It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
You know the basics of great oral hygiene: Brush and floss daily; see your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups; and watch your diet, especially sweets.
While these are the basics for maintaining healthy teeth and gums, there are a few lesser known things you can do to enhance your hygiene efforts. Here are 4 extra tips for better hygiene.
Use the right toothbrush. As the old saying goes, “There's a right tool for every job.” Brushing your teeth is no exception. Most people do well with a soft-bristled, multi-tufted toothbrush with a head small enough to maneuver easily in their mouth. Toothbrushes wear out, so switch to a new one every three to six months or if the bristles become too soft or worn.
…And the right brushing technique. Hard scrubbing might apply to housework, but not your teeth. Over-aggressive brushing can lead to gum recession. A gentle, sustained effort of about two minutes on all tooth surfaces is sufficient to remove plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease.
Wait a while to brush after eating. Before hopping up from the meal table to brush, consider this: eating many foods increases mouth acid that can erode your teeth enamel. Fortunately, your body has a solution — saliva, which neutralizes mouth acid and helps restore minerals to your enamel. But saliva takes thirty minutes to an hour to complete the buffering process. If you brush before then you could brush away miniscule amounts of softened minerals from your enamel. So wait about an hour to brush, especially after consuming acidic foods or beverages.
Drink plenty of water. Your mouth needs a constant, moist environment for optimal health. But smoking, alcohol and caffeine can cause dry mouth. Certain drugs, too, can have mouth dryness as a side effect. A dry mouth is more susceptible to plaque formation that can cause disease. To avoid this, be sure you drink plenty of water during the day, especially as you grow older.
If you would like more information on taking care of your teeth and gums, 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 Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Your gums’ primary role is to protect your teeth and keep them firmly in place. But periodontal (gum) disease can damage your gums to such an extent you could ultimately lose your teeth.
Gum disease is a progressive infection caused by bacterial plaque built up on tooth surfaces from poor oral hygiene. The initial infection triggers inflammation, a defensive response of the body characterized by swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums. An initial form of the disease known as gingivitis occurs in most people after just a few days without brushing or flossing.
Resuming hygienic activities to remove daily plaque, along with regular dental cleanings, may be enough to stop gingivitis and restore healthy gums. If the disease is allowed to advance, however, the infected gum tissues will begin to detach from the teeth, turning the slight normal gaps between teeth and gums into wider voids known as periodontal pockets that fill with bacteria leading to infection. Your hygiene efforts will not be enough to cope with this advanced form of periodontal disease.
At this point professional techniques are required to adequately remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), depending on the depth and location of the periodontal pockets. The most basic of these is scaling using specialized hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment to remove plaque and calculus in pockets at or just below the gum line. If plaque and calculus have extended to the roots we may then need to employ root planing, in which we “shave” offending material from root surfaces. In some cases this may require accessing the area surgically beneath the gum tissue.
As plaque removal progresses, inflammation will begin to subside and the gum tissues heal. If, however, swelling, bleeding or pus formation persists, this may indicate bacterial levels remain too high. To decrease these levels we may need to administer antibiotics, or through mouthrinses containing chlorhexidine.
Once under control, it’s crucial from then on for you to maintain a strict daily regimen of brushing and flossing to keep plaque from building up on tooth surfaces. You'll also need to visit us regularly (two or more times a year) for professional cleaning and checkups. Keeping a close eye will help prevent a reoccurrence of this serious disease and prolong the life of your teeth.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal (gum) disease, 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Once they learn to walk, there's no stopping most children. Sometimes it can be a little jarring, as when you discover your toddler on top of the kitchen counter reaching in the cupboard on tip-toes for a snack!
Fortunately, children are fairly resilient. Unfortunately, they're not invincible — some of their adventures could result in physical injuries, especially to the highly vulnerable area of the mouth.
Even if you've carefully “child-proofed” your home, it's still best to be prepared for mishaps. Here are 3 common dental injuries and how to handle them.
Soft tissue injuries. Making contact with the ground or hard objects like furniture can injure the lips, tongue, cheeks or gums and cause bleeding, cuts or bruising. First, clean the area with clean water and a cloth or gauze as best you can, making sure there aren't any trapped pieces of tooth or dirt. Apply gentle, continuous pressure with a clean cloth to control bleeding, and apply ice packs or cold compresses for swelling. Don't apply bleach, aspirin or similar medications to open wounds. If the bleeding won't stop or the wounds look serious or deep, go to an emergency room.
Chipped or displaced tooth. A blunt force mouth injury can chip or push (displace) teeth out of position. In this case try to save any chipped pieces you find — your dentist may be able to re-bond them to the tooth. A displaced tooth is a dental emergency, so contact your dentist immediately. Don't try to re-position the tooth yourself unless it's completely knocked out.
Knocked-out tooth. Actions to take with a knocked-out tooth depend on whether it's a permanent or primary (baby) tooth. If permanent, rinse the tooth with clean water. Handle it by the crown (never by the root) and gently place it back in the empty socket. If that's not possible, place the tooth between your child's cheek and gum (if the child is old enough not to swallow it by mistake. You can also place it in a glass of cold milk. Get to a dentist or an emergency room as soon as possible — minutes count for a successful reattachment. Conversely, don't try to put a primary tooth back in its socket — you could damage the developing permanent tooth beneath the gum line. But do see a dentist as soon as possible for an examination.
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
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