The big day finally arrives when your braces come off. And there it is—your new, beautiful, straight smile! But on closer inspection you notice something else: tiny white spots on your teeth.
Those pale, chalky spots are called white spot lesions (WSLs). They occur when acid has contacted the tooth enamel for too long, dissolving essential minerals like calcium in those particular areas. The occurrences of WSLs during and after braces highlights a major challenge during orthodontic treatment—keeping your teeth clean.
Braces' wires and brackets tend to get in the way of brushing and flossing, making it easier to miss plaque—the bacterial film that produces acid—on tooth areas around the hardware. Those missed areas could in time lead to WSLs.
The main objective with WSLs is prevent them from occurring during braces wear as much as possible. To do this, you'll need to increase your time and effort brushing and flossing, especially around orthodontic hardware. You can make it easier, though, by using a few tools that often work better than regular toothbrushes and floss like interproximal toothbrushes, power brushes, floss threaders or water flossers.
You can also help lower your mouth's acidity by avoiding or limiting acidic foods and beverages, including juices, sodas, sports and energy drinks. And, by all means, keep up your regular dental cleaning schedule with your general dentist.
Should WSLs develop while you're wearing braces, don't panic. It's possible they'll diminish on their own, or at least not worsen. We can also foster re-mineralization of the enamel with applied fluoride, short bursts of laser light or a procedure called microabrasion that restores damaged areas below the enamel surface.
For more resistant WSLs, we can also inject a liquid tooth-colored resin into them that when hardened by a curing light can make those areas look translucent like normal enamel. We can also use other cosmetic solutions like bonding or veneers to improve your teeth's appearance.
Like other dental problems, dealing with a WSL is usually more successful if caught and treated early. So, check your teeth often while wearing braces, and if you notice anything unusual don't hesitate to call your dentist.
If you would like more information on oral care while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
You could have an unattractive smile because of a chipped tooth or one slightly out of alignment. Or, it could be both of the above, plus some heavy staining to boot. Correcting each flaw individually might require a combination of different methods like orthodontics or porcelain crowns, which can take an extended period of time to complete.
But you may be able to correct numerous smile flaws with just one method—and in no more than a couple of treatment visits. It's called direct veneers.
Unlike regular veneers, direct veneers don't require a dental technician to craft a thin porcelain shell to bond over teeth. Rather, a dentist applies a tooth-colored material called composite resin to the problem teeth and "sculpts" an entirely new look that can correct multiple dental flaws at one time.
The dentist usually begins the process by creating a model ("wax-up") of proposed changes based on physical impressions of the jaw and teeth. Both dentist and patient can study the model and modify it if necessary, when finalizing the treatment plan.
At a subsequent appointment, the dentist prepares the tooth surface for bonding by removing a thin layer of tooth enamel, then shapes the teeth to better accommodate the composite resin. This tooth prep is similar to that done with traditional veneers, so it's permanent—the teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
After applying an etchant and a bonding agent, the dentist applies the composite resin in small amounts, hardening each layer with a special light before applying the next one. With each subsequent layer, the dentist sculps the composite material to eventually resemble the wax-up model.
After completing the composite application, the dentist then uses hand tools and a dental drill to complete shaping, as well as an abrasive strip between teeth to aid future flossing. After just a few hours, the transformation is complete.
Direct veneers are durable, but not to the same extent as regular veneers or other cosmetic enhancements. They can also pick up stains over time, and may require re-treatment at some point. Still, direct veneers are a cost-effective way to improve the appearance of teeth with multiple flaws that could radically change your smile for the better.
While your dentist plays an important role in keeping things inside your mouth healthy, what you do every day often makes the biggest difference. Here are 5 routine things you can do for better oral health.
Brush and floss every day. The most important thing you can do for your teeth and gums is adhere to a daily schedule of brushing and flossing. These twin tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a thin bacterial biofilm most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
Check your hygiene. There's brushing and flossing—and then there's brushing and flossing effectively. To make sure you're getting the job done, run the tip of your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss. If it feels smooth, mission accomplished! If it feels rough and gritty, though, try again. You can also use plaque disclosure products occasionally to highlight any missed plaque still on your teeth.
Say no to sugar. Chances are you love sugar—and so do the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. As they feed on sugar, they multiply and produce acid, which in high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Limiting sugar in your diet reduces oral bacteria and the acid they produce, and thus lowers your risk for disease.
Drink plenty of water. Saliva plays an important role in oral health: It helps fight off bacteria, neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes tooth enamel. But it can't do those things if there's not enough of it. So, if your mouth consistently feels dry, drink more water to give your body what it needs to make saliva. Drinking water also washes away food particles that could become plaque and lowers your mouth's acidity.
Maintain your dental appliances. You can extend the life of dentures, retainers or other types of dental appliances by cleaning and maintaining them. You should clean your appliance regularly using regular hand soap or a designated cleaner (not toothpaste, which can be too abrasive). Unless otherwise directed by your dentist, take them out at night and be sure to store them where kids or pets can't get to them.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
Dinnertime is a great opportunity to enjoy not only your meal, but also the company of friends and family. But a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can drain the pleasure from these dining experiences if the mere act of chewing is a painful ordeal.
Besides curbing pleasure while dining, eating difficulties caused by TMD can also affect your health: You may find yourself limiting your choices to only those that cause the least amount of discomfort. But those restricted choices may deprive you of a balanced diet essential to overall well-being.
But there are ways to reduce your discomfort and enjoy a greater abundance of healthy foods, as well as your dining experience. Here are 3 tips to make eating easier if you have TMD.
Prepare your food. Easing TMD discomfort starts while you're preparing your food to cook. First off, remove the tougher peel or skin from apples, potatoes or similar fruits and vegetables. And, be sure to chop foods into small enough pieces to reduce how much your jaws must open to comfortably chew your food.
Choose “wetter” cooking methods. One of the best ways to soften foods is to moisten them, either during the cooking process or by adding it in some form to the dish. Use braising techniques when you cook as much as possible. And try to incorporate sauces or gravies, especially with leaner meats, for added moisture.
Modify your eating habits. Food prep is only one aspect of a more comfortable dining experience with TMD—you can also benefit from modifying how you eat. Concentrate on taking smaller bites of food and slow down your chewing motion. You should also limit how much you open your jaw while chewing to keep it within your comfort range as much as possible.
With a little experimentation, you can find the right balance between a wide variety of foods and more comfortable eating. If you have TMD, using these tips could help mealtime become a delightful—and more nutritious—experience.
If you would like more information on managing TMD, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
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