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Can You Chew Gum and Wear Braces?

July 28th, 2021

Well, of course you can chew gum and wear braces. But, should you chew gum and wear braces? That can be a sticky question.

For many years, the answer was a firm “No.” Not only did our favorite chewables literally gum up the (dental) works, but they were filled with loads of the sugar that cavity-causing bacteria love to feed on. The result? A much better chance of damage to your orthodontic work, and a higher risk of cavities near your brackets and wires.

But times, and gum recipes, change. Today’s sugar-free gum provides us with some new ideas to chew over.

  • Sugarless gum is much less sticky than regular gum, so it is much less likely to stick to your appliance. If there is any chance that gum will damage your wires or brackets, we’ll let you know that it’s best to wait until your braces are off to indulge.
  • Some orthodontic patients find that their jaws and ligaments are less sore if they chew gum for a few minutes after an adjustment.
  • Most important, studies suggest that chewing sugarless gum might actually help prevent cavities from forming. How is that possible?

Because chewing gum increases our production of saliva! Okay, we don’t normally find saliva an exciting, exclamation-point-worthy topic, but let’s look at the dental benefits:

  • Saliva washes away food particles and bacteria. And because braces can trap food when we eat, it’s great to have some help washing away any meal-time souvenirs.
  • Saliva helps neutralize acids in the mouth. The acids found in foods and produced by oral bacteria lead to cavities, so diluting and neutralizing their effects provide important protection for our enamel.
  • Saliva helps bathe the teeth in minerals that can actually rebuild weakened enamel. Acids in the mouth attack minerals in the enamel such as the calcium and phosphate that strengthen our teeth. Fortunately, saliva provides calcium, phosphate, and fluoride that can actually help rebuild weakened enamel.

So, should you chew gum and wear braces? The real question is, should you chew gum while you’re in braces? Dr. Dennis K. Langwith, Dr. Nathan M. Hull and Dr. Eric L. Roush and our team are more than happy to provide the right answer for you! Talk to us at your next visit to our Iowa office about the potential benefits and drawbacks of dentist-approved sugarless gum. Depending on the kind of gum you choose and the kind of orthodontic work you are having done, the answer just might surprise you.

Five Clues That It’s Time to Replace Your Toothbrush

July 21st, 2021

Your dashboard lights up when your car needs an oil change. Your family smoke detector beeps when you need to switch out the batteries. But when it’s time to replace your toothbrush, you’re on your own. Luckily, there are several not-too-subtle clues that you should be shopping for a new model.

  • Fraying

Is your toothbrush looking a bit scruffy? Do those once orderly bristles look like they have the toothbrush equivalent of bed head? Have some bristles vanished altogether? Time to retire that toothbrush. Once the bristles are frayed, you just can’t reach plaque as effectively, especially where it likes to hide between the teeth.

Are you prematurely fraying? You could be brushing too hard. Overbrushing can injure delicate gum tissue, cause wear and tear to tooth enamel, and even damage your braces. If you find your brush fraying after only a few weeks of use, you might be using too much force. Remember, plaque is a sticky film, but it’s a soft sticky film. Ask us for advice on just how hard you need—or don’t need—to brush.

  • Odor

This one really goes without saying—no one wants an aromatic toothbrush! How to make sure your toothbrush is fresh and clean?

Always rinse carefully after you brush. This will get rid of any toothpaste, bits of food, or other particles left on your brush.

Let your toothbrush air dry. It might seem more hygienic to keep your brush covered in a bathroom setting, but a closed, moist container is a perfect breeding ground for germs. Don’t let them make a home in your bristles!

  • Illness

A cold or a bacterial infection (like strep throat) is no fun. But now that you’re feeling better, it might be time to throw out your toothbrush. The chances of re-infection are very low, unless your immune system is compromised, but this is a perfect opportunity to replace your brush with a fresh, germ-free model.

And if you share your toothbrush, or if you store it right next to a family member’s (which you really shouldn’t do, for this very reason), germs get shared, too. Quarantine your brush while you’re ill, and replace it once you’re out and about.

  • Discomfort

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. A brush with a head that’s too big won’t allow you to get into those small spaces in your mouth where plaque likes to collect. And when you are trying to clean around brackets and wires, a regular brush might be a problem. Ask Dr. Dennis K. Langwith, Dr. Nathan M. Hull and Dr. Eric L. Roush for suggestions for the best tools for clean and comfortable brushing.

