Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Whitening vs. Bleaching: What to Know Before you Undergo

White teeth look healthy and a pretty smile usually brings a return smile from those we meet. So if you have been thinking about whitening your teeth, but just don’t know much about it, let me remove the mysteries for you.

Whitening is defined as removing stains so the teeth are clean and as white as they can be. Bleaching is defined as altering the natural color of the teeth, and making them whiter by the use of bleaching agents.

This information alone can help you understand the advertisements for whitening toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum. These are merely stating that they have been shown to remove stains from the surface of a tooth.

Bleaching is analogous to frosting a piece of clear glass. Bleach and peroxide penetrate the enamel of a tooth and give it a frosty white appearance. This appearance can remain indefinitely if bleaching agents are used regularly. However, if bleaching is a one-time experience, then the teeth will lose the frosty white appearance over time (usually around 6 months) and the natural tooth color will return.

Be careful though, as teeth are bleached they become more porous and this can cause sensitivity to cold air and water. Many dentists recommend toothpastes that reduce sensitivity for their bleaching patients. Other than the sensitivity, there are usually no other side effects when used as directed. The temptation to exceed the recommendations for bleaching however, can lead to chemical burns on the gums and oral tissues.

The difference between the bleaching kits available at the drug store and those used in the dental office is the concentration of the bleaching agent. The higher the concentration of bleach, the quicker the result, and the higher the incidence of sensitivity. In the long run, over the counter bleaching reaches the same results as the professional bleaching, but it may take several months to achieve the same whiteness as the one hour bleaching in the dental office.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Take Some Candy, Leave the Cavities

Plastic vampire teeth, as popular as they may be on October 31, are no replacement for your child’s own teeth.

While any candy should be consumed in moderation at all times of the year – sugar free if possible – there are other factors to be aware of so that the Halloween holiday doesn’t have lingering effects.

Sugar is a known, major cause of tooth decay and cavities. Even after the candy bars are devoured and your child’s themed bucket or bag has been emptied, sugar and plaque lurk in the crevices of your child’s teeth and cause cavities. If not removed by brushing, bacteria in the mouth will feed on the sugars and turn them into acid. This acid then attacks tooth enamel and causes tooth decay, i.e. cavities.

Halloween is a time for children to enjoy, but you don’t want them to be paying for it in dental pain down the road.

Here are a few guidelines to safeguard your children’s teeth as they savor their sweets:
  1. Look for Halloween treats that can be eaten quickly, like miniature candy bars.
  2. Sugar free gums that use Xylitol, the all natural sweetener, are a great candy alternative. Chewing gum with Xylitol helps prevent cavities and also neutralizes the effects of sugar from the candy.
  3. When you get home from trick-or-treating, discard hard or sticky candies like sugared fruit snacks, caramels, popcorn balls or lollipops. It is hard for saliva to wash away these sticky sugars and they stay in the crevices of the teeth for long periods of time.
  4. It is not a good idea for children to graze on candy from after school until dinner time as this will increase the amount of time sugar comes in contact with teeth. Instead, encourage your child to eat a small amount in one sitting followed by a glass of water and thorough tooth brushing.
  5. Make sure that your children use an age-appropriate fluoridated mouthwash every evening to strengthen their teeth and rebuild the enamel which helps prevent cavities.

Watching the amount of sugar we consume is good advice at Halloween and year-round for young and old alike. According to the American Heart Association, women shouldn’t eat more than six teaspoons of sugar a day, about the amount of sugar in a candy bar, and men shouldn’t consume more than nine teaspoons a day. On average, Americans consume 22.2 teaspoons of sugar each day.

Regularly practice and encourage good oral health habits with your children, including brushing at least twice a day, flossing and visiting your dentist every six months to ensure the sugary villains don’t stick around on your children’s, or your teeth long after Halloween is over.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dear Readers

I have some great news to share with you. The National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) has reelected me to their Board of Directors to serve a second three year term (2010-2012) with the group.

NADP is the largest non-profit, national trade association focused exclusively on the entire dental benefits industry, i.e. dental HMOs, dental PPOs, discount dental plans and dental indemnity products. They are the recognized leader of the dental benefits industry, which includes over 173 million covered Americans.

Service with professional organizations like the NADP compliments my work with DentaQuest as well as other dental and community organizations. I share this with you not to pat myself on the back, but to highlight the importance of collaboration within the industry as NADP’s mission –which mirrors our own - is to promote and advance the dental benefits industry to improve consumer access to affordable, quality dental care.

To find out more about what the NADP is up to, please visit

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Preventing Flu Starting with Your Toothbrush

With cold and flu season upon us, and all the concern about H1N1, almost daily we are reminded about washing our hands to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. But it is just as important to pay attention to your toothbrush, where germs collect and can be spread.

With this in mind, I want to share a couple of helpful oral health tips that could prevent you from catching a cold this season or worse yet, the flu.

1. Replace your toothbrush often. Most people replace a toothbrush after four months of use, but it really should be changed every two to three months. In any case, get a new brush at the start of an illness and always replace your brush after a cold or flu – which most people don’t think to do.

2. Sterilize your toothbrush and you should do this once or twice a week – especially if someone in your home is sick. The microwave is one option. Put the toothbrush in a microwave-safe cup with 2-3 inches of water and bring the water to boil in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes. If you are cleaning the brush for your electric toothbrush, submerge the entire brush in water, then bring the water to a boil for 3 to 4 minutes. (This is important to prevent sparks if your brush has a metal connector on it.) The kitchen dishwasher is another great way to sterilize a toothbrush. Just put the brush in the silverware basket when you run a load of dishes. Dishwashers are the nearest thing we have in our homes to the steam autoclave used in the dentist’s office. Cleaning your toothbrush is a good habit to adopt year-round, as there are plenty of germs and bacteria floating around the bathroom eager to cling to your toothbrush.

3. Store your toothbrush away from others in the house, use a toothbrush cover if possible, and always store it upright. Airborne bacteria can move easily from toothbrush to toothbrush, so any way you can limit contact with other toothbrushes is beneficial. Plain soap and water can be used to clean a toothbrush as well as our hands. Also, remember that the tube of toothpaste contacts the bristles so germs can spread from one person to another this way. When you’re sick, it is a good idea to use travel toothpaste or squirt the toothpaste onto your clean finger and then apply to your toothbrush.

4. Wash hands before and after brushing. Bacteria from your hands and food particles from your mouth are unavoidable, but washing your hands – before AND after – can help prevent oral inflammatory disease caused by these kinds of bacteria.

Good dental habits are very important to a healthy body. So take care this cold and flu season and please contact me if you have any questions about these or other oral health tips.