Brushing and flossing daily, and dental visits at least twice a year: These are the essential things you should be doing to protect your teeth and gums against dental disease. But you're also getting an automatic assist from your body through saliva, that humble fluid swishing around in your mouth, to protect your oral health.
It's more than simply “mouth water”: Without saliva and its various components, your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease would be much higher. Here are 4 ways saliva helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Cleansing. Chewing prepares your food for digestion, but in the process produces tiny particles of food debris. Settling on tooth surfaces, these bits become part of the dental plaque that forms on your teeth and develops the ideal breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps rinse away much of this debris—particularly sugar, the primary food source for bacteria.
Protection. Saliva is the first line defense against disease-causing microorganisms entering the mouth. The primary source of this protection is a protein-based antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which directly fights infection-causing organisms. Another protein in saliva, lactoferrin (also found in tears), interferes with bacterial growth.
Buffering. The main enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid, produced by oral bacteria and the foods that we eat. Saliva neutralizes acid to help the mouth maintain its normally neutral pH range. And it works fast: Saliva can buffer acid and restore balance within thirty minutes to an hour after eating.
Re-mineralization. It's normal for acid to build up after eating, and for it to quickly remove minerals from surface enamel, a process called de-mineralization that can soften and weaken the enamel. But saliva helps restore some of these lost minerals as it's neutralizing acid. This re-mineralization re-strengthens enamel against tooth decay.
Saliva is so important for maintaining a healthy mouth, it's worth your efforts to protect it. Diminished saliva production not only produces an unpleasant dry mouth, it may increase your risk for disease. If this is a constant problem, speak to your dentist about causes and remedies. You'll be doing your teeth and gums a favor.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in maintaining oral health, 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Orthodontics, veneers and other cosmetic dental techniques can turn a less than perfect smile into a beautiful one—but not always very quickly. For example, porcelain veneers can take weeks from planning to installation, including the meticulous work of an outside dental lab to produce veneers that look natural as well as beautiful.
But you may be able to take advantage of another approach, one that often takes no more than a couple of dental visits. Called direct veneers, it's actually a process of bonding and sculpting life-like composite materials to teeth that are heavily stained, chipped or that contain tiny crevices called “craze lines.”
Unlike the similarly-named traditional method, direct veneers don't involve the creation of layered porcelain veneers fashioned by a dental lab. But this newer process is similar to the older one in that some of the enamel must be removed from the teeth in question to provide a suitable surface for the composite material to adhere. This alteration will be permanent, requiring a restorative covering on the treated teeth from then on.
Right before this preparation, though, a dentist typically makes an impression of the patient's mouth. This will be the basis for creating the procedural plan for the dental work, particularly a “trial smile” from similar composite material that can be applied to the patient's teeth before actual restoration work begins. This temporary application gives both patient and dentist an opportunity to visualize the final look, and make needed adjustments in color and shaping.
Once the work plan is finalized, the patient then returns for the actual restoration procedure. The dentist begins by applying and bonding the composite material to the prepared teeth. Then, using a drill and manual instruments, the dentist shapes and smooths the material into a tooth-like appearance that blends with other teeth. The procedure can take a few hours, but it can usually be completed during a single visit.
Although direct veneers may not last as long as porcelain veneers, the process is less costly and requires less time to complete. Direct veneers could be an economical solution for achieving a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on direct veneers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic with a firsthand patient account by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “A New Smile With Direct Veneers.”
Parents have been dealing with their children's teething pain for as long as parents and children have been around. Along the way, the human race has developed different ways to ease the discomfort of this natural process of dental development. While most are good, common-sense measures, one in particular needs to be avoided at all costs—applying topical oral products to the gums containing Benzocaine.
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic often found in oral products like Anbesol, Orajel or Topex to help ease tooth pain or sensitivity. The agent can be found in gel, spray, ointment or lozenge products sold over-the-counter. As an analgesic, it's considered relatively safe for adults to use.
But that's not the case with infants or younger children. Researchers have found a link between Benzocaine and methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal blood condition. Methemoglobinemia elevates the amount of a hemoglobin-like protein called methemoglobin, which in high concentrations can lower oxygen levels being transported to the body's cells through the bloodstream.
Because of their smaller anatomy and organ systems, younger children can have severe reactions to increases in methemoglobin, which can range from shortness of breath or fatigue to seizures, coma or even death. That's why you should never use products with Benzocaine or similar numbing agents to ease teething pain. Instead, follow these common sense practices:
- Give your child chilled rubber teething rings, wet washcloths or pacifiers to chew or gnaw on. The combination of cold temperatures and pressure from biting on them will help ease the pain. Just be sure the item isn't frozen, which could cause frost burns to soft tissues.
- For temporary relief from soreness, gently massage your baby's gums with a clean, bare finger or with it wrapped in a clean, wet cloth. The massaging action helps counteract the pressure of the incoming tooth.
- For intense episodes of teething discomfort, ask your healthcare provider about using an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be sure you use only the recommended dose size for your child's age.
Teething is in many ways like a storm—it too shall pass. Be sure you're helping your baby weather it safely.
While periodontal (gum) disease could ruin your dental health, it doesn’t have to. Dentists and periodontists (specialists in gums and other supporting tooth structures) have effective methods for stopping it, especially if the infection is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages. With effective treatment, those swollen, reddened and bleeding gums can return to a healthy shade of pink.
But even if we stop the infection, you’re not out of danger. If you’ve had at least one bout with gum disease, you’re at higher risk for another infection. We will need to maintain ongoing vigilance to prevent another infection.
If you’ve recently undergone treatment for gum disease, here are 3 things you should do to keep your now healthy gums continually healthy.
Practice daily oral hygiene. Gum disease arises most often from dental plaque, a thin biofilm of disease-causing bacteria that builds up on tooth surfaces. It’s important for everyone to remove this buildup with daily brushing and flossing, but it’s even more so if you’ve already experienced gum disease. Practicing effective oral hygiene every day will reduce the presence of bacteria that could ignite a new infection.
See the dentist more frequently. The general rule for routine dental cleanings and checkups is twice a year. But you may need more frequent visits, post-gum disease. Depending on the severity of your disease, we may recommend you make return visits at two- to three-month intervals of time. These visits may also include heightened screenings to ensure another infection hasn’t taken hold, as well as procedures to make it easier to clean certain tooth areas prone to plaque buildup.
Manage other health conditions. Gum disease’s severity is often caused by the inflammatory response your body initiates to fight the infection, which then becomes chronic. This is similar to other conditions like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis: There’s evidence inflammation elsewhere in the body could worsen a gum infection, and vice-versa. Managing other health conditions through medical care, medication and lifestyle changes could minimize the occurrence and severity of a future gum infection.
If you would like more information on remaining infection-free after gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
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