Five minutes a day: That’s all it takes to do something that could change your life. It may not seem like a lot of time, but it’s one of the most profound things you can do for your well-being.
So, what is this life-changing activity? Daily oral hygiene—good, old-fashioned brushing and flossing, just like your mom made you do. Along with regular dental visits, daily hygiene is crucial to keeping your teeth healthy. And healthy teeth are key to a healthy life.
Part of the magic is “showing up every day.” The main driver for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease is dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Clearing away this daily buildup with brushing and flossing drastically reduces the likelihood of disease.
The real advantage, though, is in brushing and flossing effectively. Plaque can cling stubbornly to teeth, especially around the gum line and other hard to reach surfaces. What’s left behind interacts with saliva to form a hardened, calcified form called calculus (also known as tartar) that could increase your risk for disease. And it can’t be removed by brushing and flossing.
You can minimize calculus formation with proper brushing and flossing techniques. When brushing, for instance, use a circular motion and make sure you brush all tooth surfaces, including around the gum line (a thorough job takes about two minutes). And avoid aggressive brushing—you could damage your gums. Be gentle while you brush and let the toothpaste and brush bristles do the heavy lifting.
Don’t forget to floss to remove plaque from between teeth your brush can’t access. Wrap the ends of about 18 inches of floss thread around the middle finger of each hand. Using a combination of your index fingers and thumbs to maneuver it, work the floss between the teeth and then snug it to the tooth surface. Go up and down the sides of each tooth a few times until you hear a squeak (this only happens with unwaxed floss). Move then to the remaining teeth until you’re finished.
Focusing on these techniques will improve your ability to keep daily plaque accumulation low. And that means your teeth and gums have a better chance of staying disease-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on proper oral hygiene, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
How do you know if you have periodontal (gum) disease? Sometimes your gums will tell you—when they’re red, swollen or bleed easily.
But your gums can also look and feel healthy while a gum infection still brews below the gum line. In this case, a regular dental visit could make the difference. Even without overt signs of infection, we may be able to detect gum disease with a slender metal instrument called a periodontal probe.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that most of the time arises from dental plaque. This thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulates on tooth surfaces, especially because of poor or non-existent oral hygiene. A continuing infection can weaken gum tissues and cause them to pull away or detach from the teeth.
Normally, there’s a slight gap between the gums and teeth. But as the infected gums pull away, the gaps grow larger and deeper, forming what are known as periodontal pockets. They become filled with infection that soon spreads to the root and bone and increases the risk of tooth loss.
These pockets, though, could be the means for detecting a gum infection with the help of the periodontal probe. During a dental exam we gently insert the probe, which has millimeter depth markings etched on it, between a tooth and its adjacent gums. While a depth of 1 to 3 mm is normal, a probe measurement of 4 to 5 mm could be a sign of an early stage infection. A reading of 7 to 10 mm, on the other hand, may indicate more advanced disease.
Along with other factors, periodontal probing can be quite useful identifying both the presence and extent of a gum infection and then how to treat it. The goal of any treatment is to remove plaque and tartar (calculus) deposits that sustain the infection. But probing, along with other diagnostic methods like x-rays, could point to deeper infection below the gum line that require more extensive methods, including surgery, sometimes to access and remove the disease.
Achieving the best treatment outcome with gum disease often depends on finding the infection early. Periodontal probing helps to make that discovery more likely.
Osteoporosis is a major health condition affecting millions of people, mostly women over 50. The disease weakens bone strength to the point that a minor fall or even coughing can result in broken bones. And, in an effort to treat it, some patients might find themselves at higher risk of complications during invasive dental procedures.
Over the years a number of drugs have been used to slow the disease’s progression and help the bone resist fracturing. Two of the most common kinds are bisphosphonates (Fosamax) and RANKL inhibitors (Prolia). They work by eliminating certain bone cells called osteoclasts, which normally break down and eliminate older bone cells to make way for newer cells created by osteoblasts.
By reducing the osteoclast cells, older bone cells live longer, which can reduce the weakening of the bone short-term. But these older cells, which normally wouldn’t survive as long, tend to become brittle and fragile after a few years of taking these drugs.
This may even cause the bone itself to begin dying, a relatively rare condition called osteonecrosis. Besides the femur in the leg, the bone most susceptible to osteonecrosis is the jawbone. This could create complications during oral procedures like jaw surgery or tooth extractions.
For this reason, doctors recommend reevaluating the need for these types of medications after 3-5 years. Dentists further recommend, in conjunction with the physician treating osteoporosis, that a patient take a “drug holiday” from either of these two medications for several months before and after any planned oral surgery or invasive dental procedure.
If you have osteoporosis, you may also want to consider alternatives to bisphosphonates and RANKL inhibitors. New drugs like raloxifene (which may also decrease the risk of breast cancer) and teriparatide work differently than the two more common drugs and may avoid their side effects. Taking supplements of Vitamin D and calcium may also improve bone health. If your physician still recommends bisphosphonates, you might discuss newer versions of the drugs that pose less risk of osteonecrosis.
Managing osteoporosis is often a balancing act between alleviating symptoms of the disease and protecting other aspects of your health. Finding that balance may help you avoid future problems, especially to your dental health.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis and dental care, 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”