Professional Answers to Common Dental Questions

Browse through our list of frequently asked questions regarding all cosmetic dentistry topics, including Six Month Smiles, Invisalign, Smile Makeovers, Porcelain Veneers and more.

Can You Naturally Repair a Cavity?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

Let’s say you’ve gone to the dentist and your dentist has mentioned to you that they’ve noticed the beginning of a cavity. “Is it bad? Do I need to get this fixed now?” you ask. Depending on the stage that the cavity is in, your dentist will either say yes or no.

For those who have just a small cavity forming (we call that incipient decay), your dentist may tell you to wait about six months to see what happens. This is your queue to be extra diligent with your oral hygiene. Your dentist will most likely recommend preventative dentistry methods, such as an enamel building toothpaste and accompanying enamel strengthening mouthwash — both with Fluoride as the active ingredient. Fluoride is a mineral that prevents tooth decay from getting worse, and using products with this mineral included, along with regular brushing and flossing routines as well as reducing sugar intake can sometimes reverse these early stage cavities.

Keep in mind, however, that this reversal process is slow and arduous and often does not work for some patients even with improved dental hygiene. Fully developed cavities are a permanent damage and must be fixed by a dentist or cosmetic dentist.

Oftentimes if cavities aren’t filled in a timely manner by a professional dentist, the end result can be extensive tooth decay. Patients with tooth decay are often told that they will need the tooth in question removed, and a new synthetic tooth, called a dental implant, will be placed in its stead. At Chicago Smile Spa, Dr. Alfe provides full mouth reconstruction for those whose teeth are affected by tooth decay. Our cosmetic dental office focuses on conservative dentistry, which means Dr. Alfe will do everything she can to save your existing teeth. The first step to a health, beautiful smile is to repair the damage that’s been done, then improve the look and function of the teeth using cosmetic dentistry techniques such as porcelain veneers, crowns, and bridges.

If your family dentist has told you to seek the opinion of a local cosmetic dentist for options regarding how to save and improve your smile, contact Chicago Smile Spa today for a free initial consultation.

Why Are Some People More Prone to Getting Cavities Than Others?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

Life just isn’t fair sometimes — especially when your dentist breaks the news to you that you have a cavity.

“How can this be?” you say to your cosmetic dentist as you start going through the five stages of grief right there in the dental chair.  “I brush and floss regularly!”

According to Joel Berg, President of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Foundation, there are a number of different factors to blame for the development of dental caries, some of which you can control and some you can’t.

Factors You Can’t Easily Control in Cavity Formation

  • Salivary flow and composition. The enzymes within saliva actually work as a natural debridement to clean the surface of your teeth and kill off cavity-causing bacteria and the acid those bacteria produce. If you don’t produce enough saliva or it is too viscous, then it may not effectively clean the surface of the teeth.
  • Tooth morphology. Cavity formation and progression also depends on how deep the grooves are in your teeth (your molars specifically). For those who have deeper grooves, food particles are more likely to get trapped there.  The bacteria in your mouth eat these particles and produce acid compounds which eventually wear away at your enamel.
  • Bacterial Strain. Not all bacteria found in the human mouth are the same. In fact, a single type of bacteria may have dozens of different strains each with a different cariogenic — or cavity causing — level. It’s important to understand that it’s not just the amount of plaque buildup, but the type of strain causing the plaque.

Factors You Can Control in Cavity Formation

  • Diet. According to research, cavity-causing bacteria prefer sucrose (a type of sugar) as their energy source of choice. Unfortunately for us, the American diet is largely revolved around highly processed foods that include sucrose as a main ingredient. It isn’t the quantity of sugar consumed in one sitting, it’s the frequency at which it is consumed. And for the vast major of us, that’s on a daily basis.
  • Oral Hygiene. Dr. Alfe from Chicago Smile Spa doesn’t talk just for her health when she tells her patients to brush and floss regularly! In order for oral hygiene to be an effective preventative measure, brushing and flossing should occur every day, twice a day, to remove bacteria. Dr. Alfe recommends using a fluoride mouthwash to stimulate remineralization of your enamel.

