- Dental Anxiety: 3 Ways to Stop Fearing the Dentist
- Toothbrushes: Important Info
- Erosion: Stomach Upset & Your Teeth
- Baby Teeth
- Periodontal (Gum) Disease
- Scaling & Root Planing
1. Speak up
Anyone with anxiety knows sharing your feelings makes a world of difference. If you’re tense or anxious, do yourself a favor and get your concerns off your chest. Your dentist and dental team are better able to treat you if they know your needs.
- Tell your dentist about your anxiety. When you book your appointment, tell the receptionist you’re nervous about dental visits. Remind the dentist and dental staff about your anxiety when you arrive. Share any bad experiences you may have had in the past, and ask for suggestions on coping strategies.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes knowing what is going to happen alleviates any fears of the unknown.
- Agree on a signal. Let your dentist know by raising your hand if you need to take a break during an exam.
- If you experience pain even with a local anesthetic, tell your dentist. Some patients get embarrassed about their pain tolerance or don’t want to interrupt a dentist during a procedure. Talk with your dentist about pain before it starts so your dentist knows how to communicate with you and make it more comfortable.
2. Distract yourself
Taking your mind off the exam may seem impossible when you’re nervous, but there are some things that that can help distract your thoughts.
- Wear headphones. If the sound of the drill bothers you, bring headphones so you can listen to your favorite music or audiobook. Some dental offices even have televisions or show DVDs.
- Occupy your hands by squeezing a stress ball or playing with a small handheld object, like a fidget spinner.
- Imagine your happy place and visualize yourself at a relaxing beach or garden.
3. Use mindfulness techniques
Relaxation starts in the mind. Try deep breathing exercises to help relax tension in your muscles.
- Count your breaths. Inhale slowly and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this five times while you’re waiting for your appointment, or during breaks while you’re sitting in the dental chair.
- Do a body scan. Concentrate on relaxing your muscles, one body part at a time. Start with your head and work your way down to your toes. For example, you can focus on releasing tension starting in your forehead, then your cheeks, your neck and down the rest of your body.
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- The ADA Seal of Acceptance is the gold standard for toothbrush quality. It’s how you’ll know an independent body of scientific experts, the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, evaluated your toothbrush to make sure bristles won’t fall out with normal use, the handle will stay strong and the toothbrush will help reduce your risk for cavities and gum disease.
- Manual or powered? Your teeth don’t care.
In the manual and powered toothbrush debate, it’s a wash. You just need to brush twice a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste. (If your toothpaste has the ADA Seal, you’ll know it has fluoride.) Both types of toothbrush can effectively and thoroughly clean your teeth. It all depends on which one you prefer. People who find it difficult to use a manual toothbrush may find a powered toothbrush more comfortable. Talk to your dentist about which kind is best for you.
- There is no “correct” order for brushing and flossing.
Brushing before flossing, flossing before brushing—it doesn’t matter to your teeth, as long as you do both.
- Toothbrushes like to be left out in the open.
Cleaning your toothbrush is easy: Rinse it with tap water to remove any remaining toothpaste and debris. Store it upright and allow it to air dry. If you store your toothbrush with other toothbrushes, make sure they are separated to prevent cross contamination. And do not routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers. A moist environment such as a closed container is more conducive to the growth of unwanted bacteria than the open air.
- Lifespan = 3-4 Months
Make sure to replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won’t do as good of a job cleaning your teeth.
- When it comes to choosing a brush, go soft.
Whether you use a manual or powered toothbrush, choose a soft-bristled brush. Firm or even medium-strength bristles may cause damage to your gums and enamel. When brushing your teeth, don’t scrub vigorously—only brush hard enough to clean the film off your teeth. Your fluoride toothpaste will do the rest of the work.
- Remember: 2 minutes, 2 times a day.
4 minutes a day goes a long way for your dental health. Put the time in each day to keep your smile healthy and keep up this twice-a-day habit.
- Sharing is caring, but not for toothbrushes.
Sharing a toothbrush can mean you’re also sharing germs and bacteria. This could be a particular concern if you have a cold or flu to spread, or you have a condition that leaves your immune system compromised.
