The straightening process for a crooked smile doesn't end when the braces come off. There's one more crucial phase to undergo to make sure we don't lose the progress you've achieved: wearing an orthodontic retainer.
Although often viewed as a nuisance, retainers are important because they prevent realigned teeth from reverting to their old positions. This is possible because the periodontal ligament, the gum attachment that allows us to move teeth in the first place, can contain “muscle memory” that naturally tries to draw teeth back to where they once were.
A retainer prevents this from happening: During wear the subtle pressure they exert keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they're firmly established, usually after several months. While most patients initially wear a retainer around the clock, this will gradually taper off until they're worn primarily during sleep hours.
While retainers come in many different styles and sizes, most fall into one of two categories: removable or non-removable (bonded). The first type, a custom-made appliance a patient can easily take in and out of the mouth, has its advantages. Removing it makes it easier to clean the teeth. They're also adaptable to reduced wear schedules for eating, brushing and flossing, or for special occasions.
But a removable retainer may be noticeable to others. Its removability can also lead to problems. Out of the mouth they're prone to be lost, resulting in additional replacement costs. And immature patients may be easily tempted to take them out too often—or not wear them at all.
A bonded retainer solves many of these potential problems. Because the retainer wire is securely bonded to the back of the teeth, it's not visible to others. And because it can't be removed except by an orthodontist, there's virtually no chance of losing it or haphazard wear.
On the other hand, bonded retainers can occasionally break, requiring repair or replacement. And flossing is more difficult than with a removable retainer, although a little training from a dental hygienist can make that easier.
The choice of retainer depends on the individual and their priorities. But whether removable or bonded, a retainer is absolutely essential for protecting your new, hard-earned smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bonded Retainers.”
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy isn't always easy—and it's even more of a challenge if you're wearing orthodontic appliances like braces. That's why a fair percentage of patients wearing braces also contend with tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
The reason is simple: The orthodontic hardware makes it difficult to fully reach all parts of teeth surfaces with your toothbrush or floss. As a result, you can miss removing some of the accumulated plaque, the thin film of bacteria and food particles most responsible for dental disease. And it only takes a short amount of time (just days with gum disease) for a bacterial infection to begin.
But while avoiding dental disease is difficult while wearing braces, it's not impossible. Here are 4 ways you can minimize your dental disease risk while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
Be diligent with your daily hygiene. Even though it's more difficult, don't slack on daily brushing and flossing. It does require more time to work the brush around and between the wires and brackets, but taking the time will help you clear away more plaque you might otherwise miss. It may also help to switch to a multi-tufted, microfine bristled toothbrush if you're not already using one.
Use a water irrigator. If straight thread flossing is proving too difficult (and even with a floss threader), try using a water irrigator. This device emits a pulsating spray of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque between teeth. Clinical studies consistently show water flossing is effective for reducing plaque in orthodontic patients.
Lower your sugar intake. Sugar left over in the mouth is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay or gum disease. Reducing sugary foods and snacks can help reduce bacterial populations and lower your disease risk. You can also fortify your oral health with healthier foods that contain calcium and other minerals.
Keep up regular dental visits. In addition to your orthodontic adjustments, don't neglect your regular visits with your family dentist. Semi-annual cleanings help remove any plaque and calculus (calcified plaque) you may have missed. Your dentist can also monitor your health and boost your disease prevention through topical fluoride treatments or prescribed antibacterial mouth rinses.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Like the rest of healthcare, antibiotics have transformed dentistry. Advanced oral infections that once eluded successful treatment are routinely stopped with the use of these “wonder drugs.” But their overuse over the years has given rise to dangerous “superbugs” resistant to many antibiotics.
Antibiotics are one of the 20th Century's most significant healthcare achievements. Drugs like penicillin played a major role ending the global threat of tuberculosis, cholera and bacterial meningitis. Over the last few decades, more antibiotics have been developed to defend against an even wider array of bacterial dangers.
But along the way doctors and dentists began prescribing antibiotics for all manner of illnesses including viral infections like colds or flu for which they're less effective. They've also been increasingly used as a preventive measure, including inclusion in animal feed to fight disease.
But our tiny biological nemeses are adaptable. As bacterial strains come in contact with greater amounts of antibiotics, individual bacterium that survive transmit their resistance to subsequent generations. This can produce new strains like Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that are resistant to methicillin and other common antibiotics that once contained them.
There's deep concern that these new resistant strains, often recent incarnations of old diseases once thought defeated, will lead to higher rates of sickness and death. Increasing resistance could also make common procedures like those performed by dentists and oral surgeons, much riskier to undertake.
