Top 5 Tips for Good Oral Hygiene

brushing.

It’s a recognized goal of modern dentistry to help you keep your natural teeth clean and disease-free, so you’ll be able to enjoy them for your whole life. But dentists can’t accomplish that goal by ourselves — we need your help! Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to ensure that your smile stays as healthy as it should be. Here are a few simple tips that can make a big difference in your dental health.

  1. Use the right brush, and change it as needed. What’s the right brush? Generally speaking, it’s one with soft bristles that’s small enough to fit your mouth comfortably. However, if you have trouble using a manual brush effectively (because of arthritis, for example), consider getting a good-quality electric brush. Change your brush when its bristles begin to stiffen or wear out. Ask us about proper brushing technique if you have any questions — and, of course, make sure to use a toothpaste with fluoride.
  2. Floss — every day. Because no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t reach all the areas in between your teeth with a brush alone — and that’s where many cavities get started. Plus, when it comes to preventing periodontal (gum) disease, flossing may be even more important than brushing, since it can actually remove plaque (a bacterial film) from under the gums. So no more excuses — OK?
  3. Stay away from sugary drinks and between-meal snacks. That includes sodas, cookies, and so-called “energy” drinks, which often pack a damaging one-two punch of sugar and caffeine. If you eat sugary treats at all, do so only after a meal. This will give your mouth plenty of “free time” to neutralize the acids that result when sugar is processed by oral bacteria. It’s these acids that are the primary cause of tooth decay.
  4. Avoid bad oral-health habits. Some you already know: smoking (or using tobacco products of any kind); excessive consumption of alcohol; chewing on pencils, fingernails, or anything else that doesn’t belong in your mouth. But some you may not know: A clenching or grinding habit at night can cause serious tooth damage without you even realizing it. Getting an oral piercing increases your chance of chipping a tooth, and can lead to other problems. And playing sports without a mouthguard is risky business.
  5. See your dentist regularly. You can do plenty on your own to keep up your oral health — but it’s also important to see us regularly. When you come in for an office visit, we will check you for early signs of problems, and take care of any that we find… before they get bigger and harder to treat. We’ll also make sure you leave with a sparkling smile that has been thoroughly and professionally cleaned.

If you would like to learn more about maintaining good oral hygiene, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. For more information, see the Dear Doctor magazine articles on “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Oral Hygiene Behavior.”

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Removing Bacterial Coating With a Tongue Scraper can Reduce Bad Breath

tongue scraping.

Although usually not considered a serious health condition, bad breath is nonetheless one of the most embarrassing conditions related to the mouth. Although some serious systemic diseases may result in mouth odor, most cases originate in the mouth or nose. Bacteria are usually the culprit — certain types of the organism can excrete volatile sulphur compounds, which emit a rotten egg or rotten fish smell.

The largest breeding ground for bacteria is the tongue, typically in the back where saliva and hygiene efforts aren’t as efficient in removing food remnants. A bacterial coating can develop on the surface of the tongue, much like the plaque that can adhere to teeth; the coating becomes a haven for bacteria that cause bad breath.

There seems to be a propensity in some people who exhibit chronic bad breath to develop this tongue coating. To rid the tongue of this coating, people with this susceptibility could benefit from the use of a tongue brush or scraper. These hygienic devices are specifically designed for the shape and texture of the tongue to effectively remove any bacterial coating. Toothbrushes, which are designed for the hard surface of the teeth, have been shown not to be as effective in removing the coating as a tongue scraper.

Before considering using a tongue scraper you should consult with your dentist first. If you suspect you have chronic bad breath, it’s important to determine the exact cause. Using a tongue scraper is unnecessary unless there’s an identifiable coating that is contributing to the bad odor. It’s also a good idea to obtain instruction from your dentist on the best techniques for using a tongue scraper to be as effective as possible and to avoid damaging soft tissues from over-aggressive use.

In addition, don’t neglect other hygiene habits like brushing, flossing and regular cleanings. Removing as much bacterial plaque as you can contributes not only to a healthier mouth but also pleasanter breath.

If you would like more information on the tongue and halitosis, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tongue Scraping.”

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Your Dentist May Have the Solution to Your Snoring and Sleep Apnea

snoring.

Your snoring isn’t just an annoyance to other members of your household — it could indicate a serious health issue. Fortunately, there are treatments, some of which your dentist might be able to provide.

Snoring is the result of soft tissue structures in the back of the throat, including the tonsils, the uvula, the tongue or fat deposits, collapsing on each either and obstructing the flow of air into your lungs. The obstructions produce a vibration that is the source of the snoring.