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Did you know your digestive health can affect your teeth?
Frequent stomach upset can cause a gradual wearing away of the protective enamel on your teeth, a process known as tooth erosion. This can affect the appearance of your teeth and open the door for harmful bacteria that cause cavities.
How Do Stomach Problems Affect My Teeth?
Your stomach produces natural acids that help your body digest food. Sometimes, these acids travel up the throat and into the mouth, especially after a large meal. Ordinarily, our saliva rebalances the acid levels in our mouth and everything’s fine.
But for those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux, also known as acid reflux or GERD, gastric acids reach the mouth throughout the day. This process is especially damaging when you’re asleep, since you are swallowing less often and your mouth is producing less saliva.
Another concern is the dry mouth caused by many acid reflux medicines. Saliva not only helps neutralize the acids caused by acid reflux, but also helps to wash away food particles and reduce bacteria that attack tooth enamel. This is why lower saliva production may increase your risk for cavities.
What Does Reflux-Related Erosion Do to My Teeth?
Acid reflux can wear away the enamel on the inside surfaces of your teeth, as well as the chewing surfaces. Your dentist may notice this during an exam.
Unfortunately, tooth erosion is permanent. If your enamel has started to wear away, you may:
- Feel pain or sensitivity when consuming hot, cold or sweet drinks
- Notice a yellowish discoloration of the teeth
- Find that your fillings have changed
- Face greater risks for cavities over time
- Develop an abscess, in extreme cases
- Experience tooth loss, also in extreme cases
How to Protect Your Teeth – And Get Relief
- Chewing sugar-free gum can encourage saliva production, which helps neutralize and wash away the acids in your mouth. Look for one with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
- Prescription or over-the-counter fluoride and desensitizing toothpastes may help strengthen tooth enamel.
- Avoiding alcohol and smoking and refraining from eating 3 hours before bedtime may reduce the frequency of acid reflux episodes.
- If heartburn, acid reflux or other stomach problems are part of your daily life, work with your physician on a care plan to treat the underlying causes of your stomach troubles.
- If you suffer from acid reflux, see your dentist regularly so they can make sure your teeth stay healthy, recommend ways to prevent tooth enamel erosion and suggest ways to get relief if you are also suffering from dry mouth.
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When Do Baby Teeth Come In?
A baby’s 20 primary teeth are already present in the jaws at birth and typically begin to appear when a baby is between 6 months and 1 year.
Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are 3. Check out this baby teeth eruption chart to see the order in which teeth break through and at what ages you can expect specific teeth to appear. Every child is different, but usually the first teeth to come in are located in the top and bottom front of their mouth.
When teeth first come in, some babies may have sore or tender gums. Gently rubbing your child’s gums with a clean finger, a small, cool spoon or a wet gauze pad can be soothing. You can also give the baby a clean teething ring to chew on. If your child is still cranky and in pain, consult your dentist or physician.
Why Baby Teeth Matter
Baby teeth are very important to your child’s health and development. They help him or her chew, speak and smile. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums. When a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth can drift into the empty space and make it difficult for other adult teeth to find room when they come in. This can make teeth crooked or crowded. That’s why starting infants off with good oral care can help protect their teeth for decades to come.
When Should I Start Taking My Child to the Dentist?
After the first tooth comes in and no later than the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a “well-baby checkup” for the teeth. Besides checking for cavities and other problems, the dentist can show you how to clean the child’s teeth properly and how to handle habits like thumb sucking. Learn more about how to prepare for this visit.
How to Care for Your Child’s Teeth?
It’s important to care for your baby’s teeth from the start. Here’s what to do:
- Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur. A baby’s front four teeth usually push through the gums at about 6 months of age, although some children don’t have their first tooth until 12 or 14 months.
- For children younger than 3 years, start brushing their teeth as soon as they begin to come into the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician. Supervise children’s brushing to ensure that they use of the appropriate amount of toothpaste.
- For children 3 to 6 years of age, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician. Supervise children’s brushing and remind them not to swallow the toothpaste.
