Many recent high school graduates will soon begin their first year in college, and for many it will be their first time living away from home. But with the excitement of new freedom, there’s also the opportunity to make poor choices that could impact long-term health, especially teeth and gums.
Here, then, are 5 tips for keeping your teeth and gums healthy during the college years.
Watch what you eat and drink. At any stage of life, a nutritious, balanced diet low in sugar and high in fiber is vital to a healthy mouth. Snack moderately on fresh fruit, nuts or dairy foods, not sugary, processed products. Be sure also to drink plenty of water for hydration, not sodas or sports drinks whose high acid content can soften enamel and open the door to tooth decay.
Don’t abuse alcohol or use tobacco. Consuming too much alcohol can do more than leave you momentarily impaired — it can cause dry mouth, which contributes to tooth decay and increases your risk of oral cancer. Any form of tobacco can raise your risk for disease, especially oral cancer; high levels of nicotine may also inhibit your gum’s ability to fight infection, which increases your risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Avoid oral piercings. Those tiny pieces of hardware attached to lips, tongue, gums or even through teeth may be all the rage, but they’re a recipe for immediate and future mouth problems. Oral piercings can lead to chipped teeth, gum recession and a higher chance of dental disease.
Practice safe sex. Certain sexual behaviors can raise your risk of contracting human papilloma virus (HPV16) that in turn increases your risk of oral cancer. You can also develop genital herpes in the mouth, which although manageable won’t go away.
Keep up your oral hygiene care. Taking care of your teeth and gums is a permanent, daily concern. Whatever your college schedule, be sure you’re brushing once or twice a day and flossing once. And don’t forget to visit us at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning (to get plaque you can’t reach with daily hygiene) and a checkup to keep dental disease under control.
Each part of the human body is an intricate wonder. Take your teeth, for example: they’re so woven into everyday life we don’t notice them, yet they each work seamlessly with the jaws and mouth so we can eat, speak and even smile.
Here, then, are a few facts to help you understand — and appreciate — these tiny, amazing wonders we call teeth.
Layer Upon Layer. Rather than one solid mass, teeth are composed of different layers of slightly different tissues each with a unique role in protecting and enabling a tooth to function. Innermost is the pulp filled with connective tissue encasing blood vessels and nerves that transmit sensations to the brain. The next layer out is the dentin, a bone-like material sensitive to touch and other stimuli, which also absorbs some of the forces generated when biting or chewing. The outermost layer is enamel, the hardest material in the body and the tooth’s first defense against infection and other dangers.
Front and Center. Teeth perform different functions depending on their type and location. Front teeth are our “onstage performers” — they help us to speak and enunciate words clearly and, of course, contribute to our smile. They’re also adept at cutting through food when it first enters our mouths.
The Support Team. In keeping with our theater analogy, back teeth are our “backstage crew”: they help support our facial height, provide balance for the jaws as we swallow and protect the front teeth from too much vertical force. They’re also able to crush food before we finally swallow, which aids in the digestive process.
Intended for a Lifetime. If you consider all the environmental factors our teeth face — acidic foods, biting forces and temperature swings to name a few — you then can appreciate their resiliency. Of course, teeth have their enemies: decay, infection and trauma. With daily brushing and flossing and at least a couple of visits a year to our office for cleanings and checkups, you can help thwart many of those enemies. With both our efforts we can make sure your teeth really do last a lifetime.
It's difficult to measure how x-ray imaging has transformed dentistry since its use became prominent a half century ago. As equipment and methods standardized, the technology revolutionized the way we diagnose tooth decay and other mouth-related issues.
One of the more useful of these methods is called the bitewing x-ray. The term comes from the shape of the device a patient holds between their teeth with the film attached on the side toward their tongue. We direct the x-ray beam to the outside of the patient's cheek, where it passes through the teeth to expose on the film. Its particular design provides clearer images since the patient's bite helps keep the film still and distortion-free, making it easier to view signs of early tooth decay.
Bitewing x-rays usually consist of four films, two on either side of the mouth, necessary to capture all of the teeth (children with smaller jaws, however, often only require one film per side). How frequently they're conducted depends on a number of factors, including the patient's age: children or young adolescents are usually filmed more frequently than adults, usually every six to twelve months. Frequency also depends on a patient's particular decay risk — the higher the risk the more frequent the x-ray.
