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Dental X-rays: The Inside Story

July 30th, 2020

We’re all friends here, so if you sometimes feel a bit nervous before your orthodontic appointments, no judging! Ask us about any worries you might have. We are happy to explain procedures, equipment, and your orthodontic options so you know exactly what is going on during treatment. And if X-rays are a concern, we can put your mind at ease here as well.

What Exactly Are X-rays?

Sometimes patients feel reluctant about the process of imaging because X-rays are a kind of radiation. But the fact is, radiation is all around us. We are exposed to radiation naturally from our soil and water, sun and air, as well as from modern inventions such as cell phones, Wi-Fi, and air travel.

Why is radiation so common? Because matter throughout the universe constantly gives off energy, and the energy that is emitted is called radiation. This radiation takes two forms—as particles (which we don’t need to consider!) and as traveling rays. This second type is known as electromagnetic radiation, created by photons traveling in regular waves at the speed of light.

We are exposed to electromagnetic radiation every day, because, whether we can see them or not, these different wavelengths and frequencies create various forms of light. Radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, X-rays, and gamma rays are all part of the electromagnetic light spectrum.

Different types of radiation on this spectrum have different wavelengths and different frequencies, and produce different amounts of energy. Longer wavelengths mean lower frequencies and less energy. Because X-rays have shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies than, for example, radio waves and visible light, they have more energy.

How Do Dental X-rays Work?

An X-ray machine produces a very narrow beam of X-ray photons. This beam passes through the body and captures images of our teeth and jaws on special film or digital sensors inside the mouth (intraoral X-rays), or on film or sensors located outside the mouth (extraoral X-rays). These X-ray images are also known as radiographs.

Why are X-rays able to take pictures inside our bodies? Remember that higher energy we talked about earlier? This energy enables X-rays to pass through the softer, less dense parts of our bodies, which are seen as gray background in a radiograph. But some substances in our bodies absorb X-rays, such as the calcium found in our bones and teeth. This is why they show up as sharp white images in radiographs. 

There are many different types of dental X-rays used in orthodontics, including:

  • Occlusal X-rays, which show the entire arch of teeth in the upper or lower jaw.
  • Panoramic X-rays, which use a special machine to rotate around the head to create a complete two-dimensional picture of teeth and jaws.
  • Cephalometric X-rays, which show the patient’s entire profile, and the position and development of the teeth and jaws.
  • Cone Beam Computed Tomography, an external device which uses digital images to create a three-dimensional picture of the teeth and jaws.

Why Do We Need X-rays?

You might have noticed that these X-rays, unlike, for example, typical bitewing X-rays, don’t take images of individual teeth. That is because orthodontists deal with the teeth in relationship to each other and to the structures around them.

Beautifully aligned teeth and a healthy bite are the visible result of your orthodontic work, but there’s a lot going on above and below the surface that needs to be discovered and taken into account before your treatment even begins. X-rays help us evaluate:

  • The size, shape, and position of your teeth, including impacted teeth and wisdom teeth
  • The size, position, and health of your roots throughout treatment
  • The size and shape of your jaw bones, and how they affect your teeth alignment and bite
  • Your progress during different phases of treatment

How Do Orthodontists Make Sure Your X-rays Are As Safe As They Can Be?

First of all, the amount of radiation you are exposed to with a dental X-ray is very small. In fact, a typical panoramic X-ray provides roughly the same amount of radiation we are exposed to through our natural surroundings in just one day. Even so, Dr. Don Connolly and Dr. Stanley Sokolow and our team are committed to making sure patients are exposed to as little radiation as possible.

Radiologists, the physicians who specialize in imaging procedures and diagnoses, recommend that all dentists and doctors follow the safety principal known as ALARA: “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” This means using the lowest X-ray exposure necessary to achieve precise diagnostic results for all dental and medical patients.

The guidelines recommended for X-rays and other imaging have been designed to make sure all patients have the safest experience possible whenever they visit the dentist or the doctor. We ensure that imaging is safe and effective in a number of ways:

  • We take X-rays only when they are necessary.
  • We provide protective gear, such as apron shields and thyroid collars, whenever needed.
  • We make use of modern X-ray equipment, for both traditional X-rays and digital X-rays, which exposes patients to a lower amount of radiation than ever before.
  • When treating children, we set exposure times based on each child’s size and age.

And now that we’ve talked about some things you might like to know,

Please Let Us Know If . . .