These obstructions could lead to a serious condition known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). As the name implies, the obstruction causes a complete cessation of airflow for several seconds. As oxygen levels drop, the body responds by waking for one to three seconds (known as “micro-arousals”) to restore airflow. These disruptions can occur several times a night, as much as fifty times an hour. The depletion of oxygen and resulting low quality of sleep can contribute to high blood pressure, a higher risk of heart attack or stroke, and the possibility of accidents caused by lower alertness during the day.

You can help reduce the effect of OSA by losing weight and exercising. You may also be a candidate for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy, which utilizes a device that delivers pressurized air into the airway while you sleep.

Depending on the exact cause and extent of your OSA, you might also benefit from treatments provided by your dentist. We can develop a custom-fitted oral appliance, similar to an orthodontic retainer or sports mouthguard, which you wear while you sleep. These devices work by repositioning the lower jaw forward, thereby maintaining an open airway by also moving the soft tissue of the tongue forward. For more advanced conditions, certain surgical procedures that realign the jaw or remove excess tissue, the tonsils and adenoids, or parts of the uvula or soft palate could be considered.

To know your best treatment course, you should schedule a complete oral examination to determine the exact cause of the obstruction, and possibly a polysomnogram, an overnight study performed in a sleep lab. And as your dentist, we might be able to provide the key for a better night’s sleep and a healthier tomorrow.

If you would like more information on how we can address your problems with sleep apnea, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Snoring & Sleep Apnea.”

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How Dental Implants Saved Taylor Hicks’ Smile

If (heaven forbid) you were to lose your two front teeth in an accident, and you needed to choose a tooth replacement method, which one would you pick? Once upon a time, that question faced Taylor Hicks, the former American Idol winner who now plays a regular gig in Las Vegas. Back then, when he was a high-school basketball star, Hicks happened to receive a blow to the mouth at a playoff game. As fate would have it, he also happened to be the son of… wait for it… a dentist. So what did he do?

The down-to-earth song stylist recently told Dear Doctor magazine how, immediately after the accident, his father administered first aid, getting him back into the game before it ended. Then, a short while afterward, Hicks had the gaps in his smile fixed with dental implants.

We think he made a good choice. While there are other tooth replacement systems, none offer the benefits provided by dental implants. In case you need a reminder, here are some facts about dental implants:

  • They have the highest success rate of any tooth replacement procedure — above 95%
  • They are the most durable type of replacement tooth — with proper care, they can last for the rest of your life
  • They look and “feel” completely natural, and require no special maintenance
  • They are the only tooth replacement system that essentially stops bone loss in the jaw (a natural consequence of tooth loss), helping to maintain good oral health
  • Over the long term, they can offer the best value for your investment in dental care

What makes dental implants work so well? Unlike bridgework or other methods, lifelike implant crowns are supported by a screw-like titanium metal insert, which actually becomes fused with the bone of the jaw. This not only provides the prosthetic teeth with a rock-solid anchorage, but it also helps provide the physical stimulation that bone needs to keep itself healthy. Lacking this stimulation, the jaw bone begins to atrophy and erode (melt away) — and if left untreated long enough, it can result in the appearance of premature aging and other oral health problems.

So if you have missing teeth — whether from an accident, disease, or another cause — contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment, and find out whether dental implants might be right for you. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Dental Implants.”

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It Can Pay to Spend on Dental Implants

dental implants.

If you’re missing a tooth, you’re not alone; in fact 35 million Americans are missing all of their teeth in at least one jaw! Whether it’s one tooth or many, it’s important to replace what’s missing. Depending on the number of teeth lost, the potential drawbacks to doing nothing may become hard to ignore: impediments to eating, interference with speech, and unaesthetic appearance, for example.

Traditional bridges and dentures are the most affordable options for replacing teeth. Tooth implants — tiny titanium, screw-like substitutes for a tooth’s natural root to which natural-looking dental crowns are attached — are pricier but offer an important extra benefit. In addition to addressing the common problems previously mentioned, by acting like the original tooth root, an implant can maintain or stimulate “remodeling,” of the jawbone below. Without a tooth root to provide stimulation, mature bone cells will continue to be removed, or resorbed, but no new bone cells will regenerate to replace them, leading to a progressive loss of bone width, height and density. The more teeth are lost, and with less bone structure to support it, the whole shape of the face can change.

Unfortunately, when greater numbers of teeth must be replaced, implants can become financially unrealistic for some people. But in appropriate cases there is a third option: a bridge or denture/implant hybrid. In the case of a bridge intended to fill a gap when multiple teeth are missing, an implant can be used on either side of the gap to support the bridge, leaving the natural teeth undisturbed. Strategically placed implants can be used to support a removable denture, too.

If you would like more information about dental implants, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implants: Your Best Option For Replacing Teeth.”

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The Material Girl and the True Blood Star Flaunt Distinctive Smiles

madonna.

