If a breath of crisp winter air makes you say, “Ouch!” you're not alone. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, one of every eight people suffers from tooth sensitivity. And for those individuals, winter can be a particularly challenging time of year.
Tooth sensitivity can result when the inner part of the tooth, called dentin, is exposed. Dentin is normally protected by enamel above the gum line and cementum below, but if the protective coating is lost, then temperature, pressure and acid from food and drinks can activate the nerves inside the tooth.
If you suffer from tooth sensitivity, these tips may help:
Avoid acidic foods and beverages. It may be common sense to stay away from foods and drinks that are hot or cold enough to make you wince, but also avoid those that are acidic, as acid can erode tooth enamel and increase tooth sensitivity.
Wait an hour to brush your teeth. After consuming acidic food or beverages, give your saliva time to neutralize the acid and strengthen the enamel surface to prevent erosion.
Brush gently. Gums can recede due to over-aggressive brushing, exposing sensitive tooth roots. So brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and rinse with lukewarm water.
Use toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Toothpaste that is specially formulated for sensitive teeth blocks the pores in the tooth's surface where sensitivity can occur. It may also to help to rub the toothpaste on sensitive areas.
Sometimes, however, sensitive teeth result from dental problems that need professional treatment in the form of an at-home prescription, an in-office treatment like bonding or sealants, or a procedure like a gum graft or root canal. Accordingly, here's the most important tip of all:
Schedule a dental appointment. In an exam, we can look for the cause of your tooth sensitivity so it can be treated properly. Sensitivity may result from receding gums, tooth decay, erosion of the enamel, or other dental problems, such as the following:
- Tooth-grinding. If we detect signs of a nighttime tooth grinding habit that you may not even be aware of, we may recommend a nightguard to wear while sleeping.
- A root infection. If your tooth remains sensitive 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold, the pulp inside your tooth may be damaged. You may need root canal therapy to remove the infection and stop it from spreading.
- A cracked tooth. A crack in a tooth may not be visible due to its size or location, but a compromised tooth surface can cause sensitivity and could lead to bigger problems if not treated.
Don't let tooth sensitivity get you down this winter. Come see us so we can discuss the right treatment for you.
When you were a kid, a plate of green beans or carrots probably seemed less appealing than a handful of cookies or a bowl of ice cream. Mom or dad telling you to “eat your vegetables” was the last thing you wanted to hear.
Hopefully, you've made friends with fresh fruits and vegetables as you've grown up. But even if you're just acquaintances, these foods are nonetheless essential to good health, particularly your teeth and gums. Among other things, they're packed with vitamins and minerals that help prevent tooth decay, gum disease or even oral cancer.
Here's a sampling of dental health-boosting micronutrients and the foods you'll find them in.
Vitamin C. Found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, vitamin C boosts the immune system to fight infections like tooth decay or gum disease. It's also an antioxidant that lowers your risk of cancer.
Calcium. This mineral obtained through dairy products, bony fish, greens and legumes, strengthens teeth and bones. It can also improve nerve and muscle function.
Vitamin D. This vitamin helps teeth absorb calcium to make them less prone to decay. You can find this essential vitamin in dairy foods, eggs, fatty fish or sunlight.
Phosphorus. Like calcium, phosphorus also strengthens teeth and bones. You'll find it plentiful in dairy and meats, especially seafood and poultry.
Magnesium. This mineral helps teeth and bones absorb other minerals and can also help with enzyme function needed to avoid disease. You'll find it in nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, seafood and chocolate.
If you don't think you're getting enough of these and other nutrients, you can obtain them through dietary supplements. But do be careful: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can remove harmful supplements from the market, but only after consumer use has provided evidence that they're unsafe. And, you won't be getting fiber or other elements found in regular foods that your body needs to be healthy and function properly.
Still, if you think you need to supplement a nutritional deficiency, speak first with your doctor or dentist about it and what you should take. If at all possible, though, eat your veggies—your teeth and gums, as well as the rest of your body, will be the healthier for it.
If you would like more information on nutrition's role in 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 “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements.”
Wearing orthodontic braces brings challenges to daily life. During treatment a patient will need to avoid certain foods and habits, take more time to brush and floss properly, and may endure occasional discomfort. But the effect of metal braces on appearance can be especially difficult, especially for peer-conscious teens.
Clear aligners, though, offer an alternative to braces that could make some of these challenges easier, particularly with your appearance. Aligners are clear plastic trays that fit over the teeth to move them. They can be removed by the wearer for easier brushing and flossing or for special occasions. Best of all, they're much less noticeable than metal braces.
