Lots of people don’t know that April is National Stress Awareness Month; don’t fret if you’re one of them. For many, stress is already a common feature of everyday life. According to the American Psychological Association, 62% of Americans are stressed at their jobs, and stress has been estimated to cause the loss of some 275 million working days every year.
In addition to its other negative physical and mental consequences, stress can also spell trouble for your oral health. It may lead to the problems of teeth clenching and grinding, which dentists call bruxism. A habitual behavior that can occur in the daytime or at night, bruxism is thought to affect perhaps one in ten adults. While the evidence that stress causes bruxism is not conclusive, there’s a strong case for the linkage.
Bruxism sometimes causes symptoms like headaches, soreness or pain in the jaw muscles or joints, and problems with fully opening the mouth. It can be detected in the dental office by excessive tooth wear, and/or damage to tooth surfaces or dental work. Grinding or tapping noises heard at night may indicate that someone is grinding their teeth while sleeping. In children, nighttime bruxism is common and not necessarily a reason for concern; in adults, it may be more troubling.
So what can you do if you’re experiencing this problem? If you find yourself clenching and grinding during the daytime, simply becoming more aware of the behavior and trying to limit it can help. A bit of clenching during times of stress isn’t abnormal, but excessive grinding may be reason for concern. Many of the same techniques used to relieve stress in other situations—such as taking a step back, talking out your issues, and creating a calmer and more soothing environment—may prove helpful here as well.
Occasionally, prescription drugs may cause bruxism as an unwanted side effect; in this case, a medical professional may recommend changing your medication. The use of stimulants like coffee and mood altering substances like alcohol and illicit drugs have also been associated with teeth grinding—so if you’re having this issue, consider foregoing these substances and making healthier lifestyle choices.
There are also a number of dental treatments that can help protect your teeth from excessive grinding. The most common is an occlusal guard or “night guard.” This is a custom-fabricated appliance made of plastic that fits comfortably over your teeth. Usually worn at night, it keeps your teeth from actually coming into contact with each other and being damaged. Occasionally, additional treatments such as bite adjustment or orthodontics may be recommended to help solve the problem.
If you would like more information about teeth clenching and grinding, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
If there’s one essential tool for dental health, it’s the toothbrush. But though simple in basic design, manufacturers have nonetheless created a dizzying array of choices that often muddy the decision waters for consumers.
It doesn’t need to be that way—you can choose the right toothbrush like a boss. First, though, you need to know a toothbrush’s purpose expressed as two basic tasks: removing dental plaque, the thin biofilm that causes most dental disease; and stimulating the gums to maintain good health.
So what should you look for in a toothbrush to effectively perform these tasks? Here are 3 important factors to consider when buying this essential dental care tool.
Bristle quality. First, it’s a myth that bristles should be hard and stiff to be effective—in fact harder bristles can damage the gums. Opt instead for “soft” bristles that are also rounded on the ends. And look for bristling with different levels of length—shorter length sections work better around the gum line; longer sections help clean back teeth more effectively.
A “Just right” size. Toothbrushes aren’t uniform—you’ll need to choose a size and shape that works well for you personally. You might find an angled neck or a tapered head easier for getting into your mouth’s hard to reach places. If you have problems with dexterity, look for a brush with large handles. And be sure to ask us at the dental office for recommendations on brush dimensions that are right for you.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. Just like toothpaste brands, the American Dental Association assigns its seal of approval to toothbrushes they’ve evaluated and found to meet certain standards. Although you can find high quality toothbrushes that haven’t sought this evaluation, an ADA seal means it’s been independently tested and found safe and effective for use.
Of course, no matter how high quality the toothbrush you buy, it’ll only be as effective as your brushing technique. So, be sure to use gentle circular or oval motions along all your teeth and gumline surfaces—it should take you about two minutes. We’ll be happy to show you the proper technique in more detail, so you’ll be able to get the most out of your chosen toothbrush.
What makes a beautiful smile? The teeth, of course: bright, evenly shaped and precisely aligned with each other. But your teeth can be as perfect as can be and your smile will still appear unattractive.
The reason? Your gums show more than they should when you smile.
What's considered a gummy smile is largely a matter of perception that can vary from person to person. As a rule of thumb, though, we consider a smile “gummy” if four millimeters (mm) or more of the gums show.
Fortunately, we can minimize the gums' prominence and make your smile more attractive. But what methods we use will depend on why your gums stand out. And it's not always because of the gums themselves.
It could be your teeth didn't erupt normally during dental development. Mature crown (the visible part of the tooth) length is normally about 10 mm with a width about 75-85% of that. But an abnormal eruption could result in teeth that appear too short, which can make the gums stand out more. We can correct this with a surgical procedure called crown lengthening in which we remove excess gum tissue and, if necessary, reshape the underlying bone to expose more of the tooth crown.
Another potential cause is how far your upper lip rises when you smile. Normally the lip rises only enough to reveal about 4 mm of teeth. In some cases, though, it may rise too high and show more of the gums. We can modify lip movement in a number of ways, including Botox injections to temporarily paralyze the lip. A more permanent solution is a lip stabilization procedure. It sounds bad, but it's a fairly simple procedure to surgically reposition the muscle attachments to restrict movement.
Your gummy smile may also result from an upper jaw too long for your facial structure. We can correct this with orthognathic (“ortho” – straighten, “gnathos” – jaw) surgery. During the procedure the surgeon permanently positions the jaw further up in the skull; this will reduce the amount of teeth and gums displayed when you smile.
Discovering the true cause of your gummy smile will determine how we treat it. After a complete oral examination, we can then discuss your options to transform your smile into a more attractive one.
If you would like more information on treating gummy smiles and other cosmetic problems, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”