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National Smile Month - When your smiling

PUBLISHED: 15:41 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

A beautiful smile spells happiness - in any language

A beautiful smile spells happiness - in any language

... the whole world smiles with you, according to the old song. But if your grin is a sorry sight you may find you smile alone. These days there's much that can be done to improve matters and, in National Smile Month, Penny Oldham finds out more...

We're all born with the potential for a perfect set of teeth. But there's a lot that can happen between cradle and grave to ruin that pearly symmetry - too many sugary foods, coffee and red wine drinking, accidents, the use of antibiotics and the effect of jaw size and shape to name but a few.

So a good diet is first on the list for a great smile. Calcium rich foods such as cheese, yogurt, rhubarb - even tinned salmon with bones, and a whole range of seemingly unrelated foods including celery, green tea, kiwi fruit, onions, sesame seeds and shiitake mushrooms all have their part to play. Water is especially beneficial, keeping gums hydrated and stimulating the production of saliva which helps protect against decay-causing bacteria. Rinsing with water also helps wash away trapped food particles that can cause bad breath. (But if dog-breath does strike, chew a handful of fresh parsley.)

Equally important, from babyhood onwards, is your friendly dentist. Once the cause of some dread, modern equipment and techniques, as well as a greater understanding of dental phobia, a regular visit to the dentist and hygienist is vital for the well-being of both teeth and gums. Prevention is the watchword now, with the addition of fluoride to water and a range of tooth-preserving treatments. One thing your dentist is bound to stress is a good cleaning regime, replacing your toothbrush before it needs it, using floss and brushing teeth three times a day.

Sometimes, however, whatever we do to protect the health and appearance of our teeth, they fail to live up to our aspirations: stained from antibiotic use, too big, too small, too wonky, just not quite sparkling enough. If daily cleaning has been rigorous, the next step is whitening.

Although it's now possible to buy tooth whitening toothpaste over the counter, a professional bleaching treatment is the only way if the staining is stubborn or long-standing. This can be done either at home or at the surgery. Both methods use an oxidising agent to bleach the staining, and teeth might become slightly sensitive during the process. For the former method, a custom-made tray is produced which is filled with the whitening gel and worn for a couple of hours a night for two weeks; supervised by your dentist, home whitening can be very effective.

Treatment by the dentist is more expensive, but takes less time, from around 30 minutes to an hour. A protective gel is applied to the gums and a rubber shield may be placed around the base of the teeth. The bleaching agent is then painted on, and an accelerating light may be applied at intervals to help activate the process.

For broken or slightly misshapen teeth, bonding may be the answer. In this case the thickness of the tooth is slightly reduced and microscopic grooves are etched into its surface with a mild acid. A colour-matched composite resin 'tooth' is then applied, shaped, set with a curing light and finally smoothed and polished.

In more extreme cases veneers can be applied. One or more thin, layer- ideally of porcelain but composite resin is also used - and matching the other teeth in shape and colour, is specially manufactured in a dental lab. The veneer is bonded to a reduced and roughened existing tooth, and is immediately indistinguishable from a natural one. Porcelain veneers achieve a better colour match, and last from five to 10 years, although they're a bit more expensive.

Nowadays heavily filled double teeth are seldom seen, other than in that fraction of the population who didn't benefit from the addition of fluoride to the water supply. As time goes by they lose their integrity and frequently fall apart, or at least look aesthetically unpleasing. Rather than leaving an unsightly gap, a crown can be made to fit, after impressions are taken in the surgery. This again is bonded to the remnants reduced remnants of the tooth.

An even more permanent solution is the use of dental implants, pegs which are fixed into the jawbone and to which a number of different prostheses may be attached: crowns, bridges, dentures or the 'fixings' for removable dentures. Sometimes, a full or partial set of dentures is required, and in this case the skill of an experienced clinical dental technician can make all the difference to the result. Visit Roderick Patterson of Sunshine Dentures in Long Eaton who can design, construct, fit and adjust complete and removable partial dentures, and overdentures on implants.

In this first decade of the twenty-first century there's really no need to have ugly teeth. There's plenty of information out there to absorb, which has done much to prolong the healthy life of our teeth. Whatever the problem there's now a solution, although some of them do come with a price.

Finally, to celebrate a gleamingly perfect mouth, don't forget to apply a couple of coats of your most vibrant lipstick - guaranteed to make even dull teeth sparkle.

Sunshine Dentures, 20 College St, Long Eaton NG10 4ND.

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