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Plaque Attack? Let’s Fight Back!

April 21st, 2021

Plaque is a sticky subject! It sticks to the enamel of our teeth above and below the gum line, and it collects around braces. Plaque is one of the major causes of tooth decay and gum disease, and our teeth are under daily attack by this filmy menace.

What are the facts about plaque, and how can we fight back? Read on for some effective strategies!

What Is Plaque?

Plaque is a sticky film that builds up on our teeth, largely made up of millions of different types of oral bacteria. Plaque is a colorless biofilm at first, but as it collects, it takes on a white or yellow tint. If you haven’t brushed for a few days, that fuzziness you feel on your teeth is plaque build-up. Unless it’s removed, plaque hardens within a matter of days to become tartar.

  • Tip: You can remove plaque with careful brushing and flossing, but it takes a dental professional to remove tartar. Be proactive!

Why Does Plaque Cause Cavities?

Bacteria in plaque use our food as their food, especially sugars and carbs. They can then transform these nutrients into acids, which attack our tooth enamel, weakening it and leaving it vulnerable to further erosion and eventual decay.

  • Tip: Cavities aren’t the only damage caused by accumulated plaque. Plaque also collects along and below the gum line. If tartar forms here, it irritates delicate gum tissue, leading to gingivitis and more serious gum disease. Make sure you don’t forget your gums when you brush and floss.

When Does Plaque Build Up?

The short answer? Plaque is always forming, because oral bacteria are a natural part of our biology. (In fact, there are even oral bacterial which are beneficial.) Plaque starts building up within minutes after eating, and during the night as we sleep.

That’s why we recommend brushing for two minutes at least twice a day, and flossing at least once a day. When you wear braces or aligners, brushing more often is a good idea. Food collecting around braces or inside aligners is a feast for plaque! Ask Dr. Douglas and Larry Harte for suggestions for your best brushing schedule.

  • Tip: Just because plaque is unavoidable, that doesn’t mean we need to give the bacteria in plaque any additional encouragement. Every time you have a meal or a snack that’s heavy in carbs and sugars, you are providing more fuel for acid production. Cutting down on foods like sugary desserts and sodas is not only nutrition-healthy, it’s tooth-healthy!

Where Does Plaque Collect?

Plaque builds up all over tooth surfaces, at the gum line, and even below the gum line. It’s especially easy to miss in hard-to-reach places like the irregular surfaces of molars, between the teeth, behind our front teeth, and near the gum line. Plaque also collects around your braces, and requires special care to make sure your teeth don’t suffer cavities or the white spots caused by demineralization.

  • Tip: One of the ways plaque avoids detection is its invisibility. Fortunately, if you’re having trouble brushing away all your plaque, there are plaque-disclosing toothpastes and chewable tablets available in the dental aisle which reveal the plaque hiding between, behind, or around your teeth by tinting it with a can’t-miss color. Just brush the color away, and you’ve brushed the plaque away as well.

How Do We Clean Away Plaque?

Use the Right Tools

Floss at least once a day. There are different materials, sizes, and coatings for floss, so you can find one that’s comfortable for you. Floss reaches those spots in between teeth and around the gum line that brushes miss.

Choose a soft toothbrush (soft bristles are better for your enamel) and change it every three to four months, or as soon as the bristles show wear. Make sure the head is the right size—too big, and it’s not only uncomfortable, but you won’t be able to reach all the surfaces you need to.

  • Tips: There are special dental flosses created just for your braces. You can also use interproximal brushes water flosser to clean around wires and brackets. If you have trouble removing plaque around your teeth and braces with a manual toothbrush, consider an electric model. Several studies have shown a reduction in plaque with the use of an electric brush.

Use the Right Toothpaste

There are many toothpastes specifically formulated to fight plaque and tartar. And fluoride toothpastes not only fight cavities, they can strengthen your enamel.

  • Tip: Studies have shown that toothpastes with baking soda, in particular, are effective in reducing plaque. Ask Dr. Douglas and Larry Harte for a recommendation the next time you’re at our Sparta or Livingston, NJ office.