  • You are changing orthodontists and have had previous orthodontic X-rays taken. Ask to have your older X-rays sent to our office so we have a complete record of your orthodontic history. (With digital X-ray technology, this transfer can be accomplished with e-mail!)
  • You’re pregnant, or think you might be pregnant. Even though radiation exposure is very low with dental radiographs, unless there is a dental emergency, dentists and doctors recommend against X-rays for pregnant patients.

X-rays play an important part in helping us make sure your orthodontic treatment provides you with a lifetime of beautiful and healthy smiles. If you have any concerns, contact our Santa Cruz, Aptos, or Watsonville, CA office. When it comes to making sure you’re comfortable with all of our procedures, including any X-rays that might be necessary, we’re happy to give you all the inside information!

Toothbrush Science

July 23rd, 2020

Let’s talk science! From the vastness of the cosmos to sub-atomic particles, science helps us understand the world around us and how it works. So, let’s take some familiar scientific fields of study and apply them to your toothbrush.

My toothbrush?

Yes, indeed! When it comes to your oral health, your toothbrush is the first line of defense, so understanding how and why it works so well might help us use this handy tool even more effectively.

Biology—the study of living organisms

Unfortunately for your toothbrush, the living organisms we’re talking about here are the bacteria which cause tooth decay and those which can lead to illness. How do these problems arise, and how do we prevent them?

Fight Plaque

Plaque is the sticky film that builds up on teeth, and millions of oral bacteria help make up this biofilm. These bacteria convert sugars and other carbohydrates in the foods we eat into acids. And these acids erode our tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay. (More on this when we get to Chemistry.) The best ways to get rid of plaque?

  • Brush often. The recommended minimum is two minutes of brushing twice a day, but when you’re having orthodontic work done, it’s even more important to banish the plaque that can stick to your braces or inside aligners. Ask us what brushing schedule is best for you.
  • Try an electric toothbrush. For some people with braces, cleaning the teeth is easier and more thorough with an electric brush.
  • Replace your brush regularly. Brushes become worn and frayed after three or four months, and you won’t be brushing as effectively.

Stop Germs from Spreading

  • Don’t share. Sharing toothbrushes can lead to an increased risk of colds and infections.
  • Rinse thoroughly after brushing, making sure you remove any toothpaste or debris left after you brush.
  • Store the brush upright and let it air-dry. Covering the brush or keeping it in a closed container can promote the growth of bacteria more easily.
  • Keep different brushes separate when they’re drying to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Replace your brush regularly!

Chemistry—the study of what makes up substances, their properties, and how they interact

When it comes to improving your brushing chemistry, the best thing you can do for your toothbrush is to put a dab of fluoride toothpaste on it! Why fluoride? Let’s look at the chemistry of tooth enamel.

Tooth enamel is the strongest substance in our bodies—even stronger than bone. But it is not indestructible, and acidic substances can dissolve the mineral bonds which give our enamel its strength, whether they come from the bacteria in plaque or are found in our favorite foods and drinks (sodas, coffee, tomatoes, and citrus are among the tasty, but acidic, culprits).

The enamel in our teeth contains calcium and phosphate ions, minerals which help make it the strongest substance in our bodies. But when the level of acidity in our mouths becomes too high, these minerals begin to dissolve. Eventually, teeth become pitted, bacteria can penetrate more deeply, and decay is the result.

So what can we do? While our saliva helps neutralize acidity naturally, and we can cut back on acidic foods in our diets, using fluoride toothpaste actually helps restore the strength of our enamel in a process known as “remineralization.”

Fluoride works on the surface of enamel to both attract and anchor calcium ions, reducing mineral loss and strengthening the weakened enamel. Fluoride also interacts with the calcium and phosphate compound to create a new compound that is even stronger and more acid-resistant.

When you brush with fluoride toothpaste, you help replace and restore the mineral composition of your enamel—and there’s evidence that fluoride might even interfere with oral bacteria’s ability to produce acid. Now that’s good chemistry!

Physics—the study of matter and energy and their interactions

The matter here is your tooth enamel, and the energy is the force you use when brushing. And this is one time the force should not be with you.

  • Over-vigorous brushing can not only damage your brackets, but can also irritate delicate gum tissue and wear down enamel. A “sawing” back-and-forth motion is both hard on your enamel and misses plaque and debris between the teeth. We’ll be happy to show you the safest and most effective way to brush with braces. Just remember, “Massage, don’t scrub.”
  • A soft toothbrush is almost always your best option when you use a manual brush, but if you’re still a heavy-handed brusher, or have sensitive teeth and gums, consider an electric model. An electric toothbrush should provide a continuous brushing motion without needing any heavy pressure from the brusher. Some models will even let you know when you are brushing too hard.