One’s a singer who made her name playing New York clubs in the 1980’s before catapulting to international pop stardom; the other’s an actress from New Zealand who, in 1994, at the age of 11, became the second-youngest person ever to win an Academy Award. Both remain at the top of the A-list today. What other feature do Madonna and Anna Paquin have in common?

You guessed it — it’s their teeth. Both have a small but noticeable gap between their two front teeth, known as a diastema. This condition is relatively common, and it’s normally easy to treat — if that’s something you’d like to do. But wait a moment… In certain African countries, this kind of smile is considered a sign of fertility; in France, they call it “dents du bonheur” (lucky teeth); some other cultures consider the gap a predictor of future wealth. So if you’ve already made this look work for you, there’s no need to change it — even if you might need other cosmetic dental work.

The “perfectly imperfect” smile has become an increasingly popular option for people having veneers, cosmetic bonding, or even dental implants. Some trend-watchers have even noted a pushback against the ideal of a completely even, flawless, Hollywood-white smile. Does that create a problem at the dentist’s office?

Absolutely not! We call the process of figuring out how your teeth should look “smile design” — and it’s as much an art as a science. When we’re just beginning to design your smile, we look at a number of features — including the size, shape, color and alignment of your teeth, the position of your lips, the amount of gums exposed, and the relationship between your smile and your other facial features. We’re also listening carefully to you: what you like and don’t like about your smile, how you think it could be improved… and what should stay just the way it is.

Of course, before doing any cosmetic work, we will always perform a complete dental exam to detect any underlying condition and determine what treatments are best. Then, we will work with you to help you get the smile you’ve always wanted. Not sure exactly how it will look when it’s all done? Ask us for a preview — from computer-generated pictures to actual 3-D models, we can show you how your new smile will enhance your appearance.

So if your smile needs a little help to look its best — but you still want it to be uniquely yours — maybe now is the time to come in and see us. If you would like more information on smile design, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor articles “The Impact of a Smile Makeover” and “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”

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Jamie Foxx Gets Into Character With Help From His Dentist

bonding.

If you were a well-known actor, how far would you go to get inside the character you’re playing in a movie? Plenty of stars have gained or lost weight to fit the role; some have tried to relate to their character by giving up creature comforts, going through boot camp, even trying out another occupation for a time. But when Jamie Foxx played a homeless musician in the 2009 film The Soloist, he went even further: He had part of his front tooth chipped out!

“My teeth are just so big and white — a homeless person would never have them,” he told an interviewer. “I just wanted to come up with something to make the part unique. I had one [tooth] chipped out with a chisel.”

Now, even if you’re trying to be a successful actor, we’re not suggesting you have your teeth chipped intentionally. However, if you have a tooth that has been chipped accidentally, we want you to know that we can repair it beautifully. One way to do that is with cosmetic bonding.

Bonding uses tooth-colored materials called “composite resins” (because they contain a mixture of plastic and glass) to replace missing tooth structure. The composite actually bonds, or becomes one, with the rest of the tooth.

Composite resins come in a variety of lifelike tooth shades, making it virtually impossible to distinguish the bonded tooth from its neighbors. Though bonding will not last as long as a dental veneer, it also does not require the involvement of a dental laboratory and, most often, can be done with minor reshaping of the tooth.

Cosmetic Bonding for Chipped Teeth
A chipped tooth can usually be bonded in a single visit to the dental office. First, the surface of the tooth may be beveled slightly with a drill, and then it is cleaned. Next, it is “etched” with an acidic gel that opens up tiny pores. After the etching gel is rinsed off, the liquid composite resin in a well-matched shade is painted on in a thin layer, filling these tiny pores to create a strong bond. A special curing light is used to harden this bonding material. Once the first layer is cured, another layer is painted on and cured. Layers can continue to be built up until the restoration has the necessary thickness. The bonding material is then shaped and polished. The whole procedure takes only about 30 minutes!

If you have questions about cosmetic bonding, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin.”

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Tooth-Harming Habits to Avoid

soda.

Did you know that you probably do at least one thing during the course of an average day that puts your healthy smile at risk? These are some of the more common offenders:

Coffee, Soda, and Sports Drink Consumption
If you really can’t give them up, try to consume these beverages with restraint. Their high acidity and/or sugar content can erode protective tooth enamel, making your pearly whites more prone to staining and decay. Even natural fruit juices should be consumed in moderation as they tend to be high in sugar and sometimes acidity (e.g. orange juice). Your best bet? Water, of course. It won’t damage your teeth and thanks to fluoridation may even help remineralize and fortify your enamel.

Brushing Immediately After Eating
If you were told to brush after every meal, forget it. Acids in foods and beverages can soften your enamel, and brushing may actually accelerate erosion. Wait at least an hour to brush, which is the time it generally takes for your oral pH to normalize and your tooth enamel to reharden. However, it is advisable after eating to floss and rinse out your mouth with plain water or a mineralized dental wash to help wash away food particles.

