It's true, dentists are experts in helping you maintain a healthy mouth, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check in with them about dental concerns they don't address during your dental visit. What questions should you ask?
"Most importantly, 'How are my gums?'" says Dr Edward Romano, a leader in cosmetic dentistry at Morristown's Aesthetic Smiles of New Jersey. "We now know that gum disease has a direct correlation to arterial plaque buildup and heart disease. Further, if your gums are bad, you lose the bone that holds your teeth in place and you lose teeth."
Another important question is: Have you checked me for oral cancer? "Oral cancer is a vicious disfiguring and fatal form of cancer," explains the New Jersey dental expert. "Like
all cancers, if found early enough, the disfigurement and fatality rate drop significantly. Oral cancer screenings are painless and save lives."
Prevention is truly the best approach when it comes to your dental health. Since every mouth is different and your mouth can change in between dental visits, Dr Romano also recommends that every time you see your dentist ask how to keep your teeth and gums at their healthiest. If dental visits make you nervous and you find it hard to converse, simply write down your questions and concerns and take the list to your appointment.
Wondering what your dentist isn't sharing with you? Dr Romano let's us in on five dental secrets that may surprise you.
You've been trained since childhood to brush and floss in the morning and evening and even after meals. Surprise: One good and thorough brushing and flossing per day keeps the plaque away. "Plaque bacteria takes 24 hours to grow back in numbers great enough to cause a problem," explains Dr Romano. "If you spend the time to remove plaque carefully, once a day is all you need." Most dentists won't divulge this secret to patients because most people only spend about 30 seconds brushing their teeth and many won't even floss unless a piece of last night's dinner is stuck between their teeth. "So, most dentists will suggest [brushing and flossing] three times a day and before bed," adds the New Jersey cosmetic dentist.
Most dentists will discourage patients from drinking soft drinks, leading many patients to believe it's because of the sugar. However, even diet soda – which is sugar-free – can be problematic for teeth. The reason? Most soda contains phosphoric acid which over time can disintegrate teeth. Dr Romano says, "We as dentists use a form of phosphoric acid to actually etch the enamel on teeth so we may bond to them." If you can't imagine a day without cola, go with a safer alternative. "Root beer and cream sodas are made without phosphoric acid," he advises. Before you sip, check the label to be sure.
While fluoride has saved millions of teeth from developing cavities, too much can be a bad thing. Many pediatricians recommend flouride vitamins for children, knowing that a 0.5 milligram dose is sufficient to protect teeth from decay. However, many pediatricians do not take flouridated drinking water into account. Dr Romano warns, "Even if you live in an area where water is not fluoridated, many powdered baby formulas contain fluoride from the water they are made with at the factory before they are dehydrated into powders." Too much fluoride can cause a brown mottled appearance on teeth called flourosis. "While the teeth are strong, the appearance is unsightly," the dental expert says, recommending a 0.25 milligram dose of flouride instead.
As an aesthetic dentist, Dr Romano sees many patients looking for that "Hollywood Smile". He says that while many of his patients require a "makeover" to achieve that look, others may just need a little alignment and bleaching. "Invisible braces have become a comfortable alternative for many of these patients and a little tooth bleaching can go a long way to a more beautiful smile." Another tip? Get a spray on tan and wear deep red lipstick. "A nice tan and darker lipstick can make a smile look shades lighter without doing anything to the teeth," Romano adds.
Though dentists highly recommend regular cleaning and even bleaching for patients with less than white teeth, the "everything in moderation" philosophy is very crucial when it comes to healthy gums and teeth. According to Dr Romano, some patients actually cause their own dental trauma or mouth abuse. He says that in addition to the patients who clean so hard and often, ultimately damaging their gums, there are other patients who he coins as bleachoholics. "These patients are never white enough," Dr Romano explains. "They tend to overuse bleaching kits and have caused burns to their gum tissue and develop very sensitive teeth."
Most dental patients want to know the best way to ensure their dental health. Dr Romano says, "After age 25 it is important to your health to floss more than anything else." In moderation, of course.
The key to healthy teeth and gums is prevention, concludes Dr Romano. "If everyone did as they were supposed to do, dental disease would drop dramatically."
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