Brushing harder is not brushing better, and your teeth, gums, and braces will be heathier with careful brushing habits. If you need tips on brushing with braces, contact our Santa Cruz, Aptos, or Watsonville, CA office and ask!

There’s a lot of science in the simple act of brushing, but we don’t need to spend hours studying to get a passing grade in dental health. The things you do normally—brushing at least two minutes twice a day, using fluoride toothpaste, and applying proper brushing technique—will help create a smile which will earn you top marks from Dr. Don Connolly and Dr. Stanley Sokolow for a lifetime!

Let’s Be Perfectly Clear!

July 9th, 2020

One of the most common reasons for choosing clear aligners is that they are just that—clear! You can achieve a healthy, beautiful smile without the more obvious wires and brackets of traditional braces. But if your aligners are noticeably stained well before it’s time to replace them, you can be facing days or weeks of self-conscious smiles.

Luckily, this problem is preventable. Let’s look at some of the common causes of aligner discoloration and how to avoid them.

  • Beverages that Stain Teeth Stain Aligners

You take your aligners out to eat, of course, but do you always remember to remove them when you drink a beverage? Red wines, coffee, tea, dark juices, and sodas don’t just cause enamel staining—they can discolor your aligners as well. Even worse, drinking an acidic or sugary drink with your aligners on gives that acidic, sugary beverage an opportunity to bathe your teeth in acids and sugar over a period of time. Keep your aligners (and your enamel) protected by removing them when you drink anything other than water, and brush your teeth before you replace them. If you absolutely can’t remove aligners, a straw will reduce the risk of staining.

  • Soaking in Mouthwash

Mouthwash is a way to keep your teeth and mouth fresh-smelling and free from bacteria. You also want your aligners to stay fresh and bacteria-free. So, what could be the problem in giving your aligners a good soak? Well, sometimes a colorful mouthwash can stain your aligners to match! If you’re not a fan of tinted aligners, talk to us about the safest ways to use mouthwash with your appliance.

  • Using Harsh Cleaners

There are products specifically made for aligners which will keep them their cleanest and clearest. Harsh cleaners and even toothpastes can be abrasive, leaving visible scratches or cloudiness. We’re happy to recommend the best and safest cleaning products for your aligners.

  • Inadequate Cleaning

Plaque, that bacteria film that can stick to your enamel and around your gum line, can also stick to your aligners. If you notice a white film on your appliance, it could be plaque. Thorough and regularly scheduled cleanings are essential. Talk to us about the best schedule and methods for keeping your aligners not only clear, but sanitary.

What if, despite taking precautions, your aligners do get stained? If your aligners are new, we might be able to offer you some suggestions to get you through the next week or so. If you are almost ready for your next set of aligners, you might have no problem waiting. But the simplest solution to stained aligners is prevention.

Talk to Dr. Don Connolly and Dr. Stanley Sokolow at our Santa Cruz, Aptos, or Watsonville, CA office about how to keep your aligners looking their best—and least visible. Whether it’s diet suggestions or the most effective soaking and cleaning techniques, we have the answers to ensure your brightest, most confident smile. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons you chose clear aligners?

Happy Fourth of July!

July 2nd, 2020

Happy Independence Day from Dr. Don Connolly and Dr. Stanley Sokolow and team! The Fourth of July celebrations in America may have changed a lot over the years, but there is no doubt that we Americans love to celebrate the anniversary of our country's independence! Today we're devoting the Donald P. Connolly, DDS blog to some fun facts about the Fourth!

  • My, how we have grown! This year the United States Census Bureau estimates that our country has 313.9 million residents celebrating the Fourth of July this year, but back in 1776 there were just 2.5 million members of the country.
  • Our country loves to show how proud that we are of our independence. Did you know that there are 31 United States places with the word “Liberty” in their names? The state of Iowa actually has four towns with the word Liberty in the name: Libertyville, New Liberty, North Liberty, and West Liberty.
  • The United States loves Fourth of July food! It is expected that around 150 million hot dogs are eaten on the Fourth each year. One of the Fourth's most popular sides, potato salad, goes just perfectly with the hotdogs and hamburgers that are standard Fourth of July fare. Some people choose potato chips instead, but we wouldn't have such a plethora of potatoes if not for the prodigious production of the states of Idaho and Washington -- they provide about half of all the potatoes in the United States today!
  • Americans love celebrating the Fourth outdoors: About 74 million Americans fire up their BBQ grill every Fourth of July.
  • The Chinese contribution: Did you know that Americans have spent more than $211 million on fireworks that were imported from China?

No matter how your family chooses to celebrate the Fourth, stay safe, take precautions, and don't forget to brush after your fabulous Fourth feast!

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