Regardless of how often they're performed, a similar application principle applies with bitewing x-rays as with any other radiological method: As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). With the ALARA principle in other words, we're looking for that sweet spot where we're able to detect the earliest stages of dental disease with the least amount of radiation exposure.
Bitewings fit this principle well: a patient receives only a fraction of the radiation exposure from a four-film bitewing as they do from a daily dose of environmental radiation. Factor in new digital technology that reduces exposure rates and bitewings pose virtually no health risk to patients, especially if conducted in a prudent manner.
The benefits are well worth it. Thanks to bitewing x-rays we may be able to diagnose decay early and stop it before it causes you or your family member extensive tooth damage.
Whether she’s singing, dancing or acting, Jennifer Lopez is a performer who is known for giving it all she’s got. But during one show, Lopez recently admitted, she gave a bit more then she had planned.
“I chipped my tooth on stage,” she told interviewers from Entertainment Tonight, “and had to finish the show….I went back thinking ‘Can I finish the show like this?’”
With that unlucky break, J-Lo joins a growing list of superstar singers—including Taylor Swift and Michael Buble—who have something in common: All have chipped their teeth on microphones while giving a performance.
But it’s not just celebs who have accidental dental trouble. Chips are among the most common dental injuries—and the front teeth, due to their position, are particularly susceptible. Unfortunately, they are also the most visible. But there are also a number of good ways to repair chipped, cracked or broken teeth short of replacing them.
For minor to moderate chips, cosmetic bonding might be recommended. In this method, special high-tech resins, in shades that match your natural teeth, are applied to the tooth’s surface. Layers of resin, cured with a special light, will often restore the tooth to good appearance. Best of all, the whole process can often be done in just one visit to the dental office, and the results can last for several years.
For a more permanent repair—or if the damage is more extensive—dental veneers may be another option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that cover the entire front surface of one or more teeth. Strong, durable and natural-looking, they can be used to repair moderate chips, cracks or irregularities. They can also help you get a “red-carpet” smile: brilliant white teeth with perfectly even spacing. That’s why veneers are so popular among Hollywood celebs—even those who haven’t chipped their teeth!
Fortunately, even if the tooth is extensively damaged, it’s usually possible to restore it with a crown (cap), a bridge—or a dental implant, today’s gold standard for whole-tooth replacement. But in many cases, a less complex type of restoration will do the trick.
Which tooth restoration method did J-Lo choose? She didn’t say—but luckily for her adoring fans, after the microphone mishap she went right back up on stage and finished the show.
If you have a chipped tooth but you need to make the show go on, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
You brush and floss every day to rid your teeth and gums of disease-causing plaque. But while “showing up” is most of the battle, the effectiveness of your technique will win the war.
So, how good are you at removing plaque? One quick way to find out is the “tongue test”—simply rub your tongue along your teeth: they should feel smooth and “squeaky” clean. Surfaces that feel rough and gritty probably still contain plaque.
For a more thorough evaluation, your dental hygienist may use a product during your regular dental visit called a plaque disclosing agent. It’s a solution applied to your teeth that dyes any bacterial plaque present on tooth surfaces a certain color while leaving clean surfaces un-dyed. The disclosing agent shows you where you’re effectively removing plaque and where you’re not.
These products aren’t exclusive to the dental office—you can use something similar at home if you’d like to know how well you’re doing with your hygiene before your next visit. You can find them over-the-counter as tablets, swabs or solutions. You may even find some that have two dye colors, one that reveals older plaque deposits and the other newer plaque.
You simply follow the product’s directions by first brushing and flossing as usual, then chewing the tablet, daubing the swab on all tooth and gum surfaces, or swishing the solution in your mouth like mouthwash for about 30 seconds before spitting it out. You can then use a mirror to observe any dye staining. Pay attention to patterns: for example, dyed plaque scalloping along the gum line means you’ll need to work your brush a little more in those areas.
The dye could color your gums, lips and tongue as well as your teeth, but it only lasts a few hours. And while plaque disclosing agents are FDA-approved for oral use, you should still check the ingredients for any to which you may be allergic.
All in all, a plaque disclosing agent is a good way to occasionally check the effectiveness of your plaque removal efforts. By improving your technique you may further lower your risk of dental disease.
If you would like more information on learning how effective your oral hygiene really is, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
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