When your braces finally come off, you’ll hopefully be astounded by what you see –once-crooked teeth replaced by a more attractive smile. But you might also see something you didn’t expect: noticeable white spots on some of your teeth.
These spots called white spot lesions (WSLs) appear lighter than the surrounding tooth enamel due to mineral loss just beneath the surface. This happens because bacterial or food acids have contacted the enamel surface for too long and dissolved the underlying calcium and other minerals. This results in a small discolored and chalky-like area in the enamel.
WSLs are common during orthodontics because wires and brackets create hard to reach places for brushing and flossing, which can accumulate bacterial plaque. The bacteria produce acid, which weakens the enamel at these places. The tiny white spots that result are more than just unattractive—they can become entry points into the tooth for decay. That’s why they should be dealt with as soon as possible—and preferably before they’re created.
To that end, you’ll need to do as thorough a job as possible brushing and flossing while undergoing orthodontic treatment. To improve your thoroughness try using an interproximal toothbrush that can maneuver more closely around braces hardware than a regular brush. You can also improve your flossing with a floss threader or a water flosser, a device that sprays pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque.
If you do develop WSLs, there are some things we can do to treat them. We can attempt to re-mineralize the affected enamel with the help of topical fluoride (either pastes or gels for home use or with an office application) or a re-mineralizing agent. We can also use techniques like microabrasion, which restores damaged areas beneath the surface, or inject a liquid, tooth-colored resin beneath the WSL’s surface to improve appearance and protect against decay.
If while wearing braces you do notice any white spots or other tooth discoloration let your dentist or orthodontist know right away. The sooner your dental providers can begin dealing with potential WSLs the better your chances for a healthy and beautiful outcome after braces.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
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 child’s teeth and gum development is truly a wonder. In just a little more than two decades they’ll gain and lose one set of teeth, while the subsequent permanent set will grow in coordination with other facial and oral structures. All of these structures will finally reach maturity sometime in early adulthood.
Sometimes, though, obstacles can arise: disease, trauma or even genetics can derail normal development and endanger future health. So although nature does most of the heavy lifting, there are things you should do to keep your child’s dental development on track.
For instance, begin oral hygiene practices before their first teeth come in. By wiping their gums after feeding with a clean damp cloth, you can help reduce the numbers of disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. Once teeth appear switch to brushing.
There are also habits to avoid. Don’t kiss your baby directly on the lips—you may transfer to them your own mouth bacteria, which their young immune system can’t yet adequately handle. Also, avoid putting them to bed with a sleep-time bottle filled with sugary fluids (including milk or formula) because the constant contact between the sugar and their teeth could increase their risk for tooth decay, the number one dental disease in young children.
Of course, not all prevention efforts depend on you alone—we’re your partner in helping to keep your child’s dental development progressing normally. We can provide preventive treatments like sealants or topical fluoride to reduce the risk of tooth decay, while continually monitoring for signs of the disease that may require treatment. We also look for signs of emerging bite problems that may require intervention before their effects worsen.
This is all part of regular dental visits, usually at six-month intervals, which are best begun around your child’s first birthday. Not only does this enable us to stay ahead of dental problems, it also helps your child become more comfortable with dental visits and increase the likelihood they’ll continue the habit in adulthood.
As we said, nature is responsible for most of this amazing development without any help from us. But we can assist development and hopefully prevent issues that could diminish their dental health in years to come.
In summer, there is no shortage of occasions to show off your smile. Whether attending a wedding, graduation celebration, family reunion or neighborhood barbecue, you’ll want to look your best. But if your smile doesn’t shine as brightly as you’d like, a trip to the dental office may just be the confidence-booster you’re looking for. Here are some popular techniques to enhance your smile:
Teeth cleaning. A professional cleaning can make your mouth feel fresh and add sparkle to your smile. The dental hygienist uses special tools to get rid of plaque and tartar that you cannot remove during your oral hygiene routine at home. In addition, hygienists use a tooth-polishing tool that removes surface stains.
Professional whitening. Professional teeth whitening can achieve excellent results in one short office visit. But if you have several weeks before the big event on your calendar, you can also get winning results at home using custom-made whitening trays from the dental office. Either way, your smile can sparkle at summer celebrations.
Cosmetic bonding. If your teeth have small chips or cracks, cosmetic bonding may be a good option for you. In bonding, tooth-colored material is shaped to the tooth and hardened with a curing light. The procedure—generally done in one office visit without anesthesia—is relatively inexpensive, and the result is very natural-looking.
Porcelain veneers. If you are unhappy with the color, shape, size or spacing of your teeth, long-lasting dental veneers can give your smile a whole new look. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain shells that are bonded to the tooth’s surface. Because they may be crafted in a dental lab, they may require two to three visits to the dental office over a few-week period.
With so many options, it’s easy to put your best smile forward at all your summer gatherings. We can help. If you have any questions about brightening your smile, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
If your teenager is in need of orthodontic treatment, you might automatically think braces. But while this decades-old appliance is quite effective, it isn’t the only “tooth movement” game in town any more. Clear aligners are another choice your teenager might find more appealing.
Clear aligners are a sequential set of computer-generated plastic trays that are worn by a patient one after the other, usually for about two weeks per tray. The trays are fabricated using 3-D computer modeling of the patient’s mouth, each one slightly different from the last to gradually move teeth to the desired new positions.
So, why choose clear aligners over braces?
They’re nearly invisible. Because they’re made of a clear polymer material, they’re not nearly as noticeable as metal braces. In fact, they may go completely unnoticed to the casual observer.
They’re removable. Unlike metal braces, which are fixed in place by an orthodontist, clear aligners can be removed by the wearer. This makes brushing and flossing much easier, and they can also be removed for eating or special occasions. That said, though, they should be worn at least 20 to 22 hours each day to be effective.
They’re becoming more versatile. With some complicated malocclusions (poor bites), braces and other orthodontic appliances may still be necessary. But innovations like added power ridges in clear aligners can more precisely control which teeth move and which don’t. This has greatly increased the number of poor bite scenarios where we can appropriately use clear aligners.
If you’d like to consider clear aligners, just remember they require a bit more self-discipline on the part of the wearer than braces. And once the treatment finishes, they’ll still need to wear a retainer just as with metal braces to help keep the repositioned teeth from reverting to their old positions.
If you think your teen is up to the challenge and their particular situation can be corrected with this innovative technology, then clear aligners could be a great choice.
If you would like more information on clear aligners 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
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