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By the time you reach adulthood, roughly 100 trillion microscopic organisms will have taken up residence in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. Most are bacteria, a domain of the animal kingdom considered synonymous with disease. But only a few of the thousands of bacterial species cause us harm; the rest are either benign or actually beneficial to our health, including in our mouths.
Dentistry pioneered much of our knowledge about bacteria, developing processes used to identify, classify and understand those species inhabiting our mouths. Science as a whole is catching up with the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) begun in 2007. Through HMP, researchers have catalogued and begun to study more than 10,000 bacterial species.
We’re finding that our bodies develop a symbiotic relationship with many of these creatures invisible to the naked eye. During our infancy the bacteria we ingest from birth and breast feeding begin to interact with our body’s immune system, “teaching” it to refrain from attacking friendly organisms that contribute to health and searching and destroying enemy species that cause disease.
We’re also learning that an imbalance with our individual population of bacteria has links with disease. Our digestive system is a prime example: bacteria related to obesity can overpopulate our digestive tract, while malnutrition can create an environment that produces too many bacteria that inhibit digestion of vitamins and other nutrients.
The same microbial imbalance can occur in the mouth. For example, our typical Western diet encourages the growth of bacteria most associated with tooth decay (Streptococcus mutans). We’re also finding that tobacco smoking creates a mouth environment more conducive to the bacteria that cause gum disease. Just by quitting smoking you can alter that environment to encourage growth of health-promoting bacteria and inhibit growth of malevolent species.
The desired outcome of this knowledge is to develop treatments that target disease-causing bacteria without harming those beneficial to us (as often occurs with traditional antibiotics). In dentistry, such possibilities could help stop the spread of tooth decay, gum disease or similar bacterial infections, while fostering a healthier oral environment that prevents disease and protects health.
As a successful author, interior design guru (with 127 makeovers in eight years on The Oprah Winfrey Show), and host of his own television program, The Nate Berkus Show, Nate Berkus understands the important role a beautiful smile plays in one's life and career. In a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine, Nate discussed his oral health history. Berkus credits his all natural smile — no cosmetic dentistry here — to the treatments he received as a child from his dentist. “I'm grateful for having been given fluoride treatments and sealants as a child.” He then added that, “healthy habits should start at a young age.”
Dental sealants are important because they help protect developing young teeth until the enamel has matured. Without dental sealants, the newly erupted immature enamel of teeth is more permeable, meaning that the acids produced by bacteria in the mouth can damage these teeth more easily. This makes the teeth less resistant and thus more susceptible to tooth decay.
Regardless of how much your children brush their teeth, the reality is that toothbrush bristles cannot reach down to clean out the crevices found in the deep grooves (“pits and fissures”) of teeth. And if not removed, the bacteria found in these grooves produce decay-causing acids as a byproduct of metabolizing sugar. However, when sealants are used in combination with fluoride, good hygiene and nutrition (including lower sugar consumption), the odds of having tooth decay is dramatically reduced.
We refer to dental sealants as “pit and fissure” sealants because they protect the grooves found in the top of back teeth and the back of front teeth. Sealants also may reduce the need for subsequent treatments as your child grows older — just as it did for Nate Berkus. For these reasons, sealants are definitely something that all parents and caregivers should consider for their young children.
To learn more about dental sealants, contact us today to schedule an appointment so that we can conduct a thorough examination, discuss any questions you have as well as what treatment options will be best for you or your child. Or to learn more about sealants now, you can continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children.” And to read the entire interview with Nate Berkus, please see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nate Berkus.”
If you’re considering tooth whitening, you may be torn between using a home product and undergoing a professional application in our office. Here’s a brief comparison of both approaches to help you in your decision process.
It helps first to know what we’re trying to correct — that dull, discolored tooth stain. Tooth staining comes in two varieties: intrinsic, which occurs deep within the tooth and can be caused by aging, old root canal treatments, tetracycline antibiotic use or excessive fluoride intake during childhood development; or extrinsic, which occurs mainly on the tooth surface and is caused by substances like coffee, tea, wine or tobacco. Intrinsic stains can only be treated through an in-office procedure — the comparison we’re making between home and professional whitening refers only to extrinsic staining.
