Society tells us that straight teeth are pretty and desirable. But that is not the only reason to have your teeth straightened. In fact, that is only one benefit of straight teeth. Let’s discuss some of the benefits to straight teeth.
Straight teeth have minimal overlaps with their neighbouring teeth which makes them easier to clean. Teeth that are easier to clean tend to get less plaque built up on them which in turn helps prevent cavities and gingivitis from forming. By being easier to clean, this means that with less effort from you, you will have less dental problems over your lifetime. And who wouldn’t want less dental work done.
Another reason that dentists recommend having teeth straightened is to realign the bite forces. Teeth are made to bite together in a certain way and when they are tipped, rotated or crowded, they cannot bite together properly. This causes unnecessary chipping, breaking and wearing of those teeth over time. This can then lead to increased sensitivity, shorter teeth or the need for fillings or crowns to repair the lost tooth structure. By realigning the teeth so that they bite together properly, you decrease the wearing of your teeth which helps keep them strong and healthy.
Finally we come to the cosmetic benefits. This is the obvious one. Our society values straight teeth as esthetically pleasing. Unfortunately for some, the societal pressures placed on us can be detrimental to our self esteem. We do not believe that everyone needs perfectly straight teeth to be healthy. There are a lot of mouths that we see that do not have perfectly straight teeth but are functional and healthy. We only recommend orthodontic treatments to straighten teeth when we see a problem that is developing or when the patient themselves expresses a concern about the look of their smile. If a patient let’s us know that they would like to have their teeth straightened, we are more than happy to help get them there. But if they don’t mention it and we do not foresee any damage happening, we will leave well enough alone too. Every situation is unique and that is why we treat all of our patients based upon what they need.
Your dentist told you you have a cavity in your tooth. And that you need to have a filling done to fix it. So now what? Do you have to have it fixed? Will it go away? What will happen if you don’t fix it? Let’s discuss those questions a bit more since they are common and logical questions many patients have.
Cavity on a lower right primary molar in a child.
Do you have to have it fixed?
The short answer? No. No one is going to make you do anything. All patients have the right to make their own decisions about their oral health. Your dentists, hygienists and dental assistants are here to educate you on your diagnosis as well as your options. We can answer questions about risks and benefits of your options and help you make an educated decision on what you would like to do, but ultimately, the decision is yours.
Will it go away? What will happen if you don’t fix it?
Also no. Unfortunately, once the bacteria that cause cavities have created a hole in your tooth (the cavity), the only way to fix that hole is to have a filling done. If a filling is not done, the bacteria will continue to grow the cavity and it will get larger. As the cavity gets larger, it breaks down the structure of your tooth and can move closer to the nerve of the tooth.
The structural breakdown of the tooth puts you at greater risk of the tooth breaking on you. When a tooth breaks, there are a couple scenarios that you could be met with. Often times, the break just leads to you needing a larger filling than originally thought. Sometimes it leads to a structural issue that requires a crown to repair it. In rare but unfortunate circumstances though, the fracture can go under the gums and bone and require the tooth to be extracted.
If the cavity moves towards the nerve of your tooth, the bacteria causing the cavity can get into the nerve of your tooth and cause an infection. This infection causes a toothache. Once the tooth is infected, there are only two options to heal the infection. You can have a root canal done to remove the nerve of the tooth and the infection, or you can have the tooth extracted. Most teeth that need root canals will also need a crown placed afterwards.
Root canaled and crowned tooth on upper left.
If the cavity grows too close to the bone, then the tooth may need to be extracted. There is a limit as to how close a filling can be placed to the bone. If the cavity is too close to the bone, any filling material placed there will cause the body to react to the filling material leading to the eventual downfall of the tooth so it would be recommended to extract it instead.
This is why we recommend fixing cavities with fillings. The earlier we can repair a tooth, the less likely it is to have any of these unfortunate outcomes, especially an extraction. By finding cavities when they are small and repairing them early, we can help you keep your teeth. If you have questions about your cavity, make sure you ask your oral health team about what they would recommend to fix it. After all, you chose them as your oral health care providers because you trust their education and opinions. Use their knowledge to help you make an informed and educated decision about your oral health.
