Monthly Archives: December 2016

Are You Brushing Your Teeth the Wrong Way?

It’s something we all learned as kids, and we do it twice (or more) a day. So when it comes time to brush teeth, surely we’re not making any toothbrush mistakes … or are we? Actually, dental health experts say that improper brushing technique is more common than most people realize. And the result is that healthy teeth are not as common as they should be.

One of the first things you can do, says John Dodes, D.D.S., a dentist in Forest Hills, N.Y., and author of Healthy Teeth: A User’s Guide, is recognize that brushing isn’t the only requirement for having healthy teeth. “A common misconception with oral care habits is that brushing is enough, when in fact brushing alone misses more than half the germs in your mouth,” he says. “People also forget that it’s important to clean between the teeth, as well as your tongue, cheeks, and the floor of your mouth. Your mouth has more germs than [there are] people on earth, so it’s important to make sure you brush, floss, and rinse to ensure you’re cleaning every surface.”

Here are more top toothbrush mistakes people make:

  • Using the wrong style of brush. “Some people still like medium or hard toothbrushes, but soft, round-ended bristles are the way to go,” says Matthew Hyde, D.D.S., a dentist in private practice in Plainview, N.Y. “When the plaque is soft, it will come off with a soft brush. Once it hardens into tartar or calculus, it won’t come off with brushing no matter how hard the brush, but you can damage the delicate gum tissue by using those types of brushes.”
  • Not replacing an old brush. You should replace your toothbrush every three to four months for dental health, but many people let it go way beyond this point. “When the bristles become splayed out, they cannot properly clean the various surfaces of your teeth,” says Shawn Frawley, D.D.S., a dentist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. “In addition, many of the power brushes lose cleaning power as the brush head ages.”
  • Brushing back and forth. Often, the brushing mistake has to do with brushing technique itself. “You should brush in a circular motion, angling the bristles of the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gumline and focus on a couple teeth at a time,” says Dr. Frawley. “This enables you to clean under the gums, where most plaque is present and causes the most harm. This also helps avoid over-brushing.”
  • Moving all around. People don’t always follow a set order as they move around their mouth brushing. “When we brush in this fashion, we tend to miss various surfaces of the teeth because it is hard to know where we have and have not brushed,” Frawley says. “You should brush your teeth with a systematic approach. There are four quadrants of the mouth and three surfaces to brush per tooth. You should brush all the surfaces of one quadrant of the mouth at a time.”
  • Brushing too aggressively. Not a lot of force is needed to do a good job brushing, says David S. Keen, D.D.S., a dentist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Most people forget that bacteria and food particles that remain on the teeth after eating a meal are very soft in texture,” he says. “Therefore, gentle brushing is all that is needed to remove the bacteria and food.” If you use an electric toothbrush, keep in mind that it was designed to do it all. “Vigorous movement of the electric toothbrush against the teeth and gums and using heavy arm pressure can negatively affect the condition of your teeth and gums and can even cause gum recession,” explains Dr. Keen.
  • Not brushing long enough. According to Keen, this is a big problem. “Most people, when asked how long they brush, typically say about one to two minutes, when in reality they typically brush for only 30 seconds,” he says. “It is important to access all the areas of the mouth and all surfaces of the teeth to effectively clean the tooth surfaces of bacteria and food, and to coat each tooth surface with the cleansing toothpaste.”
  • Using too much toothpaste. The flip side of the previous tip is that most of us slather way more toothpaste onto our toothbrush than we actually need. “You just need a pea-sized amount for most toothpastes,” says Dr. Hyde. “The rest is wasted.”
  • Not using an electric toothbrush. For the most thorough brushing job, most dentists agree that it’s time to make the switch if you haven’t already. “Power brushes are very affordable these days and are certainly worth the investment,” says Frawley. “There is no possible way to brush your teeth as effectively or thoroughly with a manual toothbrush as compared to a powered brush. Many of these brushes indicate if you are brushing too hard and have timers on them to ensure you are brushing for long enough. It makes brushing easier because you just need to hold the brush in the proper position and let the brush do the work.”

7 Biggest Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Does drinking an ice cold beverage cause dental discomfort? Or do you find yourself wincing when you brush or floss? You could have what’s known as tooth sensitivity.

You don’t have to put up with the pain, however. There are things you can do to lessen tooth sensitivity and improve your oral health, says Leslie Seldin, DDS, a dentist in New York City and an associate professor of dentistry at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.

Here’s why you could be experiencing this mouth malady — and steps you can take to find relief for sensitive teeth:

1. You brush with too much gusto. Sometimes tooth sensitivity comes from brushing with too much force or using a hard-bristled toothbrush. Over time, you can wear down the protective layers of your teeth and expose microscopic hollow tubes or canals that lead to your dental nerves. When these tubes are exposed to extreme temperatures or acidic or sticky foods, tooth sensitivity and discomfort can result. The simplest solution is to switch to a toothbrush with softer bristles and to be gentler when brushing.

2. You eat acidic foods. If the pathways to your nerves are exposed, acidic foods such as tomato sauce, lemon, grapefruit, kiwi, and pickles can cause pain. But avoiding these foods can help you avoid any tooth discomfort.