Also, harder doesn’t mean more effective. A brush with hard bristles can cause damage to your gums and enamel. We almost always recommend soft-bristled brushes for this every reason.

There are so many styles of brush out there, you’re bound to find the perfect fit with a little trial and error. Or ask us for suggestions the next time you’re at our Iowa office for an adjustment!

  • You’ve Passed the “Best By” Date

Because of its durable construction, your toothbrush can last a long, long time. But no matter how comfortable and effective your toothbrush is right now, it was never meant to go through life with you. Bristles break down over a period of a few months, and just don’t clean as effectively. Your brush should be changed every three months, and this includes changing the head on your electric toothbrush. And because you wear braces, you’re brushing more often, so that three month lifespan might be stretching it.

Unfortunately, you don’t have a flashing light or annoying beep to remind you when it’s time to change brushes, so you’ll have to devise your own reminders. Reminder apps, calendar notes, the first day of a new season—use whatever works best for you. 

Don’t ignore the clues your toothbrush is leaving you. Replacing your brush whenever it’s necessary helps guarantee that the time you spend cleaning your teeth and gums will lead to confident, healthy smiles. Case closed!

Just What Is Plaque?

July 14th, 2021

From the time you were small, you’ve been warned about the dangers of plaque. Why? Because:

  • It’s an unpleasant film that sticks to your teeth
  • It causes cavities
  • It causes gum disease
  • It can cause extra problems when you wear braces

And really, do we need to know much more than this to motivate us to brush? But if you’re in a curious mood, you might be wondering just how this soft, fuzzy film accomplishes all that damage. Let’s take a closer look at the sticky problem of plaque.

How does plaque form?

We live with hundreds of species of oral bacteria, most of which are harmless, and some of which are actually beneficial. But when our oral ecosystem gets out of balance, problems can occur. For example, without regular and thorough brushing and flossing, we start to build up plaque.

Plaque starts forming within hours of your last brushing. And even though plaque fits the very definition of “seems to appear overnight,” this biofilm is actually a complex microbial community with several different stages of development.

  • It starts with saliva.

Saliva is vital to our oral health, because it keeps us hydrated, washes away food particles, neutralizes acids in the mouth, and provides minerals which keep our enamel strong. Saliva also contains proteins, which help form a healthy, protective film on the tooth surface. This film is called a pellicle.

  • Bacteria attach to the pellicle.

There are species of oral bacteria that are able to attach themselves to the pellicle film within hours of its formation. As they become more firmly attached, they begin to grow and divide to form colonies, and are known as the early colonizers of the plaque biofilm.

  • A complex biofilm forms.

If you’ve skipped brushing for a few days (please don’t!), you’ll notice a fuzzy, sometimes discolored film on your enamel—that’s a thriving plaque community, and it only takes a matter of days to go from invisible to unpleasant.

If you’re not removing plaque regularly, it can harden further and become tartar. And once you have tartar buildup, you’ll need the care of a dental professional to remove it.

  • What happens if we ignore plaque and tartar?

We get cavities and gum disease.

How does plaque cause cavities?

  • The bacteria in plaque, like all organisms, need nutrients.

Our normal oral environment and the food in our everyday diets provide the nutrients plaque needs. And, as we mentioned above, certain types of oral bacteria convert these nutrients into acids. Foods such as carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are most easily converted into acids, which is why we recommend that you enjoy them in moderation.

  • The biofilm promotes acid production.

Within the plaque film, anaerobic bacteria (bacteria which don’t use oxygen) convert sugars and starches into acids. As the plaque film becomes denser, it blocks acid-neutralizing saliva and oxygen from reaching these bacteria close to the tooth’s surface, creating an ideal environment for the bacteria to produce their acid waste products.

  • Acids attack enamel.

The sticky nature of plaque keeps these acids in contact with tooth enamel, where, over time, acids dissolve minerals in enamel, weakening the mineral structure of the tooth.

How does plaque cause gum disease?

  • Bacteria cause inflammation and gingivitis.

The bacteria in plaque irritate the delicate tissue of the gums, which causes an inflammation response which can leave your gums swollen, red, bleeding, or tender. This early form of gum disease is gingivitis. Fortunately, good dental care and careful brushing and flossing can usually prevent and even eliminate gingivitis.

  • Plaque and tartar can lead to periodontitis.

