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Dental X-rays: The Inside Story

October 14th, 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. Ralph 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 Liberty Lake or Spokane, WA 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!

Speech! Speech!

October 7th, 2020

If you are a student of Speech or Drama, you know how important it is to be clear and articulate. You’ve worked on pronunciation and projection, and the audience in the back row can understand every word.

And now you’ve gotten braces, and, suddenly, you don’t sound quite like yourself. Why? And, more important, what can you do?

  • Don’t Panic!

Many patients see no change at all in their speech after getting braces. With some orthodontic conditions or appliances, you might have problems pronouncing certain sounds, but these changes in articulation are usually quite temporary. 

  • Why Are You Sounding Off?

Every consonant is formed in a precise way as tongue, lips, and teeth work together. If you have brackets and wires in the way, or just got a new retainer, or have a set of aligners, you might find that your articulation is a little off, especially for sibilant sounds such as S’s and Z’s. Luckily, we humans are a flexible bunch, and it usually takes a very short time for our tongues and mouths to adapt to orthodontic appliances and return to normal pronunciation.

If your speech is affected at first because your lips and cheeks are sore or sensitive after getting braces, take time to take care of yourself! Use wax as often as needed to cover irritating brackets and wires, eat foods that are low in salt, spice, and acids, and follow your orthodontist’s instructions for taking care of your mouth. You should start feeling better within a few days, and should be fine after a week or two. If pain or discomfort persists, call your orthodontist.

  • Practice Makes Perfect

If you want to speed along the process of getting back to your normal pronunciation habits, practice! Read aloud, sing along to your favorite songs, recite lists of words with the specific sounds you want to work on. Oddly enough, to get back to your normal speech more quickly, slow down. Thinking before you speak is never a bad idea, and, in this case, thinking while you speak can help you position your tongue and mouth to verbalize tricky sounds more easily.

You don’t have to be a national debate champion or the world’s most blood-curdling Lady Macbeth to be concerned about clear speech. Talk to Dr. Ralph during your next appointment at our Liberty Lake or Spokane, WA office if you find you are having problems with pronunciation. Whether your appliance needs an adjustment, or you need a few suggestions for speech exercises, or it’s simply a matter of time, soon you’ll be back on the road to perfect pronunciation—and on the way to your perfect smile.

Mouthguard Protection

September 30th, 2020

Let’s talk about mouthguards.

We could talk about how important wearing a mouthguard is when you lead an active life. If you play sports, ride bikes, skateboard, or participate in many other kinds of exercise, mouthguards protect your teeth, mouth tissue, and jaws from accidents. 

Or we could talk about how wearing a mouthguard while you’re wearing braces has extra benefits. Besides its normal protection, your guard helps protect your brackets and wires from damaging contact, and your delicate mouth tissue from impact with your braces.

But we’re not going to talk about any of these important topics today. Instead of looking at how your mouthguard protects you, today we’re going to look at how you can protect your mouthguard.

If you want your guard to last longer, work better, and stay (and smell!) cleaner, some basic tips make all the difference.

  • Keep your guard clean.

This can’t be stressed enough. Without a good cleaning routine, your guard can become discolored, develop an unpleasant odor, and even cause illness. Not very appealing, right? Happily, keeping your mouthguard clean isn’t difficult.

When you wear your guard, the same plaque that is present in your mouth makes itself at home in your appliance. And when your guard is in its case, that dark, moist environment makes it a perfect breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

As soon as you take your mouthguard out, rinse it off. Brush with a soft toothbrush to remove all the plaque, saliva, or food debris that might be lingering in your appliance. (If you are on the playing field, in the park, or at some other inconvenient location, rinse it and brush as soon as you can.) Toothpaste can help get your guard its cleanest, but can be too abrasive for some appliances.

Once you’ve cleaned it, let your guard air dry in a clean spot for about 30 minutes. Air drying helps prevent bacterial growth. After your guard has dried, return it to its case.

Once a week, you might need to give your mouthguard a good soak in a mouthwash or other dental cleaning solution.

Since cleaning instructions can be different depending on which type of mouthguard you have, be sure to follow our instructions if you have a custom guard, or clean as directed by the manufacturer if you have a store guard.

