Get your best smile

“Today, with all the advances in dentistry and whitening techniques, we can all have a great smile,” says Dr. Dana Colson, a dentist in Toronto. Your pearly whites are more than a showpiece, however. In many ways, your mouth can act as the gatekeeper to your overall good health. “We know there’s a cause-and-effect relationship with diabetes,” says Dr. Tom Breneman, president of the Canadian Dental Association and a dentist in group practice in Brandon, Man. There may also be, he says, a relationship between our gums and cardiovascular disease. “Bacteria present in gum disease can get into our bloodstream.” While more research is needed, what’s clear is the importance of good dental care. Brush your teeth twice a day, and floss daily. Depending on your mouth and overall health, you should see your dentist anywhere from yearly to quarterly.

Common Conditions
Gum disease: Nine out of 10 Canadians develop gum disease. It occurs when plaque accumulates at or below the visible edge of gums, eventually causing redness and inflammation. This is known as gingivitis. Left untreated, gingivitis can cause pockets in the gums form and become infected. Known as periodontal disease, this type of infection can lead to bone and attachment loss.
Dry mouth: As we age, many of us end up on regular medications. And some of those prescribed drugs can lead to a dry mouth because they inhibit saliva from forming. “Saliva is a fantastic buffer for the bacteria that we have in our mouth,” says Breneman. “If it’s not there, bacteria accumulate on our teeth and particularly those exposed roots surfaces.” Saliva replacements, such as Oral Balance Moisturizing Gel, help as can extra dental care vigilance.

Brightening your smile
Whitening kits:
Dentist-administered whitening kits can be used in office or at home to treat teeth that have darkened with age. A custom-made mouthpiece is created and filled with either hydrogen peroxide or carbomide peroxide. An in-office treatment using a laser takes about an hour to do and will improve the whiteness of your teeth by almost 80 per cent. Home treatments generally take anywhere from four to 10 treatments, and additional bleaching may be required to maintain the results. “You’re not going to damage your teeth,” believes Colson. It’s a very safe process.”
Veneers: Made of thin acrylic or porcelain, veneers are attached to the front surface of the teeth to cover problems such as badly stained, chipped or uneven teeth. In some cases, the additional support of veneers can make the lip appear less wrinkled, creating what Colson calls a smile lift. Veneer work takes about two weeks from start to finish.
Invisible braces: Tom Cruise created a sensation last year when he donned teeth aligners to correct his smile. “It’s a wonderful way to do orthodontics for people without applying metal braces,” says Colson. Called Invisalign, they are actually a series of clear removable aligners that are worn 22 hours a day and replaced every two weeks. Aligners move teeth slowly, and results may take anywhere from six months to a couple of years.

Filling the gap
Gone are the days when dentures were the only choice for people with missing teeth. New dental techniques can replace individual teeth and look so natural only you and your dentist will need to know. A dental implant takes the place of a missing tooth’s root, providing a firm base for a replacement tooth or an anchor for dentures or bridges.

The procedure usually causes less discomfort than a tooth extraction. A small incision is made in the gum, and a titanium post is screwed into a precise hole cut by a high-speed drill. The gum flap is sutured closed, and the post is left to bond with the bone.

Some implants require another surgery later to attach a healing cap, which will subsequently be unscrewed for the attachment of a new crown or a post for a bridge or denture. Single-stage implants add the healing cap at the time of the initial surgery so that a second surgery is not required.

Why an implant?

  • Implants act like natural teeth and stimulate the bone in which they’re embedded. This preserves the underlying structure of the face. Teeth also aid clear speech formation. Both factors contribute to a positive self-image and encourage social interaction. Dentures, on the other hand, need relining to keep them fitting over gums and bone that gradually shrink. Rubbing from loose dentures can cause painful mouth ulcers.
  • Replacing a single tooth prevents its neighbours from shifting, which otherwise could result in decay, gum disease and problems with the jaw.
  • Patients with dentures anchored to implants can chew up to 50 per cent better than with conventional dentures
    and tend to have fewer gastrointestinal upsets.
  • The Association of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia reports that more than 90 per cent of implants installed over the past 15 to 20 years are still in place, while dentures and partials are replaced every five to seven years.
  • Implants are as successful in elderly people as in younger adults, in spite of risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, hypothyroidism or controlled diabetes. (Smokers are at greater risk of implant failure.)
  • The surgery is commonly done by oral surgeons and periodontists, but many family dentists now handle uncomplicated implants.