Choosing the Right Toothpaste

You’ve brushed your teeth your whole life and might still have a difficult time trying to decide the right kind of toothpaste to buy. With so many different varieties, flavors, and formulas, it’s not an easy choice.

Generally speaking, toothpaste is nothing to get too stressed about. As long as you like your toothpaste because of the taste, the foaminess, the packaging or whatever other reason and you feel encouraged to brush, that can be a good enough reason to buy it.

Good dental hygiene depends only a little on the right toothpaste. Things that are typically more important are the frequency and thoroughness of brushing, how often you floss, and regular dental visits. The particular toothpaste you choose is a relatively minor component in the grand scheme of oral health. Still, there is a dizzying array of choices in any toothpaste aisle, and this general overview should help guide you:

Cavity-Fighting Formulas
Some packages make prominent claims about fighting cavities, but brushing your teeth regularly with any toothpaste (or even none at all) will help fight cavities. It’s ultimately the act of brushing that removes plaque from your teeth. But fluoride, an active ingredient in toothpastes with cavity-fighting claims, does help fight tooth decay while strengthening teeth and protecting enamel.

If you have young children, however, you may not want them to use fluoride toothpastes. Fluoride can be harmful if swallowed, causing a cosmetic condition called fluorosis. Encourage your children to rinse and spit after brushing, and you can also find fluoride-free formulas for children. These products are often called “toddler” or “training” toothpastes.

Teeth-Whitening Toothpaste
If you’re looking for help to whiten your teeth, you may turn to toothpaste with whitening claims. Using a whitening toothpaste, though, doesn’t work nearly as well as purchasing a whitening kit or receiving treatments from your dentist. At most, they will help you fight off any new staining from occurring and some discoloration. 

Antibacterial Toothpaste
If you have had issues with gingivitis, then you may want to consider an antibacterial toothpaste. They include an ingredient called triclosan that helps fight off bacterial infections. Though triclosan is generally considered effective, some professionals aren’t entirely convinced that it works all that well. Try it if you like, but ongoing problems with gingivitis should be treated under the guidance of a dental professional.

Natural Toothpastes
For those who gravitate to products with natural ingredients, you probably already know you can find natural toothpastes in most stores. These formulas favor ingredients such as aloe or peppermint oil and often leave out the fluoride…but not always. Check the label if that’s important to you. Natural toothpaste flavors also tend to be less sweet than mainstream brands.

Sensitive Teeth
Many people have teeth that are overly sensitive to hot and cold food. This condition can make consuming anything from ice cream cones to hot tea uncomfortable or even painful. Toothpastes for sensitive teeth help block the nerves that cause this discomfort.

Toothpaste is a major consumer category, and dozens of companies offer dozens of varieties. Often there is not much of a difference between all of the options, so the best toothpaste in the end is the one you just happen to like.

8 Common Misconceptions About Orthodontics

The field of orthodontics is no exception to common misconceptions. Below are some of the common misconceptions we often hear at our practice:

Misconception 1 – Orthodontists and dentists are the same

Truth – Both dentists and orthodontists go to dental school, but orthodontics is a specialty within the field of dentistry. Orthodontists spend an additional two to three years after dental school studying the complexities of moving teeth and correcting malocclusions (misaligned bites), and once they begin practicing, that’s all they do. Meanwhile, dentists are often called “general dentists” because they handle the non-specialized tasks for maintaining oral health such as doing check-ups, filling cavities, and cleaning teeth.

Misconception 2 – Only kids get braces

Truth – This misconception is going away, because according to the American Association of Orthodontists, around 20% of people with braces are over age 18, and some statistics put that figure much higher. Meanwhile, the number of adult orthodontic patients keeps going up every year.

Misconception 3 – Only kids with all their adult teeth should see an orthodontist

Truth – The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that visits to an orthodontist begin at age 7. For patients at that age, the orthodontist can foresee problems in the future. Also, young children have more malleable facial bones. The orthodontist may want to use devices to reshape the dental arch to avoid the need to pull teeth later on.