Use the Right Technique

What not to do?  A forceful, horizontal sawing motion is awkward, hard on your enamel, and misses plaque and debris between the teeth. Technique is important—not for style points, but for cleaner teeth!

Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, especially at the gum line, to gently remove plaque from teeth and gums. Use short strokes or a circular motion to clean as much of the surface and between the teeth as possible. Brush the inside of your front teeth with careful vertical strokes—remember, that’s one place where plaque is easy to overlook. The same holds true for the tops of your molars, so thoroughly clean those uneven surfaces.

If you wear braces, be sure to clean thoroughly around brackets and wires, where plaque can accumulate quickly.

  • Tip: If you wear clear aligners, don’t forget to give them a gentle brushing as well! Plaque can stick to aligners, causing discoloration and odors, so follow our cleaning instructions carefully.

Who Can Help You Fight Plaque?

Even when you do your best at home, plaque can still be a sticky problem. That’s why we advise regular professional cleanings, which not only remove any plaque that’s hiding away, but also eliminate any built-up tartar around your braces. And, of course, there you can learn all about how to keep your teeth their cleanest.

True, you’re fighting plaque every day, but you have all the tools you need to make sure your teeth and gums stay healthy. You’re winning the battle with plaque every time you eat a nutritious meal, and every time you brush and floss. With that kind of strategy, plaque doesn’t stand a chance. And your bright smile and healthy teeth and gums? That’s a victory worth celebrating!

Let’s Be Perfectly Clear!

April 14th, 2021

One of the most common reasons for choosing clear aligners is that they are just that—clear! You can achieve a healthy, beautiful smile without the more obvious wires and brackets of traditional braces. But if your aligners are noticeably stained well before it’s time to replace them, you can be facing days or weeks of self-conscious smiles.

Luckily, this problem is preventable. Let’s look at some of the common causes of aligner discoloration and how to avoid them.

  • Beverages that Stain Teeth Stain Aligners

You take your aligners out to eat, of course, but do you always remember to remove them when you drink a beverage? Red wines, coffee, tea, dark juices, and sodas don’t just cause enamel staining—they can discolor your aligners as well. Even worse, drinking an acidic or sugary drink with your aligners on gives that acidic, sugary beverage an opportunity to bathe your teeth in acids and sugar over a period of time. Keep your aligners (and your enamel) protected by removing them when you drink anything other than water, and brush your teeth before you replace them. If you absolutely can’t remove aligners, a straw will reduce the risk of staining.

  • Soaking in Mouthwash

Mouthwash is a way to keep your teeth and mouth fresh-smelling and free from bacteria. You also want your aligners to stay fresh and bacteria-free. So, what could be the problem in giving your aligners a good soak? Well, sometimes a colorful mouthwash can stain your aligners to match! If you’re not a fan of tinted aligners, talk to us about the safest ways to use mouthwash with your appliance.

  • Using Harsh Cleaners

There are products specifically made for aligners which will keep them their cleanest and clearest. Harsh cleaners and even toothpastes can be abrasive, leaving visible scratches or cloudiness. We’re happy to recommend the best and safest cleaning products for your aligners.

  • Inadequate Cleaning

Plaque, that bacteria film that can stick to your enamel and around your gum line, can also stick to your aligners. If you notice a white film on your appliance, it could be plaque. Thorough and regularly scheduled cleanings are essential. Talk to us about the best schedule and methods for keeping your aligners not only clear, but sanitary.

What if, despite taking precautions, your aligners do get stained? If your aligners are new, we might be able to offer you some suggestions to get you through the next week or so. If you are almost ready for your next set of aligners, you might have no problem waiting. But the simplest solution to stained aligners is prevention.

Talk to Dr. Douglas and Larry Harte at our Sparta or Livingston, NJ office about how to keep your aligners looking their best—and least visible. Whether it’s diet suggestions or the most effective soaking and cleaning techniques, we have the answers to ensure your brightest, most confident smile. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons you chose clear aligners?

This April, Let’s Celebrate National Facial Protection Month!

