Don’t Neglect Your Teeth

By on March 8, 2013
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By Dr. Catherine Sledge

As the temperature outside warms up and springtime approaches, our thoughts often turn to graduation and that next step into the future for the special high school student in your life. It is a time of much planning, list-making (isn’t that right, all you mamas out there?) and anticipating. There is so much to do and hardly enough time to do it!

As a dentist and healthcare provider, I would be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to remind you to take advantage of this time of planning. Ensure that your family comes in for their regular 6-month checkup at the dentist. When your young adult heads off to college, there will certainly be a change of habits. Late nights with midnight snacks or pizza parties will likely become the norm instead of the exception—at least for a while. As your daughter or son adjusts to a new routine, their daily flossing and brushing habits may take a backseat. All the more reason to make sure they get that 3,000 mile tune-up, we like to call it, before heading out into the world.

Here are some important reasons to schedule that checkup:

  1. To make sure there are no existing cavities. Going off to college with decay already in your teeth is a recipe for disaster. More frequent snacks and soft drinks are a healthy tooth’s worst enemy. Any existing decay may enlarge quickly and lead to large fillings, root canals, or even tooth loss. These things are detrimental to your health AND your wallet.
  1. Fresh breath! Going to college is a time of meeting lots of new people and making connections for the future. Everyone has had the experience of meeting someone and noticing that their bad breath precedes each word that comes out of their mouth. Don’t let your child be that person! Regular checkups can detect gingivitis, periodontitis, and other conditions that can be treated to rid the mouth of those smelly bacteria.
  1. Overall health. Regular visits to the dentist can be a first line of defense for your overall health. Problems in other areas of the body often have an oral manifestation. Oftentimes patients cognitively separate their mouth from the rest of their body—but it is all connected! Dentists are oral physicians who can recognize and identify potential problems.
  1. Feeling good about your smile. If you have had any lingering insecurities about your smile, now is the time to take action. The social aspect of college is a big one, and it is important to make sure you feel your best! Now might be the time to explore whitening options if your teeth are stained or yellowed. There are many options out there to fit various needs and budgets.

People often have questions about their whitening options. I will address some of those, as well as the pros and cons of whitening. Various options include: over the counter whitening strips, prescription-strength whitening strips, whitening trays and gel, and in-office procedures like ZOOM! Whitening. These are listed in order from lowest to highest price—and some would say lowest to highest efficacy. The in-office procedures like ZOOM! Whitening are done in one to two hours in a dental office. Results are immediate and often dramatic. They last a long time—years, even—depending the patient’s intake of dark liquids such as coffee, tea, or red wine.

Whitening trays and gel can be as effective as an in-office procedure—but they take longer and depend on patient compliance. The patient has to be very faithful with wearing the trays for a certain amount of time each day to see results. The same is true of white strips, but the strips have an even lower concentration of the whitening agent, so the effects are not as dramatic.

As far as pros and cons go, the pros are obvious—whiter teeth and a more confident smile! The cons include temporary tooth sensitivity and mild gum irritation in some patients. It is also important to note that existing fillings or crowns will not be affected by the whitening agent—they stay the same color. So it is important to visit your dentist and allow her or him to examine your existing restorations and talk about how whitening can be tailored to your specific needs.

So, to all you college-bound kids out there—good luck! Continue to put the Lord first in your life, and he will bless those efforts. And don’t forget to floss!!