Misconception 4 – Braces will make you have a “metal mouth”

Truth – Braces used to involve a lot more metal than they do today. Now, the brackets are much smaller, lightweight, and discreet than ever before. Patients can also choose lingual, or behind-the-teeth braces. Treatments like Invisalign involve no metal at all.

Misconception 5 – Braces are out of reach financially

Truth – Orthodontic treatment can be expensive, it’s true, but our practice offers various payment plans and work with patients to find ways to make braces affordable. We feel it is important to make orthodontic care accessible to all.

Misconception 6 – Braces are only for cosmetic purposes

Truth – People with straight teeth and aligned bites have decreased risk of plaque build-up, tartar, cavities and gum disease. Teeth also wear more evenly which helps them remain strong and resistant against infection. The cosmetic aspect shouldn’t be discounted either, as an attractive smile correlates to higher self-esteem and psychological health.

Misconception 7 – Braces are painful

Truth – When patients periodically have their braces tightened, their teeth may feel sore for a day or two, but medical advances have made braces so comfortable that patients typically forget they have them on.

Misconception 8 – Treatment takes a long time

Truth – Depending on a patient’s medical situation, treatment in braces can take as little as one year and rarely longer than three. “Long” is a relative term, but treatment times are demonstrably short when measured against a lifetime of benefits. Patients who keep their orthodontic appointments and follow their orthodontist’s instructions will see results the most quickly.

Tired of Your Toothbrush? Try a Twig.

These days, you have multiple products to choose from to clean your teeth and maintain good oral health. Do you want the bristles of your toothbrush soft, medium, or hard? And is your toothbrush electric or manual? What types of toothpaste, mouthwash, and dental floss do you prefer?

Having all of these options may seem unnecessary or even a bit silly, but it’s something to be thankful for. Our ancestors, who were without these modern-day conveniences, did their best to keep their mouths healthy using items that would be considered quite strange today.

Take toothbrushes, for instance. Throughout history, many cultures—including ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Chinese—used twigs or sticks to clean their teeth. Often, one end of the twig would be frayed into loose strands similar to the bristles on a toothbrush. The other end might be sharpened into a point at the end, not unlike a toothpick. Such “chewing sticks” are still used in many places around the world and are often taken from trees whose material is known (or believed) to have tooth-protecting properties. In some predominately Muslim parts of the world, this stick is known as a miswak and is taken from an arak tree. In Africa, this species of tree (salvador persica) is known as a “toothbrush tree.”

Dental floss also looks a lot different than it once did. There’s speculation among some historians that prehistoric man may have used a type of floss (possibly made from horse hair) for between-teeth cleaning, but nothing conclusive about that has been found. The invention and popularization of modern dental floss is credited to an early 19th century dentist, Dr. Levi Spear Parmly. Dr. Parmly, who lived and practiced in New Orleans, advocated for the use of waxed silk for flossing teeth in his book, A Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth. Though this idea took a while to catch on, by the end of the 19th century many prominent companies of the time—Johnson & Johnson among them—were marketing, packaging, and selling their own varieties of dental floss. The silk used during that time was later replaced by the nylon floss we see today.

Contemporary forms of toothpaste and mouthwash are especially different from what they once were. The ancient Egyptians mixed up their own versions of toothpaste using items as varied as rock salt, spices, honey, herbs, dried flowers, and even goose fat! Toothpastes made just a few hundred years ago utilized burnt bread and soap as key ingredients. A version of mouthwash popular in ancient Greece included olive juice, milk, and vinegar. Elsewhere, rinsing with tortoise blood was done as a way to counteract toothaches.

Many of these methods for maintaining dental health seem laughable to us now, but for many cultures it was all they knew. Modern dentistry has come a long way since then, with technologies and products based on science rather than lore. Maintaining a proper teeth-cleaning routine is certainly a lot more convenient, effective, and tastier than it used to be.

