Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Inside of Your Mouth

Your mouth is made up of more than just teeth, so good oral health goes beyond simply brushing and flossing. In addition to your teeth, your mouth is made up of gums, oral mucosa, the upper and lower jaw, the tongue, salivary glands, the uvula, and the frenulum. All of these structures play an important role when it comes to good dental health and are routinely examined when you receive dental care.

The Oral Mucosa

When you open your mouth and look in the mirror, everything that isn’t a tooth is covered by a protective lining called the oral mucosa, which is a mucous membrane similar to the mucous membranes that line your nostrils and inner ears.

The oral mucosa plays an essential role in maintaining your oral health, as well as your overall health, by defending your body from germs and other irritants that enter your mouth. A tough substance called keratin, also found in your fingernails and hair, helps make the oral mucosa resistant to injury.

The Gums

Your gums are the pinkish tissue that surrounds and supports your teeth. Also covered by oral mucosa, gums play a critical role in your oral health. Healthy gums are firm, cover the entire root of the tooth, and do not bleed when brushed, poked, or prodded. Gum disease can ultimately lead to tooth loss, so taking care of your gums by flossing daily is just as essential to dental care as brushing your teeth.

The Upper and Lower Jaw

Your jaws give your face its shape and your mouth the structure it needs for chewing and speech. Human jaws are made up of several bones: The upper jaw contains two bones that are fused to each other and to the rest of your skull, while the lower jawbone is separate from the rest of the skull, enabling it to move up and down when you speak and chew.

The Tongue

The tongue is a powerful muscle covered in specialized mucosal tissue that includes your taste buds. The tongue is not just important to your oral health — it’s also considered an integral part of the body’s digestive system — it’s responsible for moving food to your teeth, and when chewed food is ready to be swallowed, the tongue moves it to the back of the throat so it can proceed into the esophagus. In babies, the tongue and the jaw work together to enable the infant to breastfeed.Additionally, the tongue plays an essential role in the ability to speak by shaping the sounds that come out of your mouth.

The Salivary Glands

You have three sets of salivary glands in your mouth and neck: the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands. These glands produce saliva, which contains special enzymes that help break down food, making it easier for you to swallow. Saliva is critical to good oral health, because it protects your teeth and gums by rinsing away food particles and bacteria and by helping to counteract acidic foods that can wear down the protective enamel on your teeth.

The Uvula

The uvula is the small flap of tissue which hangs down at the back of your throat. The uvula is composed of muscle fibers as well as connective and glandular tissues. Like other soft tissue structures in the mouth, the uvula is covered by oral mucosa. The uvula has long been a source of curiosity for scientists as all of its functions are not yet fully understood. However, it seems to play some role in speech and in keeping the mouth and throat moist.

The Frenulum Linguae

The frenulum is a flap of oral mucosa that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. This tissue allows the tongue to move about as it does its job. If an infant is born with a frenulum that is too short, or not elastic enough, he or she can have trouble breastfeeding. A short frenulum can also affect speech.

The next time you’re brushing your teeth, spend a minute looking at the parts of the mouth that lie farther inside the oral cavity. Knowing what these structures do and what they look like can help you to maintain optimal oral health.

Chose a Manual or Electric Toothbrush ?

 The electric toothbrush has become very popular in recent years — some even say it provides superior dental care. But how does it actually compare to manual brushing?

“The idea of a toothbrush is to remove plaque and to stimulate the gums,” explains John Ictech-Cassis, DDS, DMD, clinical associate professor at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. “Most toothbrushes will keep the teeth clean if you know how to use them.”

Manual Toothbrushes: A Classic Route to Good Dental Care

“There are many advantages to the manual toothbrush,” says Dr. Ictech-Cassis. “We’ve been using this toothbrush for many years. It has a good track record.” Advantages include:

  • Cost and availability. “It’s inexpensive and accessible,” says Ictech-Cassis. “This is the toothbrush that the majority of dentists give away.” Electric toothbrushes may simply be too expensive for many people, so it’s nice to know that you can do a great job brushing with a manual toothbrush.
  • Easy to travel with. “It’s easy to take a manual toothbrush with you when you travel. It’s not bulky like an electric toothbrush,” says Ictech-Cassis. You’ll be less likely to let your good dental care habits lapse on vacation with a toothbrush that you can easily bring along, he adds.
  • Puts less pressure on teeth and gums. “You can feel [how much pressure you’re using] as you grasp the toothbrush,” Ictech-Cassis notes. “This helps you to avoid putting too much pressure on your teeth. With an electrical model you can’t feel that as well.” Placing too much pressure on your teeth can wear away at the tooth enamel, causing pain, sensitivity, and an increased risk of tooth decay.
  • Good for kids. Even young children can use manual brushes safely and effectively once they’ve learned how, Ictech-Cassis points out.

