Dental cleanings are an important part of regular dental office visits. Performed by a dental hygienist or dentist, cleanings serve two purposes: to remove bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened deposits of plaque) from tooth surfaces missed during daily brushing and flossing; and to remove stains that can dull your smile.
There are different degrees of cleaning, including root planing that removes plaque and calculus deep below the gum line, usually for patients affected by periodontal (gum) disease. For patients in good oral health, the basic cleaning approach is known as prophylaxis, a term derived from the Greek for guarding or preventing beforehand. The techniques used in a prophylaxis remove both “coronal” (tooth surfaces visible above the gum line) plaque and staining, providing both therapeutic and cosmetic benefits.
A typical prophylaxis includes a procedure known as scaling. Hygienists use special instruments known as scalers to remove plaque and calculus by hand, or an ultrasonic device that vibrates plaque loose and is flushed away with water. The procedure removes that rough coating you often feel as you rub your tongue against your teeth, leaving the tooth surfaces feeling smooth.
Tooth polishing is a subsequent procedure to scaling that also removes plaque and surface stains. Polishing is carried out with a motorized instrument with a rubber cup in which a polishing (or “prophy”) paste is contained. The hygienist moves the rapidly rotating cup filled with the paste over the tooth surface to remove plaque and stains. The end result is a highly smooth surface and a much shinier appearance.
People with dental insurance plans are often concerned tooth polishing may be viewed strictly as a cosmetic procedure, and thus not fully qualify for benefits. This should not be the case if coded properly: tooth polishing is part of the overall prophylaxis to remove plaque and staining. The primary purpose is therapeutic and preventive; the cosmetic effect is a by-product. Most dental plans will cover one or two prophylaxes (scaling and tooth polishing) a year, but there are variations so individuals should check their plans.
If you would like more information on dental cleaning, 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 “Tooth Polishing.”
Looking in the mirror, you probably focus on your teeth and gums—i.e., your smile. Your dentist, though, will take the time to look deeper into your mouth, searching for anything out of the ordinary. That could be a type of mouth sore known as lichen planus.
Lichen planus are lesions that can appear on skin or mucus membranes, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their resemblance to lichens, a fungus found on trees or rocks (although the sore itself isn't fungi). As such, they often have a lacy pattern of lines emanating from purplish bumps.
Again, the first indication you have such a condition may come from your dentist. Sometimes, though, you may notice greater sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods and, if the gums are affected, irritation when you eat or brush.
If you find out you have lichen planus, don't be alarmed—it usually doesn't pose harm to your health and it's not contagious. Its appearance, though, could be mimicked by more harmful medical conditions, so your dentist will want to confirm the lesion observed is truly lichen planus.
It's routine, then, for your dentist to excise a small sample of the sore's tissue and send it to a pathology lab for biopsy. Although results will more than likely confirm lichen planus or some other benign lesion, it's better to err on the side of caution and ensure you're not dealing with something more serious.
If you are diagnosed with lichen planus, you may need to take steps to manage symptoms. In most people, the sore will go away on its own, although there's no guarantee it won't reappear sometime later. In the event it lingers, your dentist may prescribe a topical steroid to help ease any discomfort.
You can also minimize a future outbreak by practicing effective daily oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial populations that may contribute to the condition. And when you're symptomatic, try avoiding spicy or acidic foods like citrus, peppers or caffeinated beverages.
Lichen planus is more bothersome than harmful. Taking the above steps can help you avoid it or deal with it more effectively when it occurs.
If you would like more information on lichen planus, 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 “Lichen Planus: Mouth Lesions That are Usually benign.”
Your teeth naturally wear as you age, but you may be making it worse if you grind your teeth.
Teeth grinding is a behavior that causes the teeth to gnash, grind or clench against each other generating forces greater than those produced from normal biting. These forces often result in tooth wear that cause not only functional problems but result in a more aged appearance. Grinding occurs while a person is awake, but most often episodes occur while asleep at night.
Teeth grinding is quite common in children, but not usually of great concern since most grow out of it. There's even a school of thought that teeth grinding might even help readjust an uneven bite.
Among adults, though, other factors seem to contribute to teeth grinding. Many researchers believe nighttime grinding occurs as a person passes through different sleep phases including deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. It may also have a connection with chronic snoring.
Certain medications seem to contribute to teeth grinding, particularly psychoactive drugs like amphetamines. Nicotine falls in this category, which could be why tobacco users report twice the incidence of the habit compared to non-users. Teeth grinding is also connected to another fact of modern life: stress. People who grind their teeth tend to have higher levels of anxiety, hostility or depression.
