Forget Something? It’s on the Tip of Your Tongue!

January 25th, 2023

Let’s see…

Toothbrush? Check.

Fluoride toothpaste? Check.

Floss? Check.

Two minutes of thorough brushing? Check.

Careful cleaning around your brackets and wires? Check.

Wait… there’s something else… it’s right on the tip of your…

Ah! Your tongue! Whenever you brush, morning, evening, or any time in between, if you want the freshest breath and cleanest teeth, don’t forget your tongue.

Why your tongue? Because the tongue is one of the most common sources of bad breath. Let’s examine just why this occurs.

The tongue is made up of a group of muscles that help us speak and chew and swallow. But there’s more to this remarkable organ than mere muscle. The surface of the tongue is covered with mucous membrane, like the smooth tissue which lines our mouths. But the tongue isn’t completely smooth—it’s textured with thousands of tiny bumps called papillae.

These little elevated surfaces have several shapes and functions. Some make the tongue’s surface a bit rough, which helps move food through your mouth. Some are temperature sensitive, letting you know that your slice of pizza is much too hot. And some are covered with thousands of the taste buds, which make eating that pizza so enjoyable.

All of these papillae with their various functions combine to create a textured surface, filled with miniscule nooks and crannies. And if there’s a nook or a cranny where bacteria can collect, no matter how miniscule, it’s a good bet that they will, and the surface of the tongue is no exception. But bacteria aren’t alone—the tongue’s surface can also hide food particles and dead cells.

How does this unappealing accumulation affect you? These elements work together to cause bad breath, especially the bacteria that break down food particles and cell debris to produce volatile sulfur compounds—compounds which create a particularly unpleasant odor. Including your tongue in your brushing routine helps remove one of the main causes of bad breath.

And that’s not the only benefit! Cleaning the tongue helps eliminate the white coating caused by bacterial film, and might even improve the sense of taste. Most important, studies show that regular cleaning noticeably lowers the levels of decay-causing plaque throughout the mouth.

So, how to get rid of that unwanted, unpleasant, and unhealthy debris?

  • When you’re done brushing your teeth, use your toothbrush to brush your tongue.

Clean your tongue by brushing gently front to back and then side to side. Rinse your mouth when you’re through. Simple as that! And just like a soft-bristled toothbrush helps protect tooth enamel and gum tissue, we also recommend soft bristles when you brush your tongue. Firm bristles can be too hard on tongue tissue.

  • Use a tongue scraper.

Some people find tongue scrapers more effective than brushing. Available in different shapes and materials, these tools are used to gently scrape the surface of the tongue clean of bacteria and debris. Always apply this tool from back to front, and rinse the scraper clean after every stroke. Wash and dry it when you’re through.

  • Add a mouthwash or rinse.

As part of your oral hygiene routine, antibacterial mouthwashes and rinses can assist in preventing bad breath. Ask Dr. Steven Billings for a recommendation.

  • Don’t brush or scrape too vigorously.

Your tongue is a sturdy, hard-working organ, but tongue tissue is still delicate enough to be injured with over-vigorous cleaning.

Taking a few extra seconds to clean your tongue helps eliminate the bacteria and food particles which contribute to bad breath and plaque formation. Make this practice part of your daily brushing routine—it’s a healthy habit well worth remembering!

Retaining That New Smile

January 11th, 2023

For months and months, you’ve been dedicated to following your orthodontic treatment plan. Wearing your bands or putting in the hours with your aligners. Eating orthodontic-friendly foods. Seeing your orthodontist on a regular basis.

But that’s all in the past. Today, your braces are coming off! You’ve finished with your last set of clear aligners! Now it’s time to enjoy your accomplishment and celebrate this moment.

And after you’ve celebrated the moment, what’s next? Why, it’s time to look to the future! Because one thing we can predict for the years ahead is that you’ll want to keep your smile looking as wonderful as it does today. Let’s look at some of the simple steps you can take to retain that new smile.

Keep Up With Your Brushing and Flossing

Wearing braces or aligners meant learning a whole new way to take care of your teeth and gums. You used special tools to clean around your brackets and wires. You learned how to keep your aligners clean and stain-free. You brushed and flossed after every meal and snack break.

So returning to regular hygiene habits should be a cinch—two minutes of thorough brushing at least twice a day, with careful flossing at least once each day. And you’ll probably notice something else which makes your life easier—properly aligned teeth are easier to brush and floss effectively.

But just because it’s easier, doesn’t mean it’s not as important. Keeping your teeth clean and cavity-free and your gums healthy will keep your smile looking its best, so be sure to brush and floss just as consistently as you did when you were in treatment.

See Your Dentist Regularly

Even though you won’t be making regular visits to our Parkville, Platte City, or Belton, MO office anymore, that doesn’t mean your dental calendar is clear! Cavities aren’t a good look for your new smile. Neither are tartar stains or red and swollen gums.

