Update your smile without busting the budget

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

UTStephCollogoSpring is coming and many of us will spend some time updating our wardrobe, cleaning out some accumulated winter clutter and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first crocus flower.  It’s also a great time to make sure your smile is it all it can be.   This month I want to talk about the little things we can do to make our smile look better and brighter that are simple, easy and budget-friendly.

When reading an article recently, when a person is prepared for a job interview, the first advice they are given is to smile.  These interviewing professionals will coach their clients on how to dress, how to speak and how to make a good impression.  A smile says so much.  

Take a look in the mirror.

When you smile do you show dark metal (silver/mercury) fillings?

Do you have old dental work with unsightly margins?

Are you teeth as white as they used to be?

Are the edges of your teeth smooth or are they chipped and jagged?

Is one tooth much darker than the others?

Do you have missing teeth that show when you smile?

Are there dark spots on or between your teeth?

Are your gums puffy and red?

If you answered no to all of these questions then you probably have a very esthetically pleasing smile, if not, your dentist can help.

Showing a dark metal filling when you smile is unsightly.  While metallic fillings may still be functional, they may be sending the wrong message.  The new tooth-colored composite fillings are sturdy and can be used to replace most old silver metallic fillings.

Does your smile show that dark line around old crowns (caps)?  Seeing a dark line is really not ideal.  Until recently most porcelain crowns had metal underneath.  Over time the gum or soft tissues that usually hide those dark edges can become thinner or recede. This allows the edge to show. Today dentists have many more options.  Some crowns can be made with no metal at all. These porcelain or zirconia options are strong, durable and don’t have metal to make that black line effect.  If you are fortunate enough to have dental benefits, many plans offer coverage for a replacement crown after 5 years.

Every day we see advertising about how to get a whiter smile.  There are thousands of products on the market. Some even promise to whiten your teeth in just 5 minutes.  The simple truth is most over the counter products are tested for safety – much like cosmetics, but are not regulated for efficacy.  Ask your dentist what options would work best to whiten your smile.  Most dental offices offer a range of whitening options.  If you are interested in whitening – ask today!  Good news for those of us who already own a set of bleaching trays – if you used trays in the past, there are newer products available that can be used in your existing trays.

Time takes its toll on our teeth. Over time teeth may become rough or develop uneven edges. Sometimes the enamel chips and small pieces break away. These uneven edges can sometimes make a huge difference in the way a smile looks.  Enamelplasty is a process that can reshape the edges of the teeth to give them a more symmetrical and pleasing appearance. If the areas are small this is a great option.  If the process goes beyond the outer layer of enamel some composite bonding may be needed to prevent sensitivity and protect the softer dentin underneath.

Nothing is more noticeable than a single dark tooth. This can happen when one tooth has had root canal (endodontic) treatment. Teeth that have had root canal therapy are no longer alive. These non-vital teeth will slowly discolor over time. Along with the discoloration these teeth also become brittle and are prone to fracture. Most dentists strongly recommend that a crown is placed on these teeth to protect them and allow them to continue to function in a patient’s mouth.   A new crown can be color matched to the adjacent teeth, this eliminates the appearance of a single dark tooth.  If the dark tooth has not had root canal therapy then it should be checked to see if some other problem may be developing.

In today’s society we are very conscious of our appearance.  While tooth loss is sometimes unavoidable, the embarrassment that comes with a missing tooth can often be limited or avoided altogether.   If the missing tooth shows when you smile, a small plastic appliance can be fabricated to replace tooth while other replacement options are being fitted.  This appliance is often called a flipper.  In many cases a flipper can be made prior to a tooth being removed. The flipper is then ready to fit and wear immediately after a tooth is extracted. An immediate-placement flipper means there is no time spent with a missing tooth. The long term options for replacing missing teeth are best discussed with your dentist.  It is good to know however, that options do exist to minimize the embarrassment of a missing tooth.

A regular concern among savvy dental patients is the dark areas between teeth.   A dentist will first identify the cause of the dark area. It can be as simple as replacing an old discolored filling that was placed between the front teeth years ago.  Some of the early white fillings developed a discoloration as they aged.   Other causes of dark areas can be related to an accumulation of stain or tartar between the teeth. Brush, floss and use a whitening gel to see if the discoloration can be removed.   Another concern is what the dental industry calls the black triangle.  These areas are dark empty spots where gum tissue used to be.   Gum disease or a form of trauma has caused a lack of soft tissue in these critical areas. A dentist or a periodontist can identify these “black triangles” and offer options to restore these areas.

Your gums are the part of a beautiful smile.  Red puffy oozing gums do not look great. More importantly they are unhealthy and can contribute to increased risks for heart disease, increased complications with diabetes and other health risks.   Take care of your gums, they are part of your smile.

Your smile tells your story.  Each and every smile is unique. Talk with your dental provider.  Ask about the issues that concern you.  Even a small thing can bring out the beauty in your smile.

Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. Dr. McGann has opened a new practice in Valley Township, Rainbow Valley Dental. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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