3. You’re a tooth-grinder. Even though tooth enamel is the strongest substance in your body, grinding your teeth can wear down the enamel. By doing so, you expose the dentin, or the middle layer of the tooth, which contains the hollow tubes that lead to your nerves. Talk to your dentist about finding a mouth guard that can stop you from grinding. The best guards are custom-made to fit your bite, Dr. Seldin says.

4. You use tooth-whitening toothpaste. Many manufacturers add tooth-whitening chemicals to their toothpaste formulas, and some people are more sensitive to them than others. If your toothpaste contains whitening agents, consider switching to one that doesn’t.

5. You’re a mouthwash junkie. Like whitening toothpaste, some over-the-counter mouthwashes and rinses contain alcohol and other chemicals that can make your teeth more sensitive — especially if your dentin’s exposed. Instead, try neutral fluoride rinses or simply skip the rinse and be more diligent about flossing and brushing.

6. You’ve got gum disease. Receding gums, which are increasingly common with age (especially if you haven’t kept up with your dental health), can cause tooth sensitivity. If gum disease or gingivitis is the problem, your dentist will come up with a plan to treat the underlying disease, and may also suggest a procedure to seal your teeth.

7. You have excessive plaque. The purpose of flossing and brushing is to remove plaque that forms after you eat. An excessive buildup of plaque can cause tooth enamel to wear away. Again, your teeth can become more sensitive as they lose protection provided by the enamel. The solution is to practice good daily dental care and visit your dentist for cleanings every six months — or more frequently if necessary.

8. You’ve had a dental procedure. It’s common to experience some sensitivity after a root canal, an extraction, or the placement of a crown. If symptoms don’t disappear after a short time, you should schedule another visit to your dentist, as it could be a sign of infection.

Tooth sensitivity is treatable. In fact, you might find that using toothpaste specifically made for sensitive teeth helps, Seldin says. However, these formulas don’t work for everyone.

If your sensitivity is extreme and persists no matter what steps you take, be sure to see your dentist for an evaluation. Only an office visit can determine the most likely cause of your tooth sensitivity and the best solution for your particular situation.

The Best Home Remedies for Dental Pain

Toothaches may be small in size — but they can cause a colossal amount of pain.

“Pain is your body’s way of telling you to go to a doctor,” says John Dodes, DDS, a dentist in Forest Hills, N.Y., and author of Healthy Teeth. If you have a severe or persistent toothache or other mouth malady, you should visit your dentist in case it’s a serious dental health issue that needs treatment.

However, some minor toothaches and pains can be treated right at home (or at least mitigated while you wait to see your dentist). Next time your mouth is troubling you, give these home remedies a shot.

Toothache Cures From Your Kitchen Cabinet

Grab some clove oil. Oil of clove is an age-old home remedy. It works thanks to the chemical eugenol contained in the oil, which has anesthetic and antibacterial properties. To use it for tooth pain, soak a cotton ball with a mixture made of two to three drops of clove oil and ¼ teaspoon of olive oil. Put the cotton ball in your mouth near the tooth that hurts and bite down to keep it in place. One caution: Don’t go to sleep with the cotton ball still in your mouth. The FDA no longer considers this treatment effective enough to recommend it, although some dentists still believe it has benefits.Clove oil is available at pharmacies and health food stores.

Pop in a cough drop. Cough drops or lozenges usually contain a small amount of anesthetic (menthol and sometimes benzocaine) — which means they may relieve minor tooth pain, too. Pop one or two in your mouth and suck on them (don’t chew!). Another solution? Apply a dab of Vick’s VapoRub on the outside of your cheek where your tooth hurts, then place a paper towel on your pillow and lie down on that side.

Flush it out. Sometimes, the root of your toothache is food that’s trapped between your teeth. In this case, try flossing, rinsing with mouthwash, or using interdental brushes (small brushes shaped like Christmas trees that work between the teeth). In fact, this home remedy can save you a trip to the dentist’s office — but if food is constantly getting stuck in your teeth, talk to your dentist, because there could be an issue with your gums that needs medical attention.

Try these other kitchen staples. Some other home remedies that have proven to help toothaches include applying a hot tea bag directly to the tooth. Tea contains tannic acid, which reduces swelling. Other solutions: A cucumber slice placed on the tooth or a cotton ball soaked in brandy – alcohol has numbing properties, too. Some people also report that garlic, onions, spinach, wheat grass, or a simple salt water rinse relieves tooth pain.

Home Remedies for Your Other Mouth Maladies

Canker sore? Use these OTC concoctions. Canker sores usually go away on their own — but the pain can be excruciating in the meantime. While you’re waiting for one to heal, you may find relief by applying a mixture of half hydrogen peroxide and half water to the sore with a cotton swab, then follow with a dot of Milk of Magnesia; you can repeat this up to four times a day. Another home remedy to try is a mixture of equal parts Milk of Magnesia and liquid Benadryl; gently swish the mixture around your mouth for 60 seconds and then spit it out.