Checkups once or twice a year mean that you have a healthy smile as well as a beautifully aligned one. And a professional cleaning from your dentist’s office will make sure it’s a gum-healthy, bright, and stain-free smile as well.

Wear Your Retainer

Your teeth may have moved to their perfect positions, but they haven’t moved there permanently yet.

During orthodontic treatment, gentle pressure from your appliance causes steady, careful tooth movement. As teeth move in the jaw, old bone cells around the roots break down where they’re no longer needed, and new bone cells build up around the roots in their new position. It’s a gradual process which makes sure your teeth are held firmly in the jawbone.

Bu this isn’t the end of the process. When you stop wearing braces or aligners, teeth and ligaments may begin shifting back to their original location. The new bone tissue that holds your teeth in their ideal spots isn’t strong enough yet to stop this shifting, especially with the normal forces of biting, chewing, clenching, and all the other activities that put pressure on teeth.

Your retainer holds your teeth in just the right position while jawbone tissue has time to reshape, rebuild, and stabilize. This can take months or more to accomplish, especially when you’ve had a more serious misalignment or bite correction.

Which also means . . .

Wear Your Retainer as Long as Necessary

Dr. Steven Billings will recommend the best retainer for you. Three popular options include:

  • Hawley Retainers—the traditional removable retainer. This appliance uses wires embedded in a molded acrylic plate to keep your teeth properly aligned and to hold your retainer in place.
  • Clear Plastic Retainers—a removable custom retainer made of vacuum-formed plastic. This piece looks and fits over the teeth like a clear aligner.
  • Fixed Retainers—a small single wire bonded to the back of specific teeth to hold them in place and prevent any movement.

For the first few months, you might need to wear your removeable retainer both night and day, and then switch to nighttime wear. Dr. Steven Billings might recommend long-term nightly retainer use, or perhaps taper to a few nights a week. A fixed retainer can last for many years. We can’t tell you how long you’ll need to wear your retainer because that answer depends on your specific orthodontic needs.

If you do stop wearing your retainer and find that your teeth are shifting, see Dr. Steven Billings as soon as possible. Fixing a slight shift can be fairly uncomplicated, but waiting until your teeth and bite are more seriously out of alignment could require another session in braces or aligners.

The hard work you’ve put in to create your smile is past, and today you’re enjoying all the benefits of aligned teeth and a comfortable bite. Taking simple steps to maintain these benefits will help guarantee a future filled with healthy, confident smiles.

Make this the Year You Stop Smoking

January 4th, 2023

It’s a new year, and it couldn’t come fast enough for many of us! Let’s do our part to make this a better year in every way—and you can start by making this the year you quit smoking once and for all.

You know that smoking is very damaging to your body. Smokers are more likely to suffer from lung disease, heart attacks, and strokes. You’re at greater risk for cancer, high blood pressure, blood clots, and blood vessel disorders. With far-reaching consequences like this, it’s no surprise that your oral health suffers when you smoke as well.

How does smoking affect your teeth and mouth?

  • Appearance

While this is possibly the least harmful side effect of smoking, it’s a very visible one. Tar and nicotine start staining teeth right away. After months and years of smoking, your teeth can take on an unappealing dark yellow, orange, or brown color. Tobacco staining might require professional whitening treatments because it penetrates the enamel over time.

  • Plaque and Tartar

Bacterial plaque and tartar cause cavities and gum disease, and smokers suffer from plaque and tartar buildup more than non-smokers. Tartar, hardened plaque which can only be removed by a dental professional, is especially hard on delicate gum tissue.

  • Bad Breath

The chemicals in cigarettes linger on the surfaces of your mouth causing an unpleasant odor, but that’s not the only source of smoker’s breath. Smoking also dries out the mouth, and, without the normal flow of saliva to wash away food particles and bacteria, bad breath results. Another common cause of bad breath? Gum disease—which is also found more frequently among smokers.

  • Gum Disease

Smoking has been linked to greater numbers of harmful oral bacteria in the mouth and a greater risk of gingivitis (early gum disease). Periodontitis, or severe gum disease, is much more common among smokers, and can lead to bone and tooth loss. Unsurprisingly, tooth loss is also more common among smokers.  

  • Implant Failure

Tooth implants look and function like our original teeth, and are one of the best solutions for tooth loss. While implant failure isn’t common, it does occur significantly more often among smokers. Studies suggest that there are multiple factors at work, which may include a smoker’s bone quality and density, gum tissue affected by constricted blood vessels, and compromised healing.

