Wearing braces can ultimately give you a healthier and more attractive smile. In the short-term, though, your gums in particular may be in for a rough ride.
While we're all susceptible to gum disease, braces wearers are more likely to encounter it. This stems from two related factors: the difficulty braces pose to oral hygiene; and the potential irritation of soft tissues by the braces themselves.
The main cause for any form of gum disease is dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque through brushing and flossing greatly reduces the risk of any dental disease. But braces wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss—as a result, some plaque deposits may escape cleaning, which makes a gum infection more likely.
To exacerbate this, braces hardware can irritate the gums and cause swelling and tissue overgrowth, also known as hyperplasia. The one-two punch of ineffective hygiene with hyperplasia are why braces wearers have a higher incidence of gum problems compared to the general population.
To guard against this, patients with braces need to be extra vigilant about keeping their teeth and gums clean of plaque. It may be helpful in this regard to use specialized tools like interproximal brushes with narrower bristle heads that are easier to maneuver around braces.
And rather than using traditional flossing thread, orthodontic patients may find it easier and more effective to use pre-loaded flossing picks or an entirely different method called oral irrigation. The latter involves a handheld wand that directs a stream of pulsating water between teeth to loosen and flush away plaque.
It's also important for patients to see their dentist as soon as possible for any gum swelling, bleeding or pain. The dentist can determine if it relates to gum disease, hyperplasia or a combination of both, and recommend treatment. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces until the gums heal, so catching and treating any gum problem early is a priority.
Regardless of the risk for gum disease, orthodontic treatment is still well worth the investment in your health and appearance. Practicing effective oral hygiene and keeping a watchful eye on your gums will help further lower that risk.
If you would like more information on oral care during orthodontic treatment, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.
But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.
For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.
The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.
So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.
It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.
If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.
Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.
As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.
Emma Roberts, star of American Horror Story (and niece of actress Julia Roberts), welcomed her first child at the end of 2020. She confessed that her love of sweets made pregnancy challenging. She couldn't get enough of cupcakes with sprinkles and a Salt & Straw ice cream flavor called The Great Candycopia. But Roberts isn't unique. Hormonal changes in pregnancy often bring heightened cravings for certain foods. Unfortunately, this can increase an expectant mother's risk for dental disease, especially if they're consuming more sugary foods.
In fact, around four in ten expectant women will develop a form of periodontal disease called pregnancy gingivitis. It begins with dental plaque, a thin film that forms on tooth surfaces filled with oral bacteria that can infect the gums. And what do these bacteria love to eat? Yep—sugar, the same thing many women crave during pregnancy.
So, if you're expecting a baby, what can you do to minimize your risk for dental disease?
Practice oral hygiene. Removing dental plaque by brushing and flossing daily is the most important thing you can do personally to prevent both tooth decay and gum disease. It's even more important given the physical and hormonal changes that occur when you're pregnant. Be sure, then, that you're diligent about brushing and flossing every day without fail.
Control your sugar intake. If you have strong cravings for sweets, cutting back may be about as easy as stopping an elephant on a rampage through the jungle. But do give your best effort to eating more dairy- and protein-rich foods rather than refined carbohydrates like pastries or candies. Not only will reducing sugar help you avoid dental disease, these other foods will help strengthen your teeth.
Maintain regular dental visits. Seeing us for regular cleanings further reduces your disease risk. We can clean your teeth of any plaque deposits you might have missed, especially hardened plaque called tartar that's nearly impossible to remove with brushing and flossing. We'll also monitor your teeth and gums for any developing disease that requires further treatment.
Undergo needed treatments. Concerned for their baby's safety, many expectant mothers are hesitant about undergoing dental procedures. But both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Dental Association endorse necessary dental treatments during pregnancy, even if they include local anesthesia. We will make you have only a safe type of anesthesia, and we can advise you when it is prudent to postpone certain treatments, such as some elective procedures, until after the baby is born.
Emma Roberts got through a healthy pregnancy—cravings and all—and is now enjoying her new baby boy. Whether you're a celebrity like Emma Roberts or not, expecting a baby is an exciting life moment. Follow these tips to keep your teeth and gums healthy throughout your pregnancy, and be sure to let the dental team know of your pregnancy before any treatment.If you would like more information about dental care during pregnancy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”
Advances in technology often lead to greater choices for things like automobiles or smartphones. In recent decades, advances in orthodontics have given families another choice besides braces for straightening teeth: clear aligners.
Clear aligners are a series of computer-generated mouth trays of clear plastic that are custom made for an individual patient's teeth. Like braces, these trays worn in the mouth put pressure on the teeth to move in a desired direction. Patients wear an individual tray for about two weeks and then change it out for the next tray in the series. Each subsequent tray is designed to pick up where the former tray left off in the progress of tooth movement.
Although treatment takes about as along as braces, clear aligners have some distinct advantages. First and foremost, their clear plastic construction makes them nearly invisible to outside observers. This makes them ideal for appearance-conscious teens (or adults) who may be embarrassed by the look of metallic braces.
And unlike their fixed counterpart, clear aligners can be removed by the wearer for meals, hygiene and the rare special occasion. As a result, patients with aligners aren't as restricted with food items and have an easier time keeping their teeth clean and avoiding dental disease than braces wearers.
But although definitely a benefit, removability can be potentially problematic depending on the maturity level of the patient. To be effective, an aligner tray must remain in the mouth for the majority of the time—too much time out negates the effect. Patients, then, must be responsible with wearing aligners as directed.
Clear aligners may also not work for treating difficult bites, especially those that require targeted movement (or non-movement) of select teeth. In those cases, braces may be the necessary treatment. But this situation has changed in recent years with the development of new devices and techniques that increase the range of bite problems clear aligners can treat.
Depending then on the bite problem and a patient's level of personal responsibility, clear aligners can be a viable orthodontic choice. And just like braces, they too can improve both dental function and appearance.
If you would like more information on orthodontic options for teens, 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.”
Preventing tooth decay from developing in your child's teeth requires a strong commitment to daily oral hygiene. But if you have a child with a chronic physical or behavioral condition, you might find it difficult to keep that commitment in the light of other pressing health needs.
But tooth decay is just as important a health issue as the others with which you may contend. Because primary teeth guide incoming permanent teeth to erupt properly, losing them prematurely can lead to a poor bite and other associated problems. This could further diminish their quality of life already compromised by their chronic condition.
Helping your special needs child avoid tooth decay isn't easy—but it can be done. Here's how!
Brush and floss for them. Normally, a parent's goal is to help their children learn to care for their teeth on their own. But depending on the nature of your child's chronic disease, that may not be possible. Instead, you may need to take an active role in their daily hygiene for the foreseeable future, even brushing and flossing for them if necessary.
Model proper dental care. Even so, it's still a good idea to guide them toward performing oral hygiene tasks without assistance, according to their abilities. This could be a long road, though, one that requires your active participation. You can ease this process by continuously modeling good dental care behavior for them through brushing and flossing together.
See an understanding dentist. Although caring for a special needs child can be isolating, you don't have to go at it alone. That includes taking care of their teeth and gums: A dentist who has both training and experience in treating children with chronic health conditions can become an important partner in your efforts to fight tooth decay.
Communicate between all care providers. Likewise, having everyone involved in your child's care on the same page can make decay prevention a much easier process. Be sure then to share your concerns about your child's needs, including dental care, with attending physicians, therapists and, of course, dentists.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs children, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”
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