We're all interested in how our toothpaste tastes, how it freshens breath or how it brightens teeth. But those are secondary to its most important function, which is how well our toothpaste helps us remove dental plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Daily brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, resulting in a much lower risk for dental disease. But while the mechanical action of brushing loosens plaque, toothpaste helps complete its removal. It can do this because of two basic ingredients found in nearly every brand of toothpaste.
The first is an abrasive (or polishing agent), a gritty substance that boosts the effectiveness of the brushing action (which, by the way, alleviates the need for harmful aggressive brushing). These substances, usually hydrated silica, hydrated alumina or calcium carbonate, are abrasive enough to loosen plaque, but not enough to damage tooth enamel.
The other ingredient, a detergent, works much the same way as the product you use to wash greasy dishes—it breaks down the parts of plaque that water can't dissolve. The most common, sodium lauryl sulfate, a safe detergent found in other hygiene products, loosens and dissolves plaque so that it can be easily rinsed away.
You'll also find other ingredients to some degree in toothpaste: flavorings, of course, that go a long way toward making the brushing experience more pleasant; humectants to help toothpaste retain moisture; and binders to hold bind all the ingredients together. And many toothpastes also contain fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical that strengthens tooth enamel.
You may also find additional ingredients in toothpastes that specialize in certain functions like reducing tartar buildup (hardened plaque), easing tooth or gum sensitivity or controlling bacterial growth. Many toothpastes also include whiteners to promote a brighter smile. Your dentist can advise you on what to look for in a toothpaste to meet a specific need.
But your first priority should always be how well your toothpaste helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy. Knowing what's in it can help you choose your toothpaste more wisely.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products and aids, 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 “Toothpaste: What's in It?”
Although kids are resilient, they're not indestructible. They're prone to their share of injuries, both major and minor—including dental injuries.
It's common for physically active children to suffer injuries to their mouth, teeth and gums. With a little know-how, however, you can reduce their suffering and minimize any consequences to their long-term oral health.
Here are 4 types of dental injuries, and what to do if they occur.
Chipped tooth. Trauma or simply biting down on something hard can result in part of the tooth breaking off, while the rest of it remains intact. If this happens, try to retrieve and save the chipped pieces—a dentist may be able to re-bond them to the tooth. Even if you can't collect the chipped pieces, you should still see your dentist for a full examination of the tooth for any underlying injury.
Cracked tooth. A child can experience intense pain or an inability to bite or close their teeth normally if a tooth is cracked (fractured), First, call the dentist to see if you need to come in immediately or wait a day. You can also give the child something appropriate to their age for pain and to help them sleep if you're advised to wait overnight.
Displaced tooth. If a child's tooth appears loose, out of place or pushed deeper into the jaw after an accident, you should definitely see a dentist as soon as possible—all of these indicate a serious dental injury. If they're unavailable or it's after hours, your dentist may tell you to visit an emergency room for initial treatment.
Knocked-out tooth. Minutes count when a tooth is knocked completely out. Quickly locate the tooth and, holding it only by the crown and not the root, rinse off any debris with clean water. Place it in a glass of milk or attempt to place it back into the socket. If you attempt to place it back into the socket, it will require pressure to seat the tooth into position. You should then see a dentist or ER immediately.
A dental injury can be stressful for both you and your child. But following these common-sense guidelines can help you keep your wits and ensure your child gets the care they need.
More than one parent has wakened in the middle of the night to an unnerving sound emanating from their child's bedroom. Although it might seem like something from the latest horror flick is romping around in there, all that racket has a down-to-earth cause: teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is the involuntary habit of gnashing the teeth together when not engaged in normal functions like eating or speaking. It can occur at any time, but frequently with children while they sleep. Adults may also grind their teeth, but it's more prevalent among children.
While stress seems to be the main reason for adult teeth grinding, many health providers believe the habit in children is most often caused by an overreactive response of the neuromuscular system for chewing, which may be immature. Other conditions like asthma, sleep apnea or drug use may also play a role.
Fortunately, there doesn't appear to be any lasting harm from young children grinding their teeth, although they may encounter problems like headaches, earaches or jaw pain in the short term. Most, though, will outgrow the habit and be no worse for wear.
But if it persists beyond childhood, problems can escalate. Adults run the risk of serious cumulative issues like chronic jaw pain, accelerated tooth wear or tooth fracturing. It's similar to finger sucking, a nearly universal habit among young children that poses no real harm unless it persists later in life.