Whitening, then, is the use of a chemical agent to bleach those stains. The majority of both home and professional products use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (which also contains hydrogen peroxide) as its primary bleaching agent. Depending on the application, either of these chemicals can effectively bleach extrinsically stained teeth. The two approaches differ, however, in the strength of the bleaching agent: home products usually contain a 10% or less concentration, while professional solutions usually contain between 15% and 35%. As a result, the home application takes longer than a dentist’s treatment to achieve desired results — two to three weeks as opposed to one or two office visits.
Whichever option you choose, remember teeth whitening isn’t a permanent solution. The brightness will fade over time — six months to a year if you restrict foods and habits that stain teeth. You can also receive a touch-up once or twice a year to help extend brightness.
There’s also a middle of the road option — you can use a home application with guidance from our office. It’s also a good idea to visit us for an examination beforehand — we can then advise you on what options will work for your particular type of staining and teeth condition.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Tooth Staining.”
Florence Henderson, star of one of television's most beloved situation comedies, is still actively engaged in a variety of projects at 75-plus years of age. Her bright smile was part of her character as Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, a popular sitcom that played for five seasons from 1969 to 1974. Though the show was discontinued, syndicated episodes continue to play in the U.S. and 122 other countries.
“I played Carol as the mother I always wished I had,” she told Dear Doctor magazine. Her portrayal of mother and wife in a blended family with six children won her the Smithsonian Institution's TV Land Pop Culture Icon Award, which is on display in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
After her successes on Broadway and in television, she was selected for numerous product endorsements, and The Wall Street Journal ranked her #5 in their top ten television endorsers based on viewer satisfaction. One of the products she endorsed was Polident, a brand of denture cleaners and adhesives. However, Henderson has revealed that she has her own natural teeth and does not wear dentures. Her advice to others who want to keep their natural teeth is to pay attention to prevention. “I think the most important thing one can do as with any health issue is prevention,” she said. “Flossing, brushing, and regular dental checkups are vitally important if you want to keep your natural teeth.”
When she was 22, she says, she had four impacted wisdom teeth removed at the same time. This experience made her aware of the importance of dental care, and since then she has had a checkup every six months. Wherever she travels, she says that she always has mouthwash, dental floss, toothpaste, and a toothbrush on the set.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about tooth care. You can learn more about Florence Henderson by reading the Dear Doctor magazine interview “Florence Henderson, America's Favorite TV Mom Has Many Reasons to Smile.”
The main strategy in fighting dental disease is to try to prevent it in the first place. The success of this strategy depends largely on effective oral hygiene with three essential elements: daily brushing, daily flossing, and semi-annual checkups with professional cleaning.
Many people have little trouble incorporating brushing into their daily routine; flossing, though, is a different matter for some. They may feel it’s too time-consuming or too hard to perform. Patients with orthodontic appliances especially may encounter difficulty navigating the floss around the appliance hardware.
Flossing, though, is extremely important for removing bacterial plaque, the primary aim of oral hygiene. This thin film of food remnant that builds up and sticks to the teeth is the breeding ground for bacteria that cause both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s important that as much plaque as possible is removed from the teeth and gum surfaces every day. While brushing removes plaque from the open surfaces of the teeth, flossing removes plaque clinging between teeth and around the gums that can’t be accessed with a toothbrush.
If traditional flossing is too difficult, there’s a viable alternative using an oral irrigator. Also known as a water flosser, an oral irrigator directs a stream of pressurized, pulsating water inside the mouth to blast away plaque in these hard to reach places. The hand applicator comes with a variety of tips that can be used for a number of dental situations, such as cleaning around braces or implants. In home use since the early 1960s, the latest versions of oral irrigators have proven to be very effective, especially for orthodontic patients — research shows an oral irrigator used in conjunction with brushing can remove up to five times more plaque than just brushing alone.
That being said, traditional flossing is also effective at plaque removal when performed properly. Sometimes, resistance to flossing can be remedied with a little training during dental checkups. We can work with you on techniques to improve your flossing activity, as well as train you to use an oral irrigator.
Whichever method you choose, it’s important for you to incorporate flossing (or irrigation) into your daily routine. Removing plaque, especially in those hard to reach places, is essential for reducing your risk of developing destructive dental disease.
If you would like more information on flossing or oral irrigation, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
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