Electric Toothbrushes: Recommended in Some Cases

Nevertheless, Ictech-Cassis admits that there are some situations where an electric toothbrush has clear advantages. “We recommend it for people who can’t do a good job with a manual toothbrush,” he says. For older people or people who have less manual dexterity, like those who have arthritis, the electric toothbrush may clean more effectively, he says. According to the American Dental Association (AMA), people with limited ability to move their shoulders, arms, and hands can benefit from the larger handle and powered brush of an electric model.

How to Choose an Electric Toothbrush

Today, electric toothbrushes are outfitted with a variety of features. Though they make nice additions, pressure sensors that tell you if you’re brushing too hard or timers that indicate when you’ve brushed long enough don’t directly affect how well the toothbrush actually cleans your teeth.

Electric toothbrushes “try to stimulate the gums and teeth with different configurations of the bristles,” Ictech-Cassis says. “Even the most inexpensive electric models will keep your teeth clean, but you may have to move them a little more to reach the difficult areas.”

Although almost any toothbrush can do an effective job, research suggests there is one electronic toothbrush bristle configuration that seems to be better at removing plaque and preventing gum disease. Electric toothbrushes with bristles that rotate together in one direction, and then switch and rotate in the opposite direction — a process known as rotating-oscillating — appear to be more effective than manual brushes and other electric brushes that spin in only one direction. If you do opt for an electronic toothbrush, a model with rotating-oscillating bristles is probably your best bet.

How Often Should You Get a New Toothbrush?

Whether you choose a manual or an electric toothbrush, choose one with soft bristles and be sure to change the bristles on the electric brush when they become worn down. “Bristles are very important,” Ictech-Cassis says. “Brushes need to be replaced every three months or when the bristles are no longer straight and firm. In that condition, they will not clean the teeth as well as they should.”

7 Steps to a Better Smile

 It’s probably no surprise that a bright, white smile can make you appear younger and more attractive. In fact, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, a whopping 96 percent of respondents surveyed believe an attractive smile makes a person more appealing.

But good dental health goes beyond the way you look. The mouth is the gateway to the body, which means the state of your teeth and gums affects your overall health. By following these steps to a better smile, you’ll be taking important strides for the rest of your body, too.

1. Brush regularly. Brushing is the cornerstone of dental hygiene. It removes food particles that bacteria feed on, cleans teeth, and freshens breath. A toothpaste with fluoride helps strengthen teeth, but you must brush for at least two minutes to allow it to do its work, says Jonathan Abenaim, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Hawthorne, N.J. Many electric toothbrushes have a built-in two-minute timer, which can make brushing for the full amount of time easier, he says.

2. Floss daily. Flossing removes the bacteria from in between your teeth that your toothbrush does not reach, which helps prevent gum disease. Dr. Abenaim recommends flossing twice a day, but if you only do it once daily, be sure to floss before bedtime. When you sleep, you produce less saliva, which leaves teeth and gums particularly vulnerable to bacteria.

3. Visit your dentist. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for thorough dental cleanings. Your dentist can spot the early signs of gum disease, which is more easily treated when caught in the beginning stages. If you are prone to gum disease and cavities, consider visiting your dentist every four months.

Similarly, if you have other health conditions that put you at higher risk for dental problems (such as diabetes, or a depressed immune system from HIV, cancer, or chemotherapy), ask your dentist how often you should have an exam. A special dental-hygiene regimen should be considered for pregnant women, people with diabetes, and anyone undergoing chemotherapy treatment or using medications that can affect the gums (such as antiepileptics) or dry out the mouth (including some psychiatric medications).

It’s wise to examine your own mouth regularly for signs of trouble, such as a nonhealing sore on the lip or inside of your cheek, swollen gums, or sensitive or bleeding gums. If you notice any of these conditions, make an extra dental appointment to have them checked out.

4. Eat a healthy diet. Include plenty of dairy and other calcium-rich foods, like sardines and kale, in your diet. Calcium helps maintain strong bones and teeth, and the vitamin C in citrus fruits boosts gum health.