And as with finger sucking, parents should follow a similar strategy of carefully monitoring their child's teeth grinding. If the habit continues into later childhood or adolescence, or noticeable problems like those mentioned previously begin to appear, it may be time to intervene.
Such intervention may initially include diagnosis and treatment for underlying problems like upper airway obstruction, asthma or stress. For short term protection against dental damage, your dentist can also fashion a custom mouthguard for your child to wear while they sleep. Made of pliable plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
Outside of some lost sleep, there's little cause for alarm if your child grinds their teeth. But if it seems to go on longer than it should, you can take action to protect their long-term dental health.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
In one respect, celebrities are no different from the rest of us—quite a few famous people love to collect things. Marie Osmond collects dolls (as well as Johnny Depp, reportedly); Leonardo DiCaprio, vintage toys. And, of course, Jay Leno has his famous fleet of cars. But Victoria Beckham's collection is unusually "familial"—she's kept all of her four children's "baby" teeth after they've fallen out.
Best known as Posh Spice of the 1990s group Spice Girls and now a fashion designer and TV personality, Beckham told People Magazine that she has an "entire bucket" of her kids' primary teeth. And, she recently added to it when her nine-year old daughter lost another tooth earlier this year.
You may or may not want to keep your child's baby teeth, but you'll certainly have the opportunity. Children start losing their first set of teeth around age 6 or 7 through early puberty. During the process, each tooth's roots and gum attachment weakens to the point that the tooth becomes noticeably loose. Not long after, it gives way and falls out.
Although a baby tooth doesn't normally need any help with this, children (and sometimes parents) are often eager to accelerate the process. A loose tooth can be annoying—plus there's often a financial incentive via the "Tooth Fairy!"
First off, there's not much harm in a child wiggling a loose tooth—it may even help it come out. It's also possible to help the tooth safely detach sooner by taking a small piece of tissue, folding it over the tooth and giving it a gentle downward squeeze. If it's loose enough, it should pop out.
If it doesn't, don't resort to more forcible measures like the proverbial string and a door—just wait a day or two before trying the gentle squeeze method again. Once the tooth comes out, the empty socket may bleed a bit or not at all. If heavy bleeding does occur, have the child bite down on a piece of clean gauze or a wet tea bag until it stops. You may also have them eat softer foods for a few days to avoid a resumption of bleeding.
Beyond that, there's little else to do but place it under your child's pillow for the Tooth Fairy. And if after their "exchange" with that famous member of the Fae Folk you find yourself in possession of the erstwhile tooth, consider taking a cue from Victoria Beckham and add it to your own collection of family memories.
It's normal to have occasional mouth dryness—that "cotton mouth" feeling when you first wake up or after eating a spicy meal. It soon dissipates, though, leaving you no worse for wear other than the memory of an unpleasant sensation.
For some, though, the unpleasant sensation becomes a chronic condition known as xerostomia, in which their mouth feels dry most of the time. And, it can have far-reaching consequences beyond a mere irritation if not treated.
Among the numerous causes for xerostomia, the most common appears to be over-the-counter and prescription medication. An estimated five hundred medications have dry mouth as a potential side-effect, from antihistamines to antidepressants. And because people over 65 are more likely to take medications, they also have a high occurrence of xerostomia.
A person with certain systemic diseases like Parkinson's Disease or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancers of the head and neck may also encounter dry mouth. For example, an autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome, primarily affecting postmenopausal women, can dry out the mouth's mucous membranes.
Chronic dry mouth isn't normal, and often a sign of a health problem that should be examined. And it can lead to more problems with your oral health. Because dry mouth is most likely a reduction in saliva, which helps buffer decay-causing acid and provides antibodies to fight bacteria, having less of this vital fluid can increase your risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
So, what can you do if you're plagued by persistent dry mouth? If you suspect your medications may be a factor, talk with your doctor about whether one of them may be the underlying cause for your symptoms. You may be able to switch to an alternate medication without dry mouth side-effects.
You can also increase your water intake during the day, including drinking more before and after taking medication. And there are a number of products like the artificial sweetener xylitol found in gums and candies that can boost saliva. Your dentist may also be able to recommend products that increase saliva.
Above all, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental cleanings. Taking care of chronic dry mouth could help you avoid dental problems later.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating chronic dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
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