Sensitive teeth? Try this toothpaste. If your tooth feels sensitive to pressure, or when it’s exposed to hot or cold temperatures, whitening toothpaste is a no-no (it can just make your teeth more sensitive). Instead, try this simple solution: Switch to a no-frills toothpaste or consider buying toothpaste made especially for sensitive teeth, Dr. Dodes says. “They have chemicals in them that desensitize the tooth,” he explains. If sensitivity persists, talk to your dentist, who can investigate the cause.

Got jaw pain? Eat this. Until you can get an appointment with your dentist to check out your jaw pain — or while you wait to see if the pain resolves on its own — switch to a diet of softer foods. “Don’t eat big, overstuffed sandwiches or hard bagels,” Dodes says. “Give yourself five or six days of eating a soft-food diet and see if it gets better. If you twisted your ankle, you wouldn’t run hurdles, would you? If it hurts, give it a break.” Just be sure to call your dentist if the jaw or tooth pain doesn’t go away.

Got swelling? Take these steps. Mouth pain is sometimes caused by swelling of soft tissues in the mouth. Swelling should be checked by a dentist because it could be a serious dental health issue, Dodes says. In the meantime, try taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). “Still, if you’re in enough pain that you need a pill,” Dodes says, “you better get to a doctor because dental pain tends to get worse and worse.”

Broken tooth? Do this ASAP. If you break a tooth, get to your dentist as soon as possible — this pearly-white problem needs immediate assistance. If you find the piece of tooth that broke off, you can preserve it at home by putting it in water or milk — don’t leave it on a counter, for instance, and never scrub it with cleanser, Dodes says. Sometimes dentists can bond the tooth back on. “By putting it in milk, you’re helping to keep the cells alive so that they will re-grow when it’s reattached.”

The Tooth-Friendly Diet

What you eat affects your mouth not only by building healthier teeth and gums, but also by helping prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Learn how to eat the best diet for your teeth, including the foods to eat, beverages to drink, and what to avoid.

What you eat affects your mouth not only by building healthier teeth and gums, but also by helping prevent tooth decay and gum disease. While a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats will benefit your overall oral health, there are a few standout foods and nutrients that can really boost it.

Teeth and Calcium

Mom said it when you were in grade school, and she was right on this one: Drinking milk builds strong bones and teeth. Calcium is vital in childhood and through your teens, when teeth are formed, but the value of this nutrient doesn’t stop once you get your wisdom teeth. A diet with adequate calcium may prevent against tooth decay, says Dr. Leonard Anglis, DDS. When a diet is low in calcium, as a majority of Americans’ diets are, the body leeches the mineral from teeth and bones, which can increase your risk of tooth decay and the incidence of cavities. A study that appeared in the Journal of Periodontology found that those who have a calcium intake of less than 500 mg, or about half the recommended dietary allowance, were almost twice as likely to have periodontitis, or gum disease, than those who had the recommended intake.

The jawbone is particularly susceptible to the effects of low calcium. It can weaken because of low calcium intake, which in turn causes teeth to loosen, leaving you at greater risk for gum disease.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends 1,000 mg of calcium daily for women younger than 50 and for men of any age, and 1,200 mg for women over 50. Calcium is found in dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt; in fish, including sardines with bones and salmon; and in some vegetables, including kale and broccoli.

Eating two to four servings of dairy per day will help you meet the RDA for calcium.

Teeth and Vitamin C

The body needs vitamin C to repair connective tissue and help the body fight off infection. No surprise then that a study at the State University of New York at Buffalo showed that those who eat less than the recommended 75 to 90 mg per day are 25 percent more likely to have gingivitis than those who eat three times the recommended daily allowance. Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal diseases, and it causes the gums to become red from inflammation, swelling and bleeding easily.

Eating one piece of citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruits, tangerines) or a kiwi daily will help you meet the RDA for vitamin C.

Teeth and Fruits and Vegetables

Crunchy fruit and veggies — like apples, pears, celery, and carrots — are excellent for your teeth in two ways. The crisp texture acts as a detergent on teeth, wiping away bacteria that can cause plaque. Plus these foods require a lot of chewing, which increases the production of bacteria-neutralizing saliva.

Teeth and Tea

While tea may stain teeth, studies at the University of Illinois College of Dentistry have shown that compounds in black tea can destroy or suppress the growth of cavity-causing bacteria in dental plaque, which can help prevent both cavities and gum disease.

Teeth and Water

Drinking plenty of water benefits teeth as it helps rinse away both bacteria and the remnants of food that bacteria turns into plaque. Tap water is better for teeth than bottled because it contains fluoride, which prevents tooth decay.

Foods to Avoid

Sugary snacks, especially gummy candies and hard candies that stick in your teeth, are at the top of every dentist’s list of foods to avoid. Regular soda provides a double hit to teeth, combining sugar with acids.

Even foods and drinks that are good for your teeth, like milk, contain sugars. No matter what you eat, it’s important to brush and floss afterward — or at least to rinse your mouth with water. Brush twice a day using either a manual or power toothbrush, and remember to visit a dentist at least twice a year for checkups.