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Straight Talk about Braces and Oral Health

January 25th, 2023

We’ll give it to you straight: it can be harder to keep your teeth their cleanest while you’re wearing braces. Food particles play hide-and-seek, plaque builds up around brackets, flossing is harder when you need to maneuver around wires. But keeping your teeth and gums healthy is even more important now that you’re wearing braces.

Why? Because when your braces come off, you want to enjoy the beautiful smile you’ve worked so hard for without worrying about discolored enamel, cavities, or swollen gums. Let’s look at some of the possible consequences when brushing and flossing are more challenging.

Decalcification

If you’ve noticed white spots around your brackets, you’re seeing the signs of decalcification, a common problem for those who wear braces.

Decalcification begins when plaque collects on the enamel around your brackets. The bacteria in plaque produce acids. These acids eat away at the minerals which keep your enamel strong, minerals like calcium and phosphorous. Places on the enamel where erosion takes place are left weakened and discolored.  Eventually, these weak spots can lead to . . .

Cavities

When plaque sticks around, whether near your brackets or anywhere on your teeth, it provides the perfect conditions for decay to develop. Left untreated, bacterial acids continue working away at decalcified spots in your enamel. This continuing erosion causes these surface spots to expand, grow deeper, and become cavities.

If you’re having trouble with built up plaque, and brushing isn’t doing the job for you, your dentist can remove it with a professional cleaning. Getting rid of plaque is healthy not only for your enamel, but your gums as well.

Gum disease

When plaque and tartar collect around the gumline, they irritate delicate gum tissue. This irritation causes gingivitis, or early gum disease. And, while young people rarely suffer from serious gum disease, the pain, redness, bleeding, swelling, and bad breath caused by gingivitis are not anyone’s life goals!

Brushing and flossing are essential to keeping your enamel and gums plaque-free. But even if you brush more often, it’s not as easy as it once was now that you have to work around and between brackets and wires. Luckily, there are lots of tools out there to help you get your teeth, gums, and braces their cleanest.

  • Orthodontic toothbrushes

Special brushes designed just for braces can help you work around brackets and wires. V- or U-shaped bristle formations let you brush around and over your braces. Curved bristles can fit under wires. Smaller brush heads let you reach those hard-to-reach places.

  • Electric toothbrushes

Many people find these brushes can clean more easily and effectively, especially when wearing braces. Tapered orthodontic brush heads are available, and, if you’re a heavy-handed brusher, there are models which alert you if you’re brushing too hard—protecting your braces and your enamel.

  • Orthodontic floss

Special orthodontic flosses can help you do the tricky job of fitting floss behind your wires and between your teeth, or use a floss threader, which helps guide uncooperative floss into tight spaces.

  • Water flossers

With their pulsing streams of water, water flossers can reach spots where regular brushes and flosses just can’t comfortably fit. There are even flossers available with special orthodontic tips.

Straight teeth are great. Straight and healthy teeth? Even better! You, Dr. Richard Elliott, and our Highlands Ranch orthodontic staff make a great team. Take advantage of our advice and tips for the best tools and techniques to make sure your smile is both perfectly aligned and perfectly healthy once those braces come off!

The Herbst® Appliance

January 18th, 2023

Maybe you’ve known people with braces and aligners—maybe you’ve worn them yourself!—so if braces or aligners are in your teen’s future, you have some idea what to expect and when to expect it.

But quite often, orthodontic issues require more treatment than braces alone can provide. When misalignment affects not only the teeth but the jaw as well, treatment can be more effective when it begins earlier and makes use of a different kind of appliance—the “functional appliance.”

During the years your child’s bones are still rapidly growing and forming, around the ages of eight to 14, functional appliances can help guide tooth movement and encourage jaw growth and development. One of the most widely used of these devices is the Herbst® appliance.

What does the Herbst appliance do?

There are several types of malocclusions, or “bad bites” treated by Dr. Richard Elliott. A common condition called a Class II malocclusion occurs when the upper jaw and teeth project too far forward over the lower jaw and teeth. Signs of a Class II malocclusion might include an overjet (protruding upper teeth), and/or a small or recessive lower jaw.

While correcting this malocclusion often enhances facial symmetry, which can be very important for a child’s confidence, correcting a Class II malocclusion also promotes jaw and dental health. Misaligned teeth are more difficult to clean, which can lead to decay and gum disease. Bite problems can cause persistent jaw pain and damage to the teeth. And, with an overjet, a child’s upper teeth are more at risk for injury.

The Herbst appliance was developed to treat this kind of malocclusion. It moves the lower jaw and teeth forward to create a balanced, healthy smile.

How does the Herbst appliance work?

