Our panel of dental experts share their trade secrets for getting a gorgeous grin. Do you have perfect pearly whites, or could your teeth do with a tune-up? Either way, it pays to stay on top of your dental care. “Healthy teeth and gums and a confident smile are very important assets in our personal and professional life,” says dental surgeon Dr Shaun Thompson of Expat Dental. “Regular check-ups and proper hygiene cleaning are the keys to that killer smile. Our teeth need and deserve a little love every day to keep our smiles looking great and avoid funky breath that no one appreciates!”
If you do strike dental trouble, don’t procrastinate. “In life, love and dentistry, prevention is the name of the game,” says Dr Thompson. “If you wait until it hurts or breaks, the repair takes longer and is more expensive. The dark ages of dentistry are over, and maintaining your gorgeous smile with your dentist can actually be a fantastic experience.”
#1 White Out
There’s no reason to give up your beloved morning coffee and occasional glass of red wine. Teeth whitening can restore a bright, white appearance even to the most stained of teeth and make you look years younger.
“Teeth-whitening procedures can be divided into in-clinic or home-whitening methods,” says Dr Steven Soo of Specialist Dental Group. In-clinic chair-side whitening involves applying a carbamide peroxide-based gel to the teeth with activation by light. “Usually, two 15-minute cycles are sufficient to whiten the teeth,” says Dr Soo. “Your dentist will scale and polish the teeth first to remove surface plaque and calculus that would prevent the gel making contact with the enamel. The lips and gums are isolated prior to the gel application. The whole procedure takes approximately one hour.”
Home whitening involves the fabrication of customised whitening trays into which the carbamide peroxide gel is placed. “The trays are generally worn for 45 to 60 minutes per day, over a period of five to seven days,” explains Dr Soo. “Home-whitening is more controllable, as you simply use the trays for as many days as necessary to achieve the result you want.”
The best results are achieved by using a combination of both the above methods, says Dr Soo. “In-clinic chair-side whitening will instantly boost the shade, after which home-whitening will help maintain the result.”
#2 Straighten Up
Gone are the days when years of unsightly metal braces were the only option to cure a crooked smile. “We now use invisible aligners to straighten and correct teeth, such as Invisalign,” says Dr Teodora Kent of Smile Focus. “Invisalign is a system that uses clear, custom-made removable aligners made from a thermoplastic material to gradually move teeth. Without the wire and brackets, the trays are almost undetectable.”
Over the course of treatment, patients are supplied with a series of aligners to slowly straighten their teeth. “Each aligner will apply controlled force to make slight adjustments to tooth position, a process that is mapped out in advance by your doctor, specifically for your situation,” says Dr Kent. “After approximately two weeks, you will begin using the next set of aligners, which will continue the teeth-straightening process. In this way tooth movement is carefully controlled.”
There are other almost invisible options for sorting out snaggle teeth. “If your bite doesn’t need correction, Cfast may be an option for you,” suggests Dr Kent. “Cfast (cosmetically focused adult straight teeth) uses braces with clear brackets and a white-coloured wire. The result is a camouflaged form of braces that straighten the teeth within months. The treatment straightens crooked or misaligned front teeth only, without changing the bite. This is a fantastic alternative for people who don’t need prolonged conventional orthodontic treatment.”
#3 Crowning Glory
If you’re looking for a dramatic smile-enhancer, crowns and veneers are both good options. “Porcelain crowns or veneers can enhance your smile in a subtle but powerful way,” says Dr Thomas Koty of ARC Dental Clinic. “People will notice that your teeth look great, but they probably won’t be able to put their finger on the fact you’ve had work done!”
Veneers are thin, tooth-shaped pieces of porcelain which are bonded to teeth and can dramatically change their shape and shade. “Porcelain laminate veneers are composed of thin ceramic layers that essentially replace tooth enamel,” says Dr Koty. “They’re similar to a contact lens for the eye. Veneers that adhere to the outer surface of teeth, they’re an excellent solution for imperfections such as poor colour, shape or contours, tooth fractures, poor tooth position, as well as some minor bite-related problems,” says Dr Koty. “They’re also a great option for superficial stains on teeth that are not responsive to bleaching.”
Tooth preparation for veneers is minor. “The natural tooth structure must first be reduced by a minimal amount – approximately one millimetre or less of tooth enamel,” says Dr Koty. “This will allow room for the veneer to work its magic and restore natural tooth form.”
Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are also excellent for significantly changing the shape and colour of a tooth that is worn, broken, weak, misshapen or discoloured. “Porcelain crowns are generally necessary when more tooth structure has been lost from tooth decay or from trauma and therefore more material is needed to replace it,” says Dr Koty. “Also, if more tooth structure needs to be lightened (because of deeper staining) or strengthened, a crown is the ideal restoration choice.”
A porcelain crown replaces the entire external form of a tooth, down to the gum level. “Crowning a tooth re-establishes its natural form and function, including how it contacts other teeth,” says Dr Koty. “Crowning teeth can also create dramatic improvements for patients whose teeth have been worn by bruxism (habitual grinding) or by enamel erosion.”
