By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
A DENTAL hygiene technique sweeping the United States could give orthodontic patients in The Bahamas a new reason to smile.
Spotty discoloration of tooth enamel, a common grievance for people who wear braces, can now be treated and prevented by adding a procedure termed "air polishing" to your dental hygiene regimen, according to orthodontist Barry Russell at the Bahamas Orthodontic Center.
"A lot of patients aren't good brushers so acid forms from the food they eat and can cause scarring of the enamel, which looks like white spots on the teeth," said Dr Russell.
"It is more than just aesthetics; the result of it ensures your teeth look good but when the enamel is hypocalcified it weakens the enamel."
For orthodontic patients of all ages, the cosmetic appearance of teeth can be a major source of malcontent. The look and feel of braces has transformed over the years to provide a range of aesthetic options; however, many people find upkeep to be challenging throughout the length of the treatment period.
"The most memorable thing about braces for me was the struggle to keep them looking clean," a 16-year-old patient said.
"I would be so embarrassed about how they looked that I wouldn't open my mouth unless it was absolutely necessary. It was like no matter how many times I brushed it always looked like there was this filmy buildup."
While insecurities concerning the physical appearance of teeth often correlate to individual maturity, aberrations are usually indicative of dental health challenges and should be monitored.
One former patient said: "I don't care what people think about my teeth as an adult. However in highschool it was a big deal, and that was one of the reasons why I resisted getting braces at that time.
"As an adult going through it, I didn't have any self-esteem issues but if it's something that could have protected my enamel and improved overall dental hygiene then I would have definitely been interested."
The enamel defect, hypocalcification, is characterized by white, yellow and brown blemishes that vary depending on the severity of the damage.
The anomaly is particularly distressing as blemishes are most common on molars and central incisors.
During the initial onset, white marks appear typically near the chewing edge of teeth and are usually only visible when the affected tooth dries out. Blemishes can become larger and more opaque as damage progresses and may require a more intensive procedure to remove the spot and fill in the site.
"It happens when patients are not brushing well, not because of the braces," Dr Russell said.
"When you have braces on you have to spend extra time brushing. This procedure does not replace a traditional dental cleaning, it polishes the front surfaces of the teeth. You will still need to visit your dentist twice a year," he said.
The new procedure was introduced to the local oral hygiene community last month at a conference hosted by the Bahamas Orthodontic Center.
"There's no routine in practice yet; this is a totally new philosophy that they are still trying to incorporate into the US; it hasn't been across the board yet," said Dr Russell, speaking about the procedure that takes about five to ten minutes.
Dr Russell said he was hesitant about deploying the technique, because of the tensions that exist in the oral hygiene community.
"It's sort of like a turf battle, the hygienists don't want the orthodontist to do any sort of polishing because they feel it would encroach on their business," said Dr Russell.
Nonetheless, he said the technique was well received at last month's conference.
"This is really forward thinking," he added. "I think what this does is it raises the standard of care, and it's doing what's best for the patient. That is the reason why [Bahamas Orthodontic Center] hosted this and spent the money to bring it here."