I talk to my patients all the time about grinding and clenching their teeth, but do they really know what that is and why it is bad? Do they understand why the need a nightguard? Sometimes I think they do but other times I wonder. So, I thought I would take a moment to explain it here.
First of all, what is the difference between grinding and clenching? Well, grinding is when a person rubs their teeth together over and over wearing them down over time. Clenching is when a person holds their teeth together very tightly over a period of time. Grinding causes excessive wear on the teeth and sore muscles and headaches. Clenching causes sensitive teeth, tooth chips and fractures, sore muscles and headaches. Clenching and grinding are grouped together under the term ‘bruxism.’
What causes it? Well, that is a great question. Most of us who grind or clench do so when we are sleeping. We are unconscious so we aren’t aware of what is causing us to do this. There are many theories out there but it remains to be seen if we have an overactive muscle, a bite discrepancy, a sleep-breath disorder or just a subconscious habit. I personally think it is likely a combination of a lot of factors. One thing I know for sure about clenching and grinding is that stress exacerbates it. I cannot tell you how many of my patients come in during or after periods of stress in their lives (global pandemic anyone?) and tell me that their teeth are sore, their jaw is sore or that they have been having more headaches. These are classic symptoms of grinding or clenching!
So what do we do about it? Since we don’t know what truly causes it, we cannot stop you from doing it. But we can manage it. My favourite treatment option is a night guard because it is a non-permanent option that protects your teeth. They are simple to use and last for years depending on the extent of your grinding or clenching. Most patients find them quite comfortable, once they get used to wearing them. Some other treatment options are eliminating stress from your life (if you figure out how, please let me know!), physiotherapy, massage therapy, orthodontics to realign your teeth and Botulinum Toxin-A therapy (better known as Botox or Dysport).
What is a night guard? It is a custom acrylic appliance made to fit around your teeth on one arch (usually the top teeth) that you wear while you are sleeping. The hard acrylic helps to distribute your clenching or grinding forces throughout your mouth so that you cannot take your stress out on specific teeth. It won’t stop you from doing it, but it will help protect your teeth. Most people find that it helps with their sensitivity, jaw soreness and headaches as well. For those that it doesn’t, we then look into adding other treatment modalities in to help with that like sensitivity toothpastes, massage, orthodontics or Botox therapy.
Not sure if you grind or clench? Take note over the next few days if you are waking up with tight or sore jaw muscles, sensitive teeth or headaches. Look at your teeth. Do they look worn? Are your canine teeth pointy or flat? They should be pointy. If they are flat, you have likely ground them down over the years. Still not sure? Ask us the next time you are in for a check up and we can help you determine if you are clenching and grinding and if a night guard would be a good prevention idea for your teeth. Remember, these are the last set of teeth you grow so you want to protect them as best you can for as long as you can!
We all, hopefully, brush our teeth twice a day already with a fluoride-containing toothpaste. If you don’t, please start today! But what about floss?
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and our mandate to stay home and social distance to protect the greater population and flatten the curve, I thought we should discuss one way to help prevent cavities from forming during this time. Flossing!
Flossing gets a bad wrap because people don’t want to do it but it is so important to your oral health! When you don’t floss, you miss cleaning 35% of your tooth surface area. This allows bacteria to sit between your teeth and grow. As they grow, they start to release acids which weaken the enamel of your teeth causing cavities. It also irritates your gum tissue which over time causes your gums and bones around your teeth to shrink away causing periodontal (gum) disease. The simple solution? Start flossing tonight!
How do you floss properly?
First of all, the best time of day to floss is before you go to sleep. This allows you to remove all of the plaque that built up during the day so that your teeth are clean while you sleep. If that doesn’t work for you, just try to do it once every day to take the plaque off. Anytime of day is better than not at all.
Does the type of floss matter? Yes, to a certain extent. String floss is the best option because you can adapt it to your teeth the best. But, again, any flossing is better than nothing so do you best with what works for you. We can help improve your technique if you ask us at your next appointment.
Now for the technique. Wrap a metre long piece of string floss around your two middle fingers. This lets you use your index fingers and thumbs to maneuver the floss. When you slide the floss between two of your teeth, make sure you are gentle. Once you are through the contact area, you want to hug one of the teeth in a C-shape and slide the floss up and down in a shoe-shine motion, making sure you go below the gums as far as it will go.