Famous Dentists, from Outlaws to Politicians

In the history of dentistry, there have been dentists who invented new tools or methods, started dental schools, made discoveries, or advanced the profession in other significant ways. Many of these dentists remain well known in their field and are still recognized and honored, but some dentists have gone on to become famous, or even infamous, for reasons that have nothing to do with oral health.

One dentist in particular became notorious during the days of the Wild West. Ever heard of “Doc” Holliday? John Henry Holliday was a “doc” because he had worked as a dentist. He is best known for his partnership with Wyatt Earp and their infamous battle at the OK Corral. Holliday became a gunslinger after leaving an active dental practice in Atlanta. He contracted tuberculosis and abandoned his practice for the West’s drier air and gambling dens.

A decade after Holliday passed, Harry J. “Doc” Sagansky was born in Boston in 1898. After graduating in dentistry at Tufts University, he opened his practice at a pharmacy, which was also a secret liquor store during Prohibition. Sagansky eventually became involved in illegal gambling, nightclubs, and loan sharking. He served jail time for attempting to bribe a city official and was hauled into court during organized-crimed hearings in the 1950s for being a major figure in “the largest racket kingdom” in Boston. He has the dubious distinction of being the oldest organized crime figure to be sentenced to Federal prison at the age of 91.

Another dentist, Thomas Welch, started his career as a Methodist minister but decided to attend New York Medical College in 1856. While building a successful dental practice in New Jersey, he invented a non-alcoholic grape juice to be used instead of wine in religious services. Welch’s grape juice became popular in the 1890s (and remains popular to this day), while Welch continued to practice dentistry.

Some other dentists that became well known include:

  • Zane Grey – He chose New York City to begin his dental practice because he wanted to be near publishers. He eventually became famous for writing over 80 western novels.
  • Annie Elizabeth Delaney – A 1923 graduate of Columbia University, she was the second African American woman to be a dentist in New York, but she is better known for her best-seller, Having Our Sky, which also became a Broadway play.
  • Paul Revere – He is famous for alerting Boston citizens that “The British are coming…,” but he was a dentist who also made dentures for his patients.
  • Charles Murray Turpin – Turpin, a Pennsylvania dentist, served 15 years in Congress in the 1930s. Three dentists are currently Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Brian Babin (Texas), Paul Gosar (Arizona) and Mike Simpson (Idaho).
  • Steve Arline – Arline, a pitcher in the National League in the 1970s, was known for his baseball career of 463 strikeouts. Arline practiced dentistry after retiring from baseball. Another successful pitcher, James Reynold Lonborg (better known as “Gentleman Jim”), also became a dentist later in life.
  • Alfred P. Southwick – This Buffalo, New York dentist is credited with creating the first electric chair.

Most dentists seem mild-mannered and friendly, but as you can see, they sometimes hide hidden talents and notorious secrets.

National Children’s Dental Health Month

Defeat Dreaded Monster Mouth

The Plaqster has the dreaded monster mouth, but Flossy, Buck McGrinn, Den and General Smiley know what to do to solve Plaqster’s problem. The American Dental Association (ADA) has created these characters to celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month, which occurs every February to promote good oral health.

It takes work to defeat monster mouth, but McGrinn and Smiley, who like to display their smiles, always remember the code “2min2X” when they brush their teeth for two minutes in the morning and evening, and, like Flossy, floss them once a day. Den wears braces so he is especially careful to take care of his teeth. They are often hungry during the day and need their snacks, but they choose food with little or no sugar, so they won’t get cavities. Instead of lemonade, Coke, or fruit juice, they drink water, milk or sugar-free drinks. Instead of sticky foods (like potato chips and chewy candy) or hard candies and breath mints, they eat cheese, yogurt or fresh fruit.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the number one chronic disease in early childhood is cavities. Cavities are five times more common in early childhood than hay fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that more than 40 percent of children have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. The road to oral health therefore begins in infancy when parents should follow these guidelines to prevent tooth decay:

  • Wipe the baby’s gums with a soft washcloth after feeding.
  • Fill baby bottles with water for naptime or bedtime. Avoid giving your baby juice and other sugary liquids.
  • Do not dip a pacifier in anything sweet. Also, break the pacifier habit by age 4 to avoid problems with tooth spacing.
  • Encourage your child to drink from a sippy cup by age one.
  • Parents should use a soft-bristle toothbrush twice a day on their infant’s baby teeth and should schedule their child’s first dental appointment around the time of his or her first birthday.

Concerns about teeth decay continue, of course, into the school years. The National Education Association (NEA) says that reports show that students miss 51 million hours of school every year because of oral health problems. And children who have experienced recent oral pain are four times more likely than their peers who have had no mouth pain to have lower grade point averages.

In addition to maintaining healthy diets, children need to learn how to take care of their teeth. Parents should follow these recommended steps:

When you know your children understand not to swallow toothpaste, brush their teeth with a kid’s fluoride toothpaste twice daily.

  • Take your children to the drugstore to choose their own toothbrushes.
  • Brush your teeth when they are brushing theirs to encourage their efforts.
  • Begin flossing their teeth when two teeth touch. Feel free to use floss holders and teach them how to use them.

National Children’s Dental Health Month offers a great opportunity for parents to augment their children’s understanding of the importance of oral health with stories and games. Word games, activity sheets, and other goodies (in English and Spanish) can be downloaded from this link on the American Dental Association’s website. You’ll find more good stuff on this page of the National Education Association web site.

Dental Hygiene History

The First Doctor to Preach Dental Hygiene

Everyone today cleans their teeth (or at least knows that they should). We do it at home with a daily regimen of brushing, flossing and rinsing, and then we supplement home care with periodic professional dental cleanings. But the idea that it’s important to clean your teeth is a fairly new one in the annals of history. The very concept of modern dental hygiene is only around 100 years old and was launched into being by a Connecticut dentist named Alfred Civilion Fones.

Dentists in the early 20th century were primarily occupied with pulling out rotten teeth. They didn’t concern themselves much with preventing teeth from becoming rotten to begin with. Furthermore, at the time it was still a recent discovery that bacteria have something to do with tooth decay. But Fones knew from his experience and insight that cleaning teeth of plaque, bits of food, and other matter would be instrumental in preventing decay, in making gums healthier, and in allowing his patients to keep their teeth.

He recruited and trained his cousin, a woman named Irene Newman, to work in his office where she cleaned patients’ teeth and scraped plaque. Essentially, she was the first dental hygienist. The idea actually was pretty outlandish at the time, that people would go to the dentist for preventative cleanings, but it was hard to argue with Dr. Fones’ excellent outcomes. The idea of dental hygiene began to catch on, so in 1913 Fones opened the first school of dental hygiene ever, located in his town of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He’s the one who also coined the very term “dental hygiene.”

Almost three dozen women enrolled in the school’s first year. After finishing two years later, the graduating class went out in the world and cleaned teeth at dental offices and in public schools. Soon enough, the practice of dental hygiene developed official standards. Laws were passed to regulate the field, and Newman became the president of the first dental hygiene association in 1917.

The dental hygiene school closed, however, because Fones preferred to spend his time traveling to preach the gospel of dental hygiene instead of focusing on a small set of students. He spoke at dental schools with his data as support to convince others in his profession of the preventative benefits of clean, well-maintained teeth. Other dental hygiene schools opened, and the one Fones first founded eventually re-opened as well.

Fones and Newman thought public outreach to be an important aspect of their work. They encouraged hygienists to go into schools and communities to clean teeth professionally and to teach people how do to it at home. So this evening when you’re brushing your teeth, remember that this habit that is ingrained in your daily routine might not even be part of your life if it weren’t for the efforts of a doctor and his cousin 100 years ago.