Clear aligners were developed thanks to advances in digital technology. An orthodontist uses a computer application incorporating the data from photographs, x-rays or CT scans of a patient's teeth and jaws to produce a series of clear plastic trays. The patient then wears each tray for about two weeks before changing to the next tray in the sequence.
The trays apply pressure much like metal braces to gradually move teeth to the desired position on the jaw. Each tray is slightly smaller in size than the previous tray in the sequence, so that the progression of tooth movement continues with each succeeding tray. The treatment time is about the same as with conventional braces.
This new orthodontic tool works well for many common bite problems, but until recently they've been limited in scope. But new designs in trays and attachments called buttons added to teeth to provide more leverage have greatly increased their use for more complex bite issues.
Clear aligners also have one other disadvantage, ironically due to one of their principal benefits, removability. Although they can be taken out, they must be worn consistently to achieve results. Some younger patients may not have the maturity level and discipline to responsibly wear their aligners as they should.
That's one issue you'll need to discuss with your orthodontist if you're considering clear aligners for your teen. But if they can maintain wearing consistency, and they have a bite problem that can be corrected with aligners, both you and your teen may find this choice more agreeable and attractive than braces.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
Although a variety of foods provide energy-producing carbohydrates, sugar is among the most popular. It’s believed we universally crave sugar because of the quick energy boost after eating it, or that it also causes a release in our brains of serotonin endorphins, chemicals which relax us and make us feel good.
But there is a downside to refined sugars like table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup: too much in our diets contributes to conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dental disease. On the latter, sugar is a primary food source for oral bacteria; the more sugar available in the mouth the higher the levels of bacteria that lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
Moderating your intake of refined sugars and other carbohydrates can be hard to do, given that many processed foods contain various forms of refined sugar. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables helps control sugar intake as well as contribute to overall health. Many people also turn to a variety of sugar substitutes: one study found roughly 85% of Americans use some form of it in place of sugar. They’re also being added to many processed foods: unless you’re checking ingredients labels, you may be consuming them unknowingly.
Sugar substitutes are generally either artificial, manufactured products like saccharin or aspartame or extractions from natural substances like stevia or sorbitol. The good news concerning your teeth and gums is that all the major sugar substitutes don’t encourage bacterial growth. Still, while they’re generally safe for consumption, each has varying properties and may have side-effects for certain people. For example, people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic condition, can’t process aspartame properly and should avoid it.
One alcohol-based sweetener in particular is of interest in oral care. A number of studies indicate xylitol may actually inhibit bacterial growth and thus reduce the risk of tooth decay. You can find xylitol in a variety of gum and mint products.
When considering what sugar substitutes to use, be sure you’re up to date on their potential health effects for certain individuals, as well as check the ingredients labels of processed foods for added sweeteners. As your dentist, we’ll also be glad to advise you on strategies to reduce sugar in your diet and promote better dental health.
If you would like more information on your best options for sweeteners, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
If we were playing word association with the term “oral hygiene,” you'd probably answer “brushing.” And you would be right—brushing cleans tooth surfaces of accumulated bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease.
But brushing is only half of the oral hygiene equation: You also need to remove dental plaque between teeth where brushing can't reach. And, that requires that other practice—flossing.
Unfortunately, brushing is more popular than its hygienic sibling because many people find traditional thread flossing more difficult and messier than brushing. That can make it tempting to skip flossing—but then you're only getting half the benefit of oral hygiene for reducing the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
There is, however, a way to floss that doesn't involve a roll of thread: oral irrigation. This form of flossing uses a countertop device that directs a pressurized spray of water between teeth through a handheld wand. The directed spray loosens and then flushes away accumulated plaque.
Oral irrigators (also known as water flossers) have been an important tool for decades in dental offices, and have been available for home use since the 1960s. In the last few years, though, the devices have become more compact and easier to use. More importantly, studies have shown they're as effective in removing between-teeth plaque as regular flossing.
These irrigation devices are especially useful for people wearing braces. The attached brackets and wires make it extremely difficult to maneuver flossing thread between teeth. Because of this (as well as similar difficulties in brushing), patients are more susceptible to dental disease while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
But a 2008 study showed that oral irrigators are quite effective for braces wearers in removing between-teeth plaque. It found those who used an irrigator after brushing removed five times the amount of plaque than those that only brushed.
Even if you're not wearing braces, you may still find an oral irrigator to be a useful flossing alternative. Speak with your dentist for recommendations on what to look for in an oral irrigator and tips on how to use it. It could make a positive difference in your dental health.
If you would like more information on how best to keep your teeth and gums clean, 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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