Then hug the other tooth in the contact area and repeat.
Pull back through the contact area and switch to a new section of floss. Continue doing this for all of your teeth. And make sure you floss the backside of your farthest back teeth even though they don’t have a contact. Plaque still builds up there and needs to be removed. When you have finished, ball the floss up and throw it in the garbage. Do not flush floss! It is not good for your plumbing.
Let us know how you are doing with your flossing at your next visit. Are you struggling with the technique? Ask us to show you!
Let’s be honest. No one really wants to have a filling or root canal done. We get it! But it happens to the best of us. Whether it is because you haven’t seen a dentist for 5 years, you love candy or you got hit in the face by a hockey puck, life happens and sometimes things happen to your teeth that need to be treated. Either way, we understand that you would rather not have this done, today or any other day.
So what can you do to help yourself avoid having these treatments done? We are going to explore that over our next few blog posts in a series we are calling Prevention is Key. Stay tuned as we explore different avenues to prevent some dental issues.
As this is the first post about prevention, let’s start at the beginning with the most basic of all the prevention techniques:
Routine examinations by your dentist
Why is this important? If we are going to prevent something from happening, we need to be at least one step ahead of it and identify factors that put you at risk for something happening. Once we can identify the risks, we can do things to either avoid them or to help manage the risks. But if we don’t know the risks are there and we let them continue unchecked, it is more likely that something negative will happen.
What do we mean by this?
Let’s take a toddler who likes to go to bed with a bottle for an example. If no one has told his new parents that milk has natural sugars in it that can cause cavities to form on his teeth, they may put milk in his bottle because milk is his favourite. As he sips on the milk before he falls asleep, the sugars in the milk feed the bacteria that cause the cavities. Since he is doing this after he went to bed, the milk is not brushed off his teeth. After months and months of this, he develops cavities on his baby teeth that now need to be filled. But, if they had brought him to the dentist for an exam before this happened, we could have helped educate them on how milk in bottles at night can cause cavities. The parents then could have chosen to put water in his bottle instead and lowered the chances of their little boy having early childhood decay. I am sure that you would agree with me that in this scenario, knowledge would empower the parents to make the best decision for their child. No judgement here, just illustrating a particular situation that happens sometimes when parents aren’t aware.
And what about the father who likes to play recreational hockey with his buddies? They are just playing for fun on Tuesday nights and celebrate with beer and chicken wings afterwards. No one wears a sports guard or full face shield as it is just for fun. But then someone’s shot goes awry and dad gets a puck to the mouth and breaks 3 of his front teeth. No beer for dad tonight – he’s off to a see a dentist for an emergency visit and may lose some teeth! But if he had discussed his love for playing hockey with his dentist, they could have made him a fun coloured sports guard to wear when he is playing or discussed getting a full face shield for his helmet to protect his teeth from stray pucks. And who knows, he may have even told his friends to do the same!
There are many risk factors your dentist can identify during exams that help prevent dental issues down the road. Do they see wear on your teeth? You may be grinding your teeth and a night guard would help protect your teeth when you sleep. Is plaque forming on a specific tooth? They can point this out for you and help you find a way to clean it better to prevent a cavity. Are your gums red and swollen? They can identify issues causing this and help you correct them to avoid gum disease.
It is hard to go into detail here without going on forever about all the possible scenarios your dentist is looking for and thinking of at your visit. We will try to go into more detail about common ones over the next few blogs in this series for you. But basically, when you are in for an exam with your dentist, he or she is looking for:
- the overall health of the tissues and bones that form your head and neck
- lumps and bumps – these could be a sign of an infection, a cyst or oral cancer
- broken or decayed teeth
- early signs of cavities
- gum health and signs of gum disease
- the condition of the dental work you have in your mouth – crowns, fillings, dentures, retainers, etc.
- how your teeth fit together
- signs of grinding or clenching
- the function of your TMJ (temporomandibular joint) – your jaw joint
- anything else that doesn’t look right
We can’t prevent or avoid everything but the more we try, the healthier your mouth will be. So do what you can at home to help protect your mouth and visit your dentist regularly to identify risks and early signs of issues. And follow along as we go through as many prevention tips and strategies as we can for you over the next few posts!