#4 Prevention is better than cure
When it comes to a beautiful, healthy smile, prevention is key, says Dr Daphne Chua of Aesthete Smilestudio.
Brush twice, floss once
“The recommended oral hygiene routine is to brush at least twice a day for around two to three minutes and to floss at least every night,” says Dr Chua. Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head for maximum manoeuvrability in tight spaces. “An electric toothbrush is helpful in areas that are hard to reach. Flossing every day is very important and cannot be replaced by using mouth rinses.” You can also gently brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen the breath. Tip: Airdry your toothbrush and replace it every three to four months.
Watch the sweet stuff
Sugar is oral enemy number one, closely followed by colourings. “Limit your intake of dark-coloured and sweet food and drinks (coffee, tea, red wine, soft drinks, sweets and cakes, for example). Rinse immediately after consumption to reduce the impact,” says Dr Chua.
Don’t let pain be your guide
“Patients often use pain as an indicator for when to see a dentist. This is a bad idea, as dental problems do not first present as pain – pain is felt only in the later stages.”
Make a regular date with your dentist
“It’s important to see the dentist for your routine check and clean at least every six months,” says Dr Chua. “Pick a dentist who you are comfortable with, communicates well and is someone you can trust.”
#5 Ease the daily grind
Dental bruxism, which is often triggered by stress, is the medical term used to describe habitual clenching or grinding of the teeth and jaws. “You may experience stiff or fatigued jaw muscles when you wake in the morning, headaches, neck aches, sensitive teeth, jaw pain or noises when opening or closing your mouth,” says Dr Thompson from Expat Dental. “All of these can be signs of dental bruxism and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders.
There’s no need to suffer habitual teeth grinding and the chipped, worn teeth it can cause. Increasingly, injectable therapies (such as Botox) are being adopted as a safe and preferred way to treat bruxism. “Using what we call localised muscle infusion techniques, we can painlessly inject a muscle-relaxing compound directly into the muscles that are doing the most damage,” explains Dr Thompson. “In this way, we can treat your bruxism without the use of cumbersome night mouthguards.”
Emerging Botox therapy provides a welcome alternative to mouthguards. “Many people don’t like wearing them, because they interrupt sleep or make them gag,” says Dr Thompson. “Injectable therapies can change the behaviour by treating the muscles that are actually causing the problem; thereby solving the problem, not just treating the symptoms.”
Other treatments for bruxism include occlusal splints and even behavioural therapy. Choosing the right treatment for you is an important decision that you and your dentist should make together after considering all factors and treatment options.
#6 Get in early
Early diagnosis and treatment is key, which is why Dr Catherine Lee of Dr Catherine Lee Orthodontics recommends that children have their first orthodontic evaluation between the ages of five and seven. (Treatment between the ages of five and 10 is known as “Phase One” treatment.) While the jaws are still growing – no later than age 10 for girls and age 12 for boys – interceptive orthodontics can help balance and adjust any differences that might cause issues with teeth and jaw alignment. According to Dr Lee, missing the opportunity to catch and fix potential problems during this active growing period may result in a need for corrective surgery later on, either after the final growth spurt or during adulthood.
While not all children require early treatment, Phase One orthodontic intervention provides opportunities to:
- improve a child’s appearance and self-esteem;
- create space for the eruption of new permanent teeth;
- preserve or gain space for the new teeth;
- reduce the risk of fracturing a new front tooth that sticks out;
- lessen or eliminate abnormal swallowing or speech problems;
- guide the correct rate of growth of the jaw;
- regulate the width of the upper and lower dental arches (the arch-shaped jaw bone that supports the teeth);
- correct harmful habits such as thumb or finger-sucking;
- potentially simplify or shorten treatment time for full braces during Phase Two (teenager) treatment.
What you should do when you lose a tooth? (Hint: Don’t leave it out for the tooth fairy!)
Dr Kent from Smile Focus advises the following course of action if a tooth is knocked out.
- Step 1: Locate the tooth and check there’s no obvious damage to the root. Providing there’s not too much trauma and blood, lick the tooth clean. Alternatively, the tooth can be washed in plain milk – don’t use water!
- Step 2: Try to replant an adult tooth by holding it firmly in place with a finger, or by biting gently on a handkerchief. Don’t try to replant a baby tooth, as the pressure can damage the adult tooth still to come through.
- Step 3: If you can’t replant the tooth, keep it under your tongue or inside your cheek. Alternatively, place the tooth in plain milk or salt water. As a last resort, place the tooth in plastic wrap, a wet towel or water. If the tooth has been broken off rather than completely knocked out, try to find the fractured piece, as it can often be re-bonded. Place the piece in salt water or tap water.
- Step 4: See a dentist immediately, preferably within one hour of the trauma.
- Dr Shaun A Thompson (Expat Dental)
- Dr Daphne Chua (Aesthete Smilestudio)
- Dr Teodora Kent (Smile Focus)
- Dr Steven Soo (Specialist Dental Group)
- Dr Catherine Lee (Dr Catherine Lee Orthodontics)
- Dr Thomas Koty (ARC Dental Clinic)
This is an extract from an article that first appeared in the July 2016 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy for the full article, or Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!