The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it “one of the ten most important public health measures of the 20th Century.” A new vaccine? A cure for a major disease? No—the CDC is referring to the addition of fluoride to drinking water to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride is a chemical compound found in foods, soil and water. Its presence in the latter, in fact, was key to the discovery of its dental benefits in the early 20th Century. A dentist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose natural water sources were abundant with fluoride, noticed his patients' teeth had unusual staining but no tooth decay. Curious, he did some detective work and found fluoride in drinking water to be the common denominator.
By mid-century, fluoride was generally recognized as a cavity fighter. But it also had its critics (still lively today) that believed it might also cause serious health problems. Ongoing studies, however, found that fluoride in tiny amounts—as small as a grain of sand in a gallon of water—had an immense effect strengthening enamel with scant risk to health.
The only condition found caused by excess fluoride is a form of tooth staining called fluorosis (like those in Colorado Springs). Fluorosis doesn't harm the teeth and is at worst a cosmetic problem. And it can be avoided by regulating the amount of ingested fluoride to just enough for effectively preventing tooth decay.
As researchers have continued to learn more about fluoride, we've fine-tuned what that amount should be. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which sets standards for fluoride in drinking water, now recommends to utilities that fluoridate water to do so at a ratio of 0.7 mg of fluoride to 1 liter of water. This miniscule amount is even lower than previous recommendations.
The bottom line: Fluoride can have an immense impact on your family's dental health—and it doesn't take much. Excessive amounts, though, can lead to dental staining, so it's prudent to monitor your intake. That means speaking with your dentist about the prevalence of fluoride in your area (including your drinking water) and whether you need to take measures to reduce (or expand) your use of it.
If you would like more information on how best fluoride benefits your family's dental 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
As a saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is no more appropriate than when you have something caught between your teeth. And humans, as inventive and creative as we are, have used a weird assortment of items—usually within arms' reach—to dislodge a pesky bit of food.
According to a recent survey, more than three-fourths of Americans admit to using a number of “tools” to clean between teeth including twigs, nails (the finger and toe variety), business cards or (shudder!) screwdrivers. And it's one thing to do this alone, but among dinner companions and other folk it's a definite faux pas.
Usually, it's smarter and more economical if you can use a particular tool for many different applications. But when it comes to your teeth, you should definitely go with a “unitasker” designed specifically for the job: dental floss. It's not only the safest item you can use to clean your teeth, it's specifically designed for that purpose, especially to remove disease-causing plaque from between teeth.
Of course, the reason many of us use alternate items for cleaning between teeth is that they're the closest ones at hand. You can remedy this by keeping a small spool (or a short length) of dental floss or floss picks handy for those moments you encounter a wedged piece of food. In a pinch, you can use a rounded toothpick (better for your gums than the flat variety).
At home if you find flossing difficult, consider using a water flosser. This handheld device emits a pulsating stream of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque and bits of food remnant. It's ideal for people who have a hard time maneuvering floss or who wear braces, which can block regular floss thread from accessing between teeth as fully as possible.
In any case, use the other “tools” at hand for whatever they're intended. When it comes to what's best for your teeth, use floss to keep the in-between clear and clean.
Just like adults, teenagers experience chipped, stained or disfigured teeth. And during a life stage where issues with appearance can be acutely painful, these defects call out for a solution.
And, there is one: porcelain veneers. These thin wafers of custom-made porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to cover dental flaws. They’re one of the least invasive—and most affordable—methods for smile enhancement.
There is one caveat, though: The affected teeth will most likely need alteration. Veneers can look bulky when bonded directly to teeth, so we compensate for this by removing some of the surface enamel. This changes the tooth permanently, to the point that it will always require a veneer or some other form of restoration.
But although this may be a minor issue for an adult, it could pose a problem for a teenager. That’s because the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth containing nerves and blood vessels, is larger in a younger adolescent tooth than in an older adult tooth. Because of its size, it’s closer to the tooth’s surface. During enamel reduction for veneers on a young tooth, this could lead to inadvertent nerve damage. If that happens, the tooth may need a root canal treatment to preserve it.
If the adolescent tooth needing a “facelift” has already been root canaled or sustained significant structural damage, then altering it for veneers may not be too concerning. Likewise, if the teeth are smaller than normal, the bulkiness of a veneer may actually improve appearance and not require alteration. We’ll need to examine a young patient first before making any recommendations.
There are also alternatives to veneers for improving smile appearance. Enamel staining could be enhanced temporarily with teeth whitening. Small chips can be repaired with bonded dental material, or in skilled hands be used to “build” a veneer one layer at a time with no enamel reduction. Although not as durable as regular veneers, these bonding techniques could buy time until the tooth is more mature for veneers.
Whichever path we take, there are effective ways to transform a teenager’s flawed tooth. And that can make for an even better smile.
If you would like more information on dental 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
Mayim Bialik has spent a good part of her life in front of TV cameras: first as the child star of the hit comedy series Blossom, and more recently as Sheldon Cooper’s love interest — a nerdy neuroscientist — on The Big Bang Theory. (In between, she actually earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA…but that’s another story.) As a child, Bialik had a serious overbite — but with all her time on camera, braces were just not an option.
“I never had braces,” she recently told Dear Doctor – Dentistry & Oral Health magazine. “I was on TV at the time, and there weren’t a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.” Instead, her orthodontist managed to straighten her teeth using retainers and headgear worn only at night.
Today, there are several virtually invisible options available to fix orthodontic issues — and you don’t have to be a child star to take advantage of them. In fact, both children and adults can benefit from these unobtrusive appliances.
Tooth colored braces are just like traditional metal braces, with one big difference: The brackets attached to teeth are made from a ceramic material that blends in with the natural color of teeth. All that’s visible is the thin archwire that runs horizontally across the teeth — and from a distance it’s hard to notice. Celebs like Tom Cruise and Faith Hill opted for this type of appliance.
Clear aligners are custom-made plastic trays that fit over the teeth. Each one, worn for about two weeks, moves the teeth just a bit; after several months, you’ll see a big change for the better in your smile. Best of all, clear aligners are virtually impossible to notice while you’re wearing them — which you’ll need to do for 22 hours each day. But you can remove them to eat, or for special occasions. Zac Efron and Katherine Heigl, among others, chose to wear clear aligners.
Lingual braces really are invisible. That’s because they go behind your teeth (on the tongue side), where they can’t be seen; otherwise they are similar to traditional metal braces. Lingual braces are placed on teeth differently, and wearing them often takes some getting used to at first. But those trade-offs are worth it for plenty of people. Which celebs wore lingual braces? Rumor has it that the list includes some top models, a well-known pop singer, and at least one British royal.
So what’s the best way to straighten your teeth and keep the orthodontic appliances unnoticeable? Just ask us! We’d be happy to help you choose the option that’s just right for you. You’ll get an individualized evaluation, a solution that fits your lifestyle — and a great-looking smile!
For more information about hard-to-see (or truly invisible) orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “Clear Aligners for Teenagers.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on dental 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
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