Since I started practicing in 1998, the developments in dentistry have been remarkable. Advancing technology like digital x-rays, tooth-colored fillings, and dental implants give truly outstanding results. But, although the field of dentistry has changed so much, I find patients still come to me with the same basic questions about brushing and flossing. Here is what I tell them.
Dr. Ronald Birnbaum, DDS (Courtesy of Dr. Ronald Birnbaum)
Q: My teeth are sensitive; I am told it is from brushing.
A: If you brush too hard at the gum line, it can get injured and recede, exposing a part of the tooth that has nerve endings, so you become sensitive to cold and sweet. To avoid this common problem, you should back off on the brushing at the gum line.
Q: Do I need an electric toothbrush?
A: There is no benefit in terms of the end result to using an electric toothbrush instead of a manual one, except if you have limited dexterity. However, the styles and features of electric toothbrushes can make brushing great fun, so if they motivate you, then go for it by all means!
Q: Is there a wrong way to floss?
A: Any flossing is better than none, but you should really try to get below the gum line because that is where the plaque likes to hide. Many times people make the mistake of stopping short of the gum line because they think going deeper may cause injury. On the contrary, if you don’t go down there, this plaque can cause gum disease, and you can also get cavities forming in between the teeth.
Q: How often should I floss?
A: Every day. But if your gums are healthy, you might skip a day from time to time. However, if you see your gums bleeding or if it’s smelly in there, then you should concentrate on those trouble spots to get them cleaner. The bleeding and bad breath are a signal that you need to see your dentist, as there could be plaque trapped, which only a dentist can clean out.
Q: But I hate flossing, what should I do?
A: Start with good quality floss. Buy the best you can afford. Cheap floss will tear, shred, and not pass easily—a real turnoff! Good quality floss makes it much easier and will motivate you to do it more often. I recommend the brand Glide. Unroll at least 10–12 inches of floss. You can also buy floss attached to small fork-like holders, and if you have big fingers, these make reaching the back teeth easier.
Q: What about water flossers?
A: These are water pumps that shoot a jet of water from a fine tip. They make a good alternative, or addition, to flossing. However, if your gums are healthy and hug the teeth closely, the water stream may have difficulty finding its way into tight spaces. I recommend this to my patients for wherever they have a problem with food getting trapped or if they just hate flossing and are looking for another way.
Q: There are some many different kinds of toothpaste, what features do I need?
A: All you need in a toothpaste is detergent, a mild abrasive for stain removal, fluoride, and a pleasant taste. You will find all this in the most basic of toothpastes, so you don’t need to spend a lot.
You should watch out for “whitening” claims. These claims usually just mean the toothpaste has more abrasives for a more intense stain removal, which can scratch and damage the enamel on your teeth more than regular toothpastes.
Q: Speaking of tooth whitening, do you do that?
A: I recommend for my patients either whitening trays or the one-hour laser treatments, depending on their needs. Both techniques use a peroxide to chemically break apart stains without causing harm to tooth enamel. Personally, I prefer the trays, and my patients love the results.
Dr. Ronald Birnbaum
425 W. 59 St., STE 9B-1
New York, NY 10019