If there’s one essential tool for protecting your dental health, it’s the humble toothbrush. The basic manual brush with a long, slender handle and short-bristled head is still effective when used skillfully. The market, though, is full of choices, all of them touting their brand as the best.
So how do you choose? You can cut through any marketing hype with a few simple guidelines.
First, understand what you’re trying to accomplish with brushing: removing dental plaque, that thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces that’s the main cause of dental disease. Brushing also stimulates gum tissue and helps reduce inflammation.
With that in mind, you’ll first want to consider the texture of a toothbrush’s bristles, whether they’re stiff (hard) or more pliable (soft). You might think the firmer the better for removing plaque, but actually a soft-bristled brush is just as effective in this regard. Stiffer bristles could also damage the gums over the long term.
Speaking of bristles, look for those that have rounded tips. In a 2016 study, less rounded tips increased gum recession in the study’s participants by 30%. You should also look for toothbrushes with different bristle heights: longer bristles at the end can be more effective cleaning back teeth.
As far as size and shape, choose a brush that seems right and comfortable for you when you hold it. For children or people with dexterity problems, a handle with a large grip area can make the toothbrush easier to hold and use.
And look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, something you may have seen on some toothpaste brands. It means the toothbrush in question has undergone independent testing and meets the ADA’s standards for effectiveness. That doesn’t mean a particular brush without the seal is sub-standard—when in doubt ask your dentist on their recommendation.
Even a quality toothbrush is only as effective as your skill in using it. Your dental provider can help, giving you tips and training for getting the most out of your brush. With practice, you and your toothbrush can effectively remove disease-causing plaque and help keep your smile beautiful and healthy.
If you would like more information on what to look for in a toothbrush, 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 “Sizing up Toothbrushes.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect your 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
You've seen ads for “Teeth in One Day” that promise immediate implant placement at the same time you have the problem tooth removed. But this presumes the gums and underlying bone are healthy and able to support and protect the implant. If that's not the case, it may be ill-advised to place an implant on the same day.
Even with immediate placement, there will be a small degree of bone and gum opening or space around the implant after it's placed into the socket. This can often be remedied by placing a bone graft and sometimes a gum graft when we install the implant. It's also possible for natural healing to gradually fill in the space, but we'll need to monitor the site carefully for several weeks.
On the other hand, if we detect significant bone loss (or strongly suspect it will occur), immediate placement may not be an option — there's not enough bone or it's too weak to support an implant. In this case, it's necessary to wait on placement and focus on improving the bone health and quantity, beginning when we remove the old tooth and place a bone graft.
After completing the extraction, we typically place a bone graft in the empty socket. The graft will become a “scaffold” for new bone cells to grow upon. We may then allow about two to four months for new bone to partially replenish the area and then place the implant. The bone will continue to regenerate as it grows and attaches to the titanium implant to create a solid attachment.
If the site, however, still appears fragile even after partial bone growth, we may opt to wait another two to four months before attempting placement. From a long-term perspective, this is the best scenario for ensuring a durable foundation for the implant. It also allows for a socket severely compromised by disease to heal more thoroughly.
To determine which of these placement scenarios is best for you, we'll first need to conduct a thorough dental examination. From there we'll be in a better position to discuss the right implant timeline for your situation. Our main goal is to ensure we can securely place your implant in just the right position to achieve the most successful and attractive result.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Implant Timelines for Replacing Missing Teeth.”
November is National Diabetes Month—a time to focus on a disease that affects more than 400 million people around the world. What does diabetes have to do with oral health? Plenty! Here's a true-or-false quiz to test your knowledge on this important topic.
TRUE OR FALSE:
1. Diabetes and gum disease are connected.
TRUE. Studies have found a clear association between diabetes and gum (periodontal) disease, especially when diabetes is not well controlled. People with poorly controlled diabetes have a more severe inflammatory response to the bacteria that cause gum disease. While inflammation is normally a protective reaction of the body's immune system, too much inflammation can actually make the condition worse. In the case of gum disease, the reverse is also true: Untreated gum disease can worsen blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. The good news is that treatment of periodontal disease has been shown to improve blood sugar control.
2. People with diabetes can't have dental implants.
FALSE. Research has shown that dental implants can be a very successful tooth-replacement treatment for people with diabetes. But again, blood sugar control can be a factor. Dental implants are titanium posts that serve as artificial tooth roots. Minor surgery is required to insert an implant into the bone beneath the gums; a realistic-looking dental crown is later attached to it so it can look and function like a natural tooth. Studies have shown that it takes longer for the bone to heal around implants in people with poorly controlled diabetes. That doesn't make implant treatment impossible, but it does mean that it may be managed differently. For example, an implant may be allowed to heal for a longer period of time before a crown is attached to it.
3. People with diabetes can't do anything to improve their oral health.
FALSE. People with diabetes can have a very positive impact on their oral heath, by doing their best to control blood sugar levels with a healthy diet and exercise, and by sticking to an effective daily oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing at least once each day to remove bacterial plaque between teeth. Regular dental checkups and cleanings are also essential—not just for people with diabetes, but for everyone!
If you have additional questions about diabetes and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about diabetes and oral health by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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