- Until you’re comfortable that your child can brush on his or her own, continue to brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. When your child has two teeth that touch, you should begin cleaning between their teeth daily.
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Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. It is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. Also referred to as periodontal disease, gum disease is caused by plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that is constantly forming on our teeth.
Here are some warning signs that can signal a problem:
- gums that bleed easily
- red, swollen, tender gums
- gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- persistent bad breath or bad taste
- permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- any change in the fit of partial dentures
Some factors increase the risk of developing gum disease. They are:
- poor oral hygiene
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- genetics *
- crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- medications, including steroids, certain types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives
See your dentist if you suspect you have gum disease because the sooner you treat it the better. The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. If you have gingivitis, your gums may become red, swollen and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated by a professional cleaning at your dental office, followed by daily brushing and flossing.
Advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. Chronic periodontitis affects 47.2% of adults over 30 in the United States. It can lead to the loss of tissue and bone that support the teeth and it may become more severe over time. If it does, your teeth will feel loose and start moving around in your mouth. This is the most common form of periodontitis in adults but can occur at any age. It usually gets worse slowly, but there can be periods of rapid progression.
Aggressive periodontitis is a highly destructive form of periodontal disease that occurs in patients who are otherwise healthy. Common features include rapid loss of tissue and bone and may occur in some areas of the mouth, or in the entire mouth.
Research between systemic diseases and periodontal diseases is ongoing. While a link is not conclusive, some studies indicate that severe gum disease may be associated with several other health conditions such as diabetes or stroke.
It is possible to have gum disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are very important. Treatment methods depend upon the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed. Good dental care at home is essential to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring.
Remember: You don’t have to lose teeth to gum disease. Brush your teeth twice a day, clean between your teeth daily, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.
*In addition, Dr. Lough would like to point out some studies indicate that early onset and rapidly progressive periodontal disease have strong genetic components. For many years, aggressive periodontitis has been observed to largely occur in families and can be traced through generations. Abnormal genes were first isolated for this condition in the 1980s. According to one recent study, genetic factors may play a critical role in half the cases of periodontal disease and up to 30% of the population may have some genetic susceptibility to periodontal disease.
Dr. Lough would like to stress that for prevention of periodontal disease, as well as for patients being treated for periodontal disease, twice daily brushing and daily flossing using an electric or battery operated water flosser (instead of manual string flossing techniques) are imperative.*
Check out our MouthHealthy Slideshow on the Myths of Gum Disease to learn more!
Scaling and root planing is a deep cleaning below the gumline used to treat gum disease.
Why Do I Need It?
Gum disease is caused by a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. Plaque is always forming on your teeth, but if they aren’t cleaned well, the bacteria in plaque can cause your gums to become inflamed. When this happens, your gums will pull away from your teeth and form spaces called pockets. Plaque then gets trapped in these pockets and cannot be removed with regular brushing. If untreated, gum disease could lead to bone and tooth loss.
If gum disease is caught early and hasn’t damaged the structures below the gum line, a professional cleaning should do. If the pockets between your gums and teeth are too deep, however, scaling and root planing may be needed.
A July 2015 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association finds that scaling and root planing is beneficial to patients with chronic periodontitis (gum disease that has advanced past gingivitis). Chronic periodontitis affects 47.2% of adults over 30 in the United States.
What Happens During Scaling and Root Planing?
This deep cleaning has two parts. Scaling is when your dentist removes all the plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) above and below the gumline, making sure to clean all the way down to the bottom of the pocket. Your dentist will then begin root planing, smoothing out your teeth roots to help your gums reattach to your teeth. Scaling and root planing may take more than one visit to complete and may require a local anesthetic.
After Care Tips
After a deep cleaning, you may have pain for a day or two and teeth sensitivity for up to a week. Your gums also may be swollen, feel tender and bleed.
To prevent infection, control pain or help you heal, your dentist may prescribe a pill or mouth rinse. Your dentist may also insert medication (subantimicrobial-dose doxycycline) directly into the pocket that was cleaned.
Your dentist will schedule another visit to see how your gums have healed and measure the depth of your pockets. If they have gotten deeper, more treatment may be needed.