mechanical brushing action to loosen plaque. Detergents (usually sodium lauryl sulfate) help loosen and break down particles on your teeth that won’t otherwise dissolve with water alone. The combination of these ingredients and daily brushing action enables you to remove a substantial portion of plaque from your teeth every day.
These ingredients (along with others to retain moisture and bind everything together) are the foundation of any toothpaste. There are other additives, however, that you may also want to consider. The most important is fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical proven to strengthen enamel against tooth decay. If you’re interested in a brighter smile, you can also look for bleaching agents that may help whiten some enamel staining. And, of course, there are various flavors to suit your taste.
You’ll also want to pay attention to ingredients if you have special concerns. If you have sensitive teeth, your dentist may recommend particular brands that help reduce discomfort. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for ingredients that you may be allergic to like the aforementioned sodium lauryl sulfate or flavors like cinnamon. Be sure to read the ingredients label if you have known issues with certain substances.
And while you’re reading the packaging look for one more thing — the American Dental Association Seal of Approval. This seal means any manufacturer claims for lower occurrences of cavities or other effects by that toothpaste have been independently verified.
It can be overwhelming amid all the product messaging to decide which toothpaste is right for you. But by knowing these basic facts about toothpaste, you can feel more confident choosing the right one to help keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products, 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 “Toothpaste: What’s in it?”
While your chances of losing teeth increase as you age, it's not a given. With proper hygiene and care your teeth could last a lifetime.
But brushing and flossing can become more difficult in later years. Arthritis or strength issues in the fingers and hands make holding a toothbrush an arduous chore and flossing next to impossible.
But you can accommodate these physical changes. Many seniors find using a powered toothbrush much easier to handle and effective for removing disease-causing plaque. A tennis ball or bike handle grip attached to a manual toothbrush can also make it easier to handle. As to flossing, older people may find it easier to use floss threaders or a water irrigator, which removes plaque from between teeth with a pressurized water spray.
You may also find changes in the mouth that increase your risk for dental disease. One such issue is xerostomia, dry mouth. As you age you don't produce as much saliva, which neutralizes acid and restores minerals to enamel, as when you were younger. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of certain medications. Older people are also more likely to suffer from gastric reflux, which can introduce stomach acid into the mouth.
With these dry, acidic conditions, you're more susceptible to both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. You can help offset it by increasing water consumption, taking a saliva stimulator, changing to alternative medications if available, and relieving gastric reflux.
Another area of concern in aging is the higher risk for inflammatory diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which could also increase your risk of periodontal (gum) disease. Seeking treatment for gum disease and other similar systemic diseases may help ease the effects of each one.
Taking care of your mouth can be challenging as you grow older. But tooth loss and other unpleasant results aren't inevitable. Invest in your teeth and gums today and you're more likely to have a healthy life and smile all through your golden years.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth and gums as you age, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Your gums not only support and protect your teeth they also help present them in a visually attractive way. But some people’s gums seem to stand out too much — what’s commonly called a gummy smile — which diminishes their smile appeal. There’s no precise definition, but as a rule of thumb we consider a smile too gummy if four or more millimeters (about an eighth of an inch) of the gums show.
Fortunately, there are some techniques to improve a gummy smile. Which technique is best for you, though, will depend on why the gums are prominent — and causes vary. For example, you could have a gummy smile because your teeth appear too short compared to your gums.
Permanent teeth normally erupt to about 10 mm of visible length. But less than that, say 8 mm, could skew the visible proportion of gums to teeth too much toward the gums. Teeth can also appear shorter due to accelerated wear caused by grinding habits. Another cause could be the amount of upper lip rise when you smile. The lip may rise too high in a condition called hypermobility. This could reveal too much of the gums when you smile.
It’s important then to match the treatment to the cause. For example, we can enhance the appearance of shorter teeth through a surgical procedure known as crown lengthening.Â During this procedure a surgeon reshapes the gum tissues and underlying bone to expose more of the tooth’s length.
For upper lip hypermobility, we can restrict movement with Botox, a drug that paralyzes tiny parts of the involved muscles. This approach, though, will wear off in a few months — a more permanent solution is surgery to reposition the muscle attachments so as to prevent excessive movement.
If you’re concerned about a gummy smile, see us for a full examination and consultation. Once we know the reason why, we can offer a solution that will make your smile more attractive.
If you would like more information on enhancing the appearance of your gums, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
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