  • Keep it safe.

When your mouthguard isn’t in your mouth, it should be in its case. Floating loose in your locker or tumbling around in your gym bag puts your guard at risk for breakage and bacteria.

And don’t forget to clean your case thoroughly every few days and air dry it as well. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold, and other unwelcome guests can collect in your case, too.

  • Keep it only as long as it’s in good condition.

You can purchase mouthguards from sporting or drug stores, or Dr. Ralph can make you a mouthguard designed to fit your teeth and braces perfectly. These appliances are made to be strong and durable, but they’re not indestructible. Over time they can wear down or become damaged, especially if you treat them carelessly.

Bacteria can lurk in dents and cracks, and you can cut your mouth on rough, sharp, or broken edges. But if your mouthguard isn’t fitting properly, don’t resort to self-help! Trying to repair, reshape, or trim your appliance yourself is not a good idea, because it might affect its fit and protective ability.

Any sign that your guard isn’t fitting properly or shows signs of wear and tear could mean it’s time for a replacement. You can replace a store model, or see Dr. Ralph about replacing or repairing your custom guard. A mouthguard that doesn’t fit, doesn’t keep you safe.

Take care of your guard, and it will take care of you. The reward for the small amount of time and effort you put into caring for your mouthguard is braces that will last through your treatment at our Liberty Lake or Spokane, WA office and a smile that will last you for a lifetime. Those are benefits we can talk about all day!

Just Add Water

September 23rd, 2020

One of the many benefits of your clear aligners is that you can remove them to eat. You should brush after every meal, just like you would with traditional braces, but cleaning your teeth is much easier without having to work around and between brackets and wires.

But when you wear your aligners 22 hours a day, you might be tempted to leave them in when you’re just having a sip of something when you’re thirsty. Unless you’re drinking water, please don’t.

What’s the problem with a can of cola or a cup of coffee?

  • Staining

The virtue of your clear aligners is that they are, well, clear! Probably one of the reasons you decided on this method of treatment was because you liked the idea of an inconspicuous appliance.  Unfortunately, dark beverages such as colas, coffee, tea, and red wine can stain your aligner, making it more visible.

  • Warping

Very hot beverages might actually affect the shape of your aligners. Since they are formed using heat, it makes sense that heat can also de-form them. If hot teas and coffee drinks cause a change in the shape of your aligners, they will not move your teeth the way they were meant to.

  • Affecting Tooth Health

Even though our enamel is very strong, sugary and acidic drinks can damage it. Acidic foods can erode enamel, and the sugars in our diet provide food for cavity-causing bacteria, which then produce acids that erode enamel.

Normally, saliva provides some protection from acids and sugars by diluting them and washing them away from the teeth. When you drink a cola or an orange juice with your aligners on, some of the liquid will get in them, and can stay in them until the aligners are removed. You will actually give these problem beverages the opportunity to bathe your teeth in sugar and acid over a longer period of time, without exposure to saliva to help offset potential harm. And after all your work to create a beautiful smile, you certainly don’t want new cavities!

How to protect your aligners and keep them their cleanest—and most invisible?

  • Take your aligners out before drinking beverages that can stain them, or, if you can’t, try using a straw. Clean your aligners according to Dr. Ralph and our team’s instructions to keep them as clear as possible.
  • Don’t drink very hot beverages with your aligners in place. Try icing your coffee and tea if you can’t remove your aligners. And if you think your aligners have changed shape, please give us a call.
  • Drink water! Water hydrates you, doesn’t damage enamel, and keeps your aligners clean. Tap water is your best option, as even bottled waters can be acidic.

If your aligners should become stained, remember that you change them frequently, so the staining can be a temporary problem. If you do have a drink of something hot and your aligners feel “off,” give our Liberty Lake or Spokane, WA office a call. We’ll let you know if you need to replace them.

But prevention is always best! Avoid staining from the start by removing your aligners before you drink dark beverages. Don’t expose your aligners to heat. Think about replacing unhealthy drinks with water. And certainly brush right away, or rinse with water if that’s not possible, if you drink a sugary or acidic beverage. These simple precautions will help keep your aligners, and, most important, your teeth, looking their best.