When to Call Our Chicago Cosmetic Dental Office

If you notice pain or sensitivity to hot or cold food and beverages, can visibly see a cavity, or are experiencing symptoms of tooth decay, contact Dr. Alfe at Chicago Smile Spa so we can set up an appointment as soon as possible! It’s best to catch these oral health issues before they become major problems.

What is a Six Month Smiles Treatment?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

According to the ADA, a person’s smile outranked eyes, hair and body as the most important physical feature. For adults, a great smile is what makes us confident in all aspects of our lives. One way to achieve the smile you’ve always wanted is choosing Six Month Smiles at Chicago Smile Spa.

How Six Month Smiles Works

The Six Month Smiles program works to correct crooked or crowded teeth, gaps, and misalignment. Unlike conventional 2-year long braces (which can be somewhat painful), Six Month Smiles was designed by dental industry professionals to move teeth efficiently but with less pressure. The wire’s unique arch works to straighten your teeth in four to nine month’s time, with six months being the average treatment time.

Benefits of Six Month Smiles

Regular braces can often take up to two years for a patient to see results, but with Six Month Smiles, results are noticeable within just two months! This adult orthodontics program is also designed to be convenient for you. At Chicago Smile Spa, we understand life gets in the way and there isn’t much time to come into the office, but with Six Month Smiles you only need to stop in once every 30 days.

Let Dr. Alfe help you achieve that perfect smile you’ve always wanted by opting for Six Month Smiles. After contacting us, we will schedule you for an initial appointment during which you can discuss with Dr. Alfe your dental wants and needs — then we will begin the adult orthodontic program!

I Read That Flossing Isn’t Necessary, Is This True?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

Did you know that your teeth are the hardest substance in your body? Our teeth endure grinding, chewing, clenching and are even used for purposes such as ripping open packaging (to the dismay of your dentist). In order to keep our teeth and gums healthy for these purposes, it’s important to brush and floss consistently.

The Argument Against Flossing

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Periodontology recognized that flossing “has not been shown to prevent cavities or severe periodontal disease,” the New York Times stated. However, this statement was only made because researchers failed to enlist a sufficient amount of test subjects for a long term study. With no long-term research to back either claim, the jury is still out on whether or not flossing is useful for our oral health.

However, the dental industry believes that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The Argument For Flossing

Other studies have shown that regular flossing has proven to reduce bloody gums and inflammation. Above all else, dentists such as Dr. Alfe at Chicago Smile Spa recommend flossing regularly as a preventative measure when gingivitis is concerned. Brushing alone will only cover three out of five sides of every tooth (front, back, and top). With flossing, we are guaranteed to clean the right and left side of every tooth.

For those with receding gum lines, it’s even more important to floss. As our gums recede from our enamel, gaps and pockets are created where food is more likely to wedge itself into. A simple brushing job alone may not do the trick, especially in those hard to reach areas towards the back of your mouth. Flossing can also prevent bad breath by dislodging food particles and foul-smelling bacteria.

When to See Your Chicago Dentist

It’s important to see your dentist on a regular basis for routine cleaning. However, if you notice any significant and persistent gum bleeding, puffiness or irritation while brushing or flossing, this may be an indication of gingivitis. Dr. Alfe’s Chicago cosmetic dental office uses proven techniques and state-of-the-art industry technology to help detect gum disease and other oral health issues. Contact our office today at 773-348-2704 to schedule an appointment!

I’ve Chipped My Tooth! What Do I Do?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

It’s a situation no one wants to be in, but getting a chipped tooth happens to the best of us sometimes. The culprits could be a sports activity, biting a piece of hard candy or ice, or a slip and fall. But what do you do afterwards?

See Your Dentist ASAP

Don’t wait around if you’ve chipped, broken or fractured your tooth. Call up your dentist, such as Dr. Alfe from Chicago Smile Spa, as soon as you can. Chicago Smile Spa is a Chicago-based cosmetic and general dentistry office, and Dr. Alfe will be sure to schedule a visit for you as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your mouth. It’s also important to see a dentist to avoid possible infection, as you may have bitten through your tongue or lip in the process