  • Healing Ability

Smoking has been linked to weakened immune systems, so it’s harder to fight off an infection and to heal after injury. Because smoking affects the immune system’s response to inflammation and infection, smokers suffering from gum disease don’t respond as well to treatment. Smokers experience a higher rate of root infections, and smoking also slows the healing process after oral surgeries or trauma.

  • Dry Socket

Smoking following a tooth extraction can cause a painful condition called “dry socket.” After extraction, a clot forms to protect the tooth socket. Just as this clot can be dislodged by sucking through a straw or spitting, it can also be dislodged by the force of inhaling and exhaling while smoking.

  • Oral Cancer

Research has shown again and again that smoking is the single most serious risk factor for oral cancer. Studies have also shown that you reduce your risk of oral cancer significantly when you quit smoking.

  • Consequences for Orthodontic Treatment

Finally, if this is the year that you’re investing the time and effort needed to create an attractive, healthy smile with orthodontic treatment, don’t sabotage yourself by smoking!

Cosmetically, smoking doesn’t just discolor your tooth enamel—tar and nicotine discolor your aligners and braces as well. If one of the reasons you chose clear aligners or ceramic brackets is for their invisible appearance, the last thing you want is yellow aligners and brackets.

More important, smoking, it’s been suggested, can interfere with your orthodontic progress. When blood vessels are constricted, your gums, periodontal ligaments, and bones can’t function at their healthy best, moving your teeth where they need to be steadily and efficiently. This means that your treatment could take longer. And if your smoking has caused gum disease, you might have to put any orthodontic treatment on hold completely until it’s under control.

Quitting smoking is a major accomplishment that will improve your life on every level. It’s always a good idea to talk to Dr. Steven Billings for strategies to help you achieve your wellness goals for the new year. Make this the year you stop smoking, and the year your health improves in countless ways because you did.

Retainer Hacks

December 28th, 2022

Even with the best of care, accidents can happen, and your retainer, unfortunately, is not immune. Of course, you need to visit our Parkville, Platte City, or Belton, MO office ASAP if your retainer is damaged, but, in the meantime, there are some strategies you can use to help your teeth—and your retainer—stay as healthy as possible while you wait.

For Removable Retainers

  • When you notice any damage to your removable retainer—remove it.

Don’t wear a damaged retainer, especially overnight. You don’t want to damage it further, and you do want to avoid the possibility of choking if a retainer breaks while you’re sleeping. Dr. Steven Billings and our orthodontic team are experts when it comes to deciding if your retainer is wearable, so always consult an expert before putting a suspect retainer back in your mouth.

  • Damaged Hawley retainer?

If you have a Hawley retainer—the traditional wire retainer—here’s some good news: a Hawley retainer can often be repaired if it’s not damaged too badly. Don’t try to fix your retainer yourself, and bring it into our office as soon as possible to see if it’s fixable.

  • Damaged clear retainer?

If you have a clear retainer, let’s start with the bad news: A clear retainer is not a repairable retainer. Cracks, breaks, warping—these injuries mean that a new retainer is in your future.

The good news is that materials for plastic retainers are available that are more durable than ever. This might be a good option for you to check out, especially if you suffer from bruxism, or tooth grinding, which can be very hard on clear retainers.

  • When you’ve just finished treatment with clear aligners . . .

It’s worth asking if your last tray can sub for your retainer until you have it repaired or replaced.

  • Ask us about over-the-counter mouthguards.

While you wait for a retainer repair/replacement, your teeth are at risk of shifting out of alignment. A customizable OTC mouthguard might reduce the chance of shifting, although it’s definitely not a long-term solution! We can let you know if this temporary fix is worth it.

For Fixed Retainers

If the wire retainer bonded to your teeth becomes loose, or if you notice your teeth shifting, you might need a repair or a replacement. This is a job for us. In the meantime,

  • When you have a broken wire . . .

If a broken wire is causing discomfort, check to see if you should flatten it or cover the wire tip with dental wax to protect soft tissues. Warm water rinses can ease irritation.

  • When your wire is broken or loose . . .

Stay away from chewy, sticky, and crunchy foods. You should be doing this anyway with a fixed retainer to keep it from becoming detached—and if it’s already loose, no need to make it more so!

  • Ask us about over-the-counter mouthguards.

Check to see if an OTC, customizable mouthguard is a good idea to keep your teeth from shifting if you can’t visit Braces by Billings right away.

We started off by saying that accidents can happen even with the best of care. So you can imagine what can happen without the best of care. Keep your retainer in its case, keep it away from heat, don’t eat foods that can harm your retainer—all the precautions that make accidents unlikely to happen.

But if something awful befalls your retainer, call our Parkville, Platte City, or Belton, MO office right away. Why aren’t we suggesting ways to fix your broken retainer with the supplies you have in your home toolbox? Because the best life hack of all for someone with a damaged retainer is to leave the fixing to a dental professional.

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