When plaque and tartar build up around and below the gumline, the gums pull away from the teeth, leaving pockets where bacteria collect, leading to infection as well as inflammation. Infections and constant inflammation not only harm gum tissue, they can destroy the bone supporting the teeth. This serious gum condition is periodontitis, and should be treated immediately to avoid further infection and even tooth loss.

How does plaque affect orthodontic patients?

  • Plaque collects around your braces.

Braces provide plenty of spots for plaque to hide from your brush. If you aren’t extremely diligent with your brushing and flossing, plaque collects near brackets, wires, and bands—all those spots that a brush and floss find difficult to reach.

  • Plaque promotes demineralization

The demineralization process we mentioned above can cause white spots on teeth (decalcification), where minerals have dissolved. Sometimes these spots can be treated, and sometimes they are permanent. They can become quite sensitive, and may lead to cavities.

Careful brushing and flossing around your braces will help eliminate the plaque that can cause demineralization near brackets. Ask Dr. Dennis K. Langwith, Dr. Nathan M. Hull and Dr. Eric L. Roush about the tools and the brushing and flossing techniques which will give you the best results.

How do we fight plaque?

From the time you were small, you’ve learned how to fight plaque:

  • Brush at least twice a day for two minutes, and be sure to brush all of your tooth surfaces and around the gumline.
  • Floss to remove plaque from between the teeth and near the gumline.
  • See your dentist as recommended for a thorough professional cleaning.

Be proactive. If you have any questions, talk to us at our Iowa office about the best way to keep plaque at bay. We can show you the most effective ways to brush and floss, recommend anti-plaque toothpastes and rinses, even suggest plaque-revealing tablets if you’re missing some trouble spots.

We’ve only brushed up on some plaque basics, because there is a lot more to discover about this complex biofilm. Happily, even with all there is to learn about plaque’s growth and development, it’s reassuring to know that getting rid of it is quite simple—with just a soft-bristled brush, some dental floss, and a few minutes of your time each day, you’re on the way to a healthy, happy, plaque-free smile.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

July 7th, 2021

You’re going to the game! And no matter which sport you follow, there’s so much to enjoy—the best athletes, exciting play, hometown pride—and those delicious concession stands! But if you’re wearing braces, your team spirit might be flagging. Here are a few ideas to help keep your food choices out of foul territory.

You know that you should avoid the foods that can damage braces or stick around your wires and brackets. This means any snacks that are sticky, chewy, hard, or crunchy are benched. So most of the traditional game foods—peanuts, popcorn, nachos, licorice—are just not safe for traditional metal or ceramic braces. Let’s save those for next season.

So what is on the program? You still have many great choices.

  • Ice Cream. A favorite that’s easy on your braces (no nuts or caramel, please). If you want a healthier option, try frozen yogurt or a smoothie.
  • Hearty Snacks. Pretzels and pizza can be too thick and chewy. Go for the mac and cheese, chili, or deli meats on soft bread. And remember, small bites! Check with us to see if hamburgers and hot dogs are safe for your braces.
  • Soft Candies and Cookies. Licorice, caramels, and crunchy cookies are out, but soft chocolate bars and moist, tender cookies are still on the menu.
  • Sodas and sports drinks can create a sugary and/or acidic environment which can damage enamel over time. If you do indulge, try to rinse with water ASAP.

Stadium and arena menus contain a lot of starches and sugars, which stick to braces and fuel cavity-causing bacteria. So it’s best to go easy on the snacks. But you don’t have to give up a half-time treat entirely—just enjoy in moderation and be sure to brush thoroughly when you get home.

If you wear clear aligners, your choices are simpler. You can remove your aligners, eat normally, and clean your teeth thoroughly before replacing them. But one flag on this play—remember that you’re supposed to wear your aligners for a set number of hours each day. You don’t want to be putting your treatment behind schedule if the game goes into triple overtime. Keep your eye on the clock, and you should be fine.

Dr. Dennis K. Langwith, Dr. Nathan M. Hull and Dr. Eric L. Roush and our Iowa team are always happy to recommend the best food options for your individual orthodontic treatment, and we can help you select a roster of safe and healthy choices. You might miss out on a few of your favorite sports snacks right now, but let’s remember the true fan’s motto: There’s always next year! Taking care of your braces and teeth means faster treatment and healthier teeth. Your All-Star smile will be worth it!

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