Related: Avoid These Dental Health Dangers

Equally important to what you do eat is what you don’t. Sugary and sticky foods that stick to the crevices of your teeth are particularly bad, as bacteria feed off the sugars and release acids that cause cavities. If you do eat candy or other sweets, try to brush immediately afterward or, if that’s not possible, rinse your mouth with water, suggests Herman Waldman, DDS.

5. Don’t smoke or use smokeless tobacco. People who smoke are four times more likely than nonsmokers to have gum disease, according to a study by the Journal of Periodontology. Using smokeless tobacco increases a person’s risk for oral cancers, including lip, tongue, cheeks, and gums. On a smaller scale, tobacco products contribute to bad breath, or halitosis.

6. Whiten teeth. While the benefits are solely cosmetic, with today’s products, whitening is a very safe procedure that will not harm your teeth as long as the products are used as directed and you are under the care of a dentist, says Dr. Waldman. Over-the-counter whitening products are effective for minor staining; professional-strength whitening products are better for more-severe yellowing. Speak to your dentist before undergoing any whitening procedure to make sure your teeth and gums are healthy.

7. Consider cosmetic procedures. The first thing a person sees when they meet you is your smile, says Abenaim, and having crooked, stained, or missing teeth can affect your confidence. There have been great advances in cosmetic dentistry over the past decade, and it is possible to fix most cosmetic problems. Veneers for improving the appearance of crooked, stained, or oddly shaped teeth and orthodontics for straightening teeth are only two of the many cosmetic procedures offered.

However, most cosmetic dentistry is not covered by insurance, and it can be costly. It’s important to schedule a consultation with an experienced cosmetic dentist prior to undergoing any type of procedure.

Toothbrush Tips to Keep Your Teeth in Shape

 Brushing your teeth regularly is key to maintaining healthy teeth and gums and preventing periodontal (gum) diseases, but it’s also important to make sure you choose the right toothbrush for your teeth and use proper brushing techniques. Done correctly, brushing your teeth at least twice a day — in the morning and in the evening before going to bed, for at least three minutes — can help ensure long-termdental health.

“It takes time to brush effectively,” says Richard H. Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA) and a former clinical instructor at Boston University Dental School. “Most people just rush through it.” Dr. Price suggests setting a timer for three minutes and brushing and flossing until the time runs out.

How to Choose a Toothbrush

Although some ancient civilizations used frayed twigs to clean their teeth, these days toothbrushes come in a variety of manual and powered forms. And the first step to taking good care of your mouth is to choose a toothbrush that’s right for you.

“Choose a brush that has the ADA seal on the box to be sure the bristles are not too hard,” says Price, who is retired from a 35-year dental practice in Newton, Mass. “Then find one that fits comfortably in your hand and mouth. If the brush is comfortable to use, you’ll use it more often and more effectively.”

Here are some other tips to keep in mind when choosing a toothbrush. You’ll want to pick one that:

  • Has bristles that are softer rather than harder
  • Fits your mouth size. If you have a small mouth, choose a small toothbrush and if you have a large mouth, pick a large toothbrush, says Price.
  • Is easy to use, whether it’s a powered or a manual toothbrush

Once you’ve found an appropriate toothbrush for you, you need to brush your teeth the correct way in order to maintain good oral health and keep periodontal disease at bay.

How to Brush Your Teeth Effectively

The following tips can help you to get the most out of your daily brushing routine:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Some experts recommend brushing after every meal, if possible.
  • Take time — at least three minutes — to thoroughly brush and floss your teeth.
  • When you brush along your gumline, angle your toothbrush slightly toward your gums.
  • Don’t brush too roughly — use a gentle motion so you don’t damage your gums.
  • Brush with a fluoride toothpaste to fight off tooth decay.
  • Focus on cleaning every tooth surface with your toothbrush.
  • Brush your tongue to scrape off bacteria that can cause bad breath.
  • Brush your teeth with a clean toothbrush and rinse the brush thoroughly after each use. You can also use a small amount of hand soap on the bristles for more rigorous cleaning.
  • Replace your toothbrush — or toothbrush head if you use an electric brush — every three to four months.

If you need additional help figuring out how best to brush your teeth, says Price, “Have your dentist/hygienist show you the proper method.” And if you are having dental problems or concerns about your oral health, see your dentist.

A toothbrush alone can’t do everything to maintain your oral health and your teeth, Price cautions. That’s because a toothbrush can’t get between your teeth. Only dental floss can do that, so remember to floss each day, too, and see your dentist for regular checkups.