Jaw Clenching, Tooth Grinding, Pencil Chewing
These and similar “parafunctional” behaviors — outside the uses for which teeth are designed — can cause undue tooth wear and exert stresses that can cause chips and fractures. They can affect other parts of the oral system, too, potentially resulting in jaw joint pain and muscle spasms, headaches and other head and neck ailments.

It’s hard to cut out all high-sugar/high-acid foods and beverages, so where complete elimination isn’t possible, focus on moderation and try to consume them only during mealtime. Jaw clenching and other parafunctional behaviors are often subconscious and may be harder to control; in such cases an unobtrusive device like a clear occlusal (bite) guard can alleviate the problem.

If you would like more information about tooth damage and prevention please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Decay” and “Stress & Tooth Habits.”

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Quitting the Smoking Habit Could Vastly Improve Your Dental Health

oral cancer.

Even after decades of health warnings, approximately 45 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Although three-quarters will attempt to quit at some time in their life, most won’t be successful because smoking is both pleasurable and highly addictive.

Still, it’s in your best health interest to quit, and not just for your general health. Besides bad breath, reduced taste perception and dry mouth, smokers also face higher risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.

Quitting is difficult because of the addictive nature of nicotine, one of tobacco’s main ingredients. Nicotine causes the brain to release dopamine, a chemical that regulates our sense of pleasure and reward. In time, this effect transcends the physical sensation — smokers soon rearrange their social, work and family life to accommodate it. For those attempting to quit, the physical and emotional effects of withdrawal are daunting.

Yet, there are a number of effective quitting strategies. Smoking is a behavior you’ve learned and reinforced over time that you must now “unlearn.” You should begin by analyzing your own particular smoking habit — when you smoke, what prompts you to smoke, what activities do you associate with smoking, etc.

Most people will find an abrupt halt to cigarette smoking all but impossible. Instead, gradually reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke each day over several weeks; a weekly 20% reduction over the previous week is a good norm. As you reduce to just a few cigarettes, you’ll be forced to choose when to smoke those “precious” few. You can also use “brand fading,” in which you switch week by week to brands with increasingly lower amounts of nicotine.

You should also attempt to replace the smoking habit with more positive habits. Keep your hands busy holding items like pencils, straws or stress balls. Snack on healthy foods, chew sugarless gum with Xylitol, and drink plenty of water. You might also join a support group of other smokers trying to quit so you don’t have to face the habit alone.

It may take several weeks to break the smoking habit. The results, though, are worth it — you may extend not only your life but the life of your teeth too.

If you would like more information on how to stop smoking, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”

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Tooth Trauma Doesn’t Have to Mean Tooth Loss

dental injuries.

Tooth decay and other oral diseases aren’t the only dangers your teeth face — accidental injuries also pose a risk. Fortunately, much can be done to save injured teeth, if you act quickly.

Dental injuries where part of the enamel crown has chipped off are the most common. Even if only one tooth appears damaged, adjacent teeth and bone might also have been damaged internally. Most chip injuries can be repaired either by reattaching the broken crown or with a tooth-colored filling or veneer. If the damage has extended into the inner tooth pulp then a root canal treatment might ultimately be necessary.

Teeth that have been knocked loose from normal alignment (dislodged) or where the entire tooth with its root has separated from the socket (avulsed) are rare but severe when they occur. It’s imperative to see a dentist as soon as possible — even more than five minutes’ of elapsed time can drastically reduce the tooth’s survivability. Dislodged teeth are usually splinted to adjacent teeth for several weeks; we would then carefully monitor the healing process and intervene with endodontic treatment (focused on the tooth’s interior) should something unfavorable occur.

With the possible exception of a primary (baby) tooth, an avulsed tooth should be placed back in the socket as soon as possible. This can be done by someone on scene, as long as the tooth is handled gently, the root not touched, and the tooth rinsed with cold, clean water if it has become dirty. If no one is available to do this, the tooth should be placed in milk to avoid drying out the root, and the patient and tooth transported to a dentist immediately. Once in the socket, the treatment is similar as for a dislodged tooth with splinting and careful watching.

The damaged tooth should be checked regularly. Your body’s defense mechanism could still reject it, so there’s a danger the root could be eaten away, or resorbed. Some forms of resorption can’t be treated — the aim then is to preserve the natural tooth for as long as possible, and then replace it with a life-like restoration to regain form and function.

If you would like more information on the treatment of injured teeth, please contact Mansfield dentist Dr. Sandi Hamm at (817) 477-4441 and schedule an appointment. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Trauma & Nerve Damage to Teeth.”

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