Because there are multiple triggers, there are many treatment approaches. Whatever course we take, our aim is to eliminate or minimize those factors that contribute to your habit. For example, we can create a custom mouth guard for night wear to prevent the teeth from making solid contact and thus reduce the biting pressure.
Perhaps the most important thing is to control or reduce stress. This is particularly helpful at night to prepare you for restful sleep by changing some of your behaviors. We also encourage investigating other stress therapies like biofeedback, meditation or group therapy.
Whatever the means, bringing teeth grinding under control not only reduces problems now, but could also help prevent abnormal teeth wearing and future health issues down the road.
If you would like more information on causes and treatments for teeth grinding, 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 “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
Think no one is looking at your smile when you’re out in public? Nick Jonas’ recent experience might convince you otherwise. While the Jonas Brothers were performing during the 2020 Grammys, fans watching on television picked up on some dark matter between his teeth.
To say Twitter lit up is an understatement. For many, it was that thing you couldn’t unsee: Forget the performance, what was that between his teeth? Jonas later fessed up by tweeting, “…At least you all know I eat my greens.”
We’re sure Nick and his brothers take care of their teeth, as most any high-profile entertainer would. You can probably attribute his dental faux pas to trying to squeeze in some nourishment during a rushed performance schedule.
Still, the Grammy incident (Spinachgate?) shows that people do notice when your teeth aren’t as clean as they should be. To avoid that embarrassment, here are some handy tips for keeping your teeth looking their best while you’re on the go.
Start with a clean mouth. You’re more apt to collect food debris during the day if you have built-up plaque on your teeth. This sticky bacterial biofilm attracts new food particles like a magnet. Remove plaque by thoroughly brushing and flossing before you head out the door.
Rinse after eating. Although your saliva helps clear leftover food from your mouth, it may not adequately flush away all the debris. You can assist this process by swishing and rinsing with clean water after a meal.
Keep a little floss handy. Even after rinsing, stubborn bits of food can remain lodged between teeth. So just in case, keep a small bit of emergency floss (or a floss pick) in your purse or wallet to remove any debris you see or feel between your teeth.
Watch what you eat. Some foods—like popcorn, sticky snacks or fibrous vegetables—are notorious for sticking in teeth. Try to avoid eating these foods right before a public appearance where your smile may be critical.
And here’s an added bonus: Not only will these tips help keep your smile attractive on the go, they’ll also help keep it healthy. Rinsing with water, for example, helps lower your mouth’s acid level after eating, a prime factor in tooth decay. And flossing, both as a regular practice and for occasional stuck food, decreases plaque and subsequently your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Remember, a healthy mouth is the starting place for a beautiful smile. Keep it that way with dedicated hygiene habits at home or on the go.
Most of us wouldn't think of buying a new car without a “test drive.” It's a serious investment, so you want to make sure you're comfortable with your new ride.
Like an auto purchase, the plan you and your dentist agree on to cosmetically enhance your teeth and gums — a “smile makeover” — is a significant investment. Wouldn't it be nice to “test drive” your future smile before you undergo any procedures?
Actually, you can — two ways, in fact. For one, your dentist could use computer imaging software that alters a photo of your face to show how your smile will appear after dental work. These computer enhancements are a great planning tool for making decisions on the look you want to achieve.
But even the best computer images only provide a static, two-dimensional representation of your new smile. It can't capture all the angles and movement dynamics of any proposed changes. That's where the other way, a trial smile, is a true test drive — you can see your future smile in action.
With a trial smile, your dentist temporarily places tooth-colored material called composite resin on your teeth to simulate the proposed changes. The resin can be shaped and sculpted to create a life-like replica that you'll be able to view in all three spatial dimensions. What's more it will give you a chance not only to see what your new smile will look like, but to actually experience how it feels in your mouth.
Creating a trial smile is an added expense and it's only available during your consultation visit — the dentist will need to remove the resin before you leave. But you'll still be able to get a good impression of what your final smile will be like. You'll also be able to take photos you can show to family and friends to get their impressions of your proposed new look.
A trial smile allows you to know beforehand what your dental work investment will provide you, and even fine-tune your makeover plan before work begins. With this particular kind of “test drive” you'll have greater assurance that you'll be happy and satisfied with the end results.
If you would like more information on trial smiles, 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 “Testing Your Smile Makeover.”
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