The Herbst appliance is fixed in place with stainless steel bands or crowns that are secured to four teeth in the rear of the mouth, often the first molars on each side of the upper and lower jaws. The band or crown on each lower tooth is equipped with a small bar that extends toward the front of the mouth.

An arm on each side links the bands or crowns on the upper teeth to the front of the bar assemblies on the lower teeth. Each arm consists of a rod that fits smoothly into a tube. The telescoping action of the rod and tube allows the mouth to open and close normally. When the mouth is closed, the arms on both sides telescope shut, forming compact cylinders that hold the jaw forward.

While a child’s bones are still growing, the lower jaw’s new forward position can stimulate further bone growth and remodeling to maintain the jaw in that forward position. The Herbst appliance also has a restraining effect on the forward movement of the upper jaw. The result is a steady, noticeable improvement in the relationship between the upper teeth and jaw and the lower teeth and jaw.

Is the Herbst appliance hard to take care of?

The Herbst appliance is fairly low maintenance, but, like any orthodontic gear, it should be treated with care.

  • It’s important to watch your child’s diet, because sticky, crunchy, and chewy foods can damage the appliance. Save the caramels for a post-treatment celebration!
  • Carefully cleaning around the appliance is necessary, because a buildup of bacteria and plaque leads to consequences like bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. A water flosser can make reaching and cleaning tight spots easier if a brush alone isn’t effective.
  • If the Herbst appliance is damaged, some minor fixes might be doable at home with instructions from your treatment team. But if a band or crown comes loose, or if there’s a problem you’re unfamiliar with, call our Highlands Ranch office right away.
  • To help avoid the need for minor (or major) fixes, playing with the appliance with fingers or tongue, nibbling on pens and pencils, chewing on ice, or any other risky habits should be strictly off limits.

When it comes to your child’s health, you always have high expectations. Dr. Richard Elliott and our team have all the answers you’ll need about what to expect from this phase of your child’s orthodontic treatment, and just why the Herbst appliance is the very best option to create a future of attractive, healthy 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. Richard Elliott 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.

Double Duty

December 28th, 2022

If you play a contact sport, you know about mouthguards. You know about the cushioning protection they provide for your teeth. And not just your teeth—mouthguards also help protect your lips, tongue, and jaw, helping you avoid or minimize many of the injuries caused by collisions.

But you don’t have to be part of the defensive line or face off on center ice to wear a mouthguard. It pays to be proactive with your oral health in any activity where impact is a possibility. Whether you play a team sport, practice gymnastics, ride a bike, ski, skateboard, or participate in other athletic pastimes, there’s almost always the risk of impact—with a ball, with the mat, with the sidewalk, with another person.

So, how do mouthguards protect your teeth and mouth? It’s a combination of materials and design. Mouthguards are made of a strong, cushioning material such as plastic or silicone which helps absorb and distribute the force of impact, usually in the form of a horseshoe-shaped piece which fits over your upper teeth. The specific design can be tailored to the sport or activity you’ll be using it for.

And now that you’re wearing braces? Working toward an attractive, healthy smile doesn’t mean you can’t be active or find a mouthguard which will work for you. In fact, when you wear braces, mouthguards do double duty—they protect your mouth and teeth, and they protect your braces, too!

Even minor impacts can damage wires and brackets, and damaged braces means more time at the orthodontist and lost treatment time. More important, your guard not only helps protect your brackets and wires from impact injury, it protects your delicate mouth tissue from trauma caused by impact with your brackets and wires.

Because you probably have braces on both upper and lower teeth, the usual mouthguard design might not work for you. To make sure you’re completely protected, you may need a guard which covers both upper and lower arches.

There are over-the-counter mouth guards designed for braces, and even for covering both your upper and lower teeth. These might be one-size-fits-all or fit-it-yourself guards, or models which should be used only after a fitting at our Highlands Ranch orthodontic office. While some of these guards are better than others, the best option for your teeth—and your braces—might be a custom mouthguard.

What are the benefits of a custom guard for orthodontic patients? They:

  • Provide a perfect fit around teeth and braces
  • Protect better because they fit better
  • Are designed for easy breathing and speaking
  • Are less bulky
  • Are more durable
  • Fit more comfortably
  • Can accommodate orthodontic adjustments
  • Can be tailored to your specific sport or activity.

Custom mouthguards are more expensive, because they are individually crafted for your teeth and braces, but in terms of effectiveness, they are the best guards out there—because they are individually crafted for your teeth and braces. If cost is an issue, Dr. Richard Elliott can let you know whether an over-the-counter option might work for you.

An active life should mean proactive dental care. Wearing a mouthguard when you’re wearing braces protects both your body and your orthodontics. Whichever guard option you choose, it’s a good idea to check out the fit with Dr. Richard Elliott to make sure you’re getting all the protection you need for both when your mouthguard is doing double duty.

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