To combat this, pharmaceutical companies are racing to create new drugs to compensate. Recently, they've received an encouraging sign of hope in this battle from an unlikely source: viruses. Researchers in Tel Aviv, Israel have discovered an antagonistic protein to bacteria among a group of viruses called bacteriophages. The protein, injected into a bacterium, commandeers the cell's DNA function to aid virus reproduction, which kills the host.
In the words of one researcher, this makes these particular “enemy of our enemy” viruses our “friend.” Although the discovery is still a long way from practical use in antibiotics, harnessing it in future drug versions could help pack a greater punch against resistant bacteria.
In the meantime, providers and patients alike must practice and advocate for stricter protocols regarding the use of antibiotics. The viability of tomorrow's healthcare is on the line.
The monarchs of the world experience the same health issues as their subjects—but they often tend to be hush-hush about it. Recently, though, the normally reticent Queen Elizabeth II let some young dental patients in on a lesser known fact about Her Majesty's teeth.
While touring a new dental hospital, the queen told some children being fitted for braces that she too “had wires” once upon a time. She also said, “I think it's worth it in the end.”
The queen isn't the only member of the House of Windsor to need help with a poor bite. Both Princes William and Harry have worn braces, as have other members of the royal family. A propensity for overbites, underbites and other malocclusions (poor bites) can indeed pass down through families, whether of noble or common lineage.
Fortunately, there are many ways to correct congenital malocclusions, depending on their type and severity. Here are 3 of them.
Braces and clear aligners. Braces are the tried and true way to straighten misaligned teeth, while the clear aligner method—removable plastic mouth trays—is the relative “new kid on the block.” Braces are indeed effective for a wide range of malocclusions, but their wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss, and they're not particularly attractive. Clear aligners solve both of these issues, though they may not handle more complex malocclusions as well as braces.
Palatal expanders. When the upper jaw develops too narrowly, a malocclusion may result from teeth crowding into too small a space. But before the upper jaw bones fuse together in late childhood, orthodontists can fit a device called a palatal expander inside the upper teeth, which exerts gentle outward pressure on the teeth. This encourages more bone growth in the center to widen the jaw and help prevent a difficult malocclusion from forming.
Specialized braces for impacted teeth. An impacted tooth, which remains partially or completely hidden in the gums, can impede dental health, function and appearance. But we may be able to coax some impacted teeth like the front canines into full eruption. This requires a special orthodontic technique in which a bracket is surgically attached to the impacted tooth's crown. A chain connected to the bracket is then looped over other orthodontic hardware to gradually pull the tooth down where it should be.
Although some techniques like palatal expanders are best undertaken in early dental development, people of any age and reasonably good health can have a problem bite corrected with other methods. If you are among those who benefit from orthodontics, you'll have something in common with the Sovereign of the British Isles: a healthy, attractive and straighter smile.
Millions of people wear some form of removable oral appliance. The range is pretty extensive, from orthodontic clear aligners and retainers to full or partial dentures. But while they may vary in purpose, they all require the same thing: regular cleaning and maintenance.
And there's a right way to care for them, and a wrong way. The right way ensures you'll get the most out of your appliance—the wrong way might drastically curtail their longevity. Here, then, are 4 things you should and shouldn't do to keep your appliance in tip top condition.
Clean it properly. Only use cleaning agents appropriate for an oral appliance's materials. That means avoiding the use of toothpaste—the abrasives in it won't harm tooth enamel, but they can scratch some appliance materials. Instead, use dish detergent, hand soap or a recommended cleaner with a little warm water. Also, use a different brush than your regular toothbrush.
Avoid hot water and bleach. Hot or boiling water and bleach kill bacteria, but they will also damage your appliance. Hot water can warp an appliance's soft plastic and alter its fit. Bleach can blanch plastic meant to mimic gum tissue, making them less attractive; even worse, it can break down appliance materials and make them less durable.
Protect your appliance. When you take out your appliance, be sure to store it high out of reach of curious pets or young children. And while cleaning dentures in particular, place a small towel in the sink—if they slip accidentally from your hand, there's less chance of damage if they fall on a soft towel rather than a hard sink basin.
Don't wear dentures 24/7. Dentures can accumulate bacterial plaque just like your teeth. This can increase your risk of an oral infection, as well as create unpleasant mouth odors. To minimize this, take your dentures out at night while you sleep. And be sure you're cleaning them daily by hand, soaking them in an appropriate solution or with an ultrasonic cleaner.
Your oral appliance helps keep your dental health and function going. Help your appliance continue to do that for the long haul by taking proper care of it.
If you would like more information on how best to maintain your oral appliance, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Cleaning Your Oral Appliance.”
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