April 7th, 2021

Poor April. While other months celebrate romance, or giving thanks, or costumes and candy, April has—April Fool’s Day and a tax deadline. We might be forgiven for thinking these two dates seem more like warnings than celebrations.

So here’s a new topic for the April calendar: National Facial Protection Month! Take the opportunity this month to review your safety practices while you’re enjoying your favorite activities.

  • Mouthguards

If you have a mouthguard for sports or athletic activities, wear it! In any activity or sport where humans come into contact with solid objects (including other humans) tooth injury is possible. A mouthguard will help protect you from dental injuries caused by falls, physical contact, or other accidents that might happen in your active life. And it’s not just your teeth—mouthguards protect your lips, tongue, and jaw as well.

You can buy mouthguards in stock sizes or shape-to-fit models, or you can have a guard made especially for you at our Sparta or Livingston, NJ office. Custom mouthguards fit perfectly and are designed to make breathing and speaking easy and comfortable. If you wear braces, a custom mouthguard can be designed to protect your smile and your appliance. Just talk to Dr. Douglas and Larry Harte for suggestions!

After all the time and work you’ve put into your orthodontic care, don’t let a sports injury set you back. What else should you consider for your facial protection?

  • Helmets

If there’s a helmet available for your sport, use it! Helmets are especially important for protecting athletes from brain injury and concussion, and they help protect the face and jaw as well.

  • Face Guards

If you’ve experienced a puck speeding toward you, or a defensive tackle hurtling your way, or a fast ball coming in at 90 miles an hour, you know the importance of wearing a face guard. These guards can help protect your eyes, face, teeth, and jaws. Many sports now recommend using face guards—it’s worth checking to see if your sport is one of them.

  • Eye Protection

And let’s not forget eye protection. Whether it’s safety glasses or a visor, protecting your eyes and the bones around them is extremely important. You can even get sports goggles or protective sports glasses with prescription lenses to keep you safe and seeing clearly.

So here are a few suggestions for your calendar this month:

  • If you haven’t gotten a mouthguard yet, now’s the time. Tooth and mouth injuries occur in sports beyond hockey and football. If you play basketball, ski, skateboard, ride a bike—in fact, almost any sport where you can fall or make contact with a person or object—a mouthguard is a must.
  • If you need to replace an ill-fitting or damaged helmet and face guard, do it before your next game. And do replace a bike helmet if you’ve been in a crash—most likely it won’t be as protective, even if damage isn’t visible.
  • Talk to your eye doctor about protective eyewear if off-the-rack products don’t work for you.
  • If you are a parent or caregiver, make sure your child athlete has the proper facial protection—and uses it.
  • If you are a coach, make sure your athletes have the right protective gear—and wear it.
  • It’s also a great time to commit to using your protective gear every single time you’re active.

But, wait—these reminders are helpful and important, but weren’t we promised something to celebrate this April? Good catch! The great news is, using facial protection for sports and athletic activities gives you rewards you can celebrate all year: fewer injuries, fewer visits to the emergency room, and a beautiful, healthy, intact smile. Suit up!

Dental X-rays: The Inside Story

March 31st, 2021

We’re all friends here, so if you sometimes feel a bit nervous before your orthodontic appointments, no judging! Ask us about any worries you might have. We are happy to explain procedures, equipment, and your orthodontic options so you know exactly what is going on during treatment. And if X-rays are a concern, we can put your mind at ease here as well.

What Exactly Are X-rays?

Sometimes patients feel reluctant about the process of imaging because X-rays are a kind of radiation. But the fact is, radiation is all around us. We are exposed to radiation naturally from our soil and water, sun and air, as well as from modern inventions such as cell phones, Wi-Fi, and air travel.

Why is radiation so common? Because matter throughout the universe constantly gives off energy, and the energy that is emitted is called radiation. This radiation takes two forms—as particles (which we don’t need to consider!) and as traveling rays. This second type is known as electromagnetic radiation, created by photons traveling in regular waves at the speed of light.

We are exposed to electromagnetic radiation every day, because, whether we can see them or not, these different wavelengths and frequencies create various forms of light. Radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, X-rays, and gamma rays are all part of the electromagnetic light spectrum.

Different types of radiation on this spectrum have different wavelengths and different frequencies, and produce different amounts of energy. Longer wavelengths mean lower frequencies and less energy. Because X-rays have shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies than, for example, radio waves and visible light, they have more energy.

How Do Dental X-rays Work?

An X-ray machine produces a very narrow beam of X-ray photons. This beam passes through the body and captures images of our teeth and jaws on special film or digital sensors inside the mouth (intraoral X-rays), or on film or sensors located outside the mouth (extraoral X-rays). These X-ray images are also known as radiographs.

Why are X-rays able to take pictures inside our bodies? Remember that higher energy we talked about earlier? This energy enables X-rays to pass through the softer, less dense parts of our bodies, which are seen as gray background in a radiograph. But some substances in our bodies absorb X-rays, such as the calcium found in our bones and teeth. This is why they show up as sharp white images in radiographs. 

There are many different types of dental X-rays used in orthodontics, including:

  • Occlusal X-rays, which show the entire arch of teeth in the upper or lower jaw.
  • Panoramic X-rays, which use a special machine to rotate around the head to create a complete two-dimensional picture of teeth and jaws.
  • Cephalometric X-rays, which show the patient’s entire profile, and the position and development of the teeth and jaws.
  • Cone Beam Computed Tomography, an external device which uses digital images to create a three-dimensional picture of the teeth and jaws.

Why Do We Need X-rays?

You might have noticed that these X-rays, unlike, for example, typical bitewing X-rays, don’t take images of individual teeth. That is because orthodontists deal with the teeth in relationship to each other and to the structures around them.

Beautifully aligned teeth and a healthy bite are the visible result of your orthodontic work, but there’s a lot going on above and below the surface that needs to be discovered and taken into account before your treatment even begins. X-rays help us evaluate:

  • The size, shape, and position of your teeth, including impacted teeth and wisdom teeth
  • The size, position, and health of your roots throughout treatment
  • The size and shape of your jaw bones, and how they affect your teeth alignment and bite
  • Your progress during different phases of treatment

How Do Orthodontists Make Sure Your X-rays Are As Safe As They Can Be?

First of all, the amount of radiation you are exposed to with a dental X-ray is very small. In fact, a typical panoramic X-ray provides roughly the same amount of radiation we are exposed to through our natural surroundings in just one day. Even so, Dr. Douglas and Larry Harte and our team are committed to making sure patients are exposed to as little radiation as possible.

Radiologists, the physicians who specialize in imaging procedures and diagnoses, recommend that all dentists and doctors follow the safety principal known as ALARA: “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” This means using the lowest X-ray exposure necessary to achieve precise diagnostic results for all dental and medical patients.

The guidelines recommended for X-rays and other imaging have been designed to make sure all patients have the safest experience possible whenever they visit the dentist or the doctor. We ensure that imaging is safe and effective in a number of ways:

  • We take X-rays only when they are necessary.
  • We provide protective gear, such as apron shields and thyroid collars, whenever needed.
  • We make use of modern X-ray equipment, for both traditional X-rays and digital X-rays, which exposes patients to a lower amount of radiation than ever before.
  • When treating children, we set exposure times based on each child’s size and age.

And now that we’ve talked about some things you might like to know,

Please Let Us Know If . . .

  • You are changing orthodontists and have had previous orthodontic X-rays taken. Ask to have your older X-rays sent to our office so we have a complete record of your orthodontic history. (With digital X-ray technology, this transfer can be accomplished with e-mail!)
  • You’re pregnant, or think you might be pregnant. Even though radiation exposure is very low with dental radiographs, unless there is a dental emergency, dentists and doctors recommend against X-rays for pregnant patients.

X-rays play an important part in helping us make sure your orthodontic treatment provides you with a lifetime of beautiful and healthy smiles. If you have any concerns, contact our Sparta or Livingston, NJ office. When it comes to making sure you’re comfortable with all of our procedures, including any X-rays that might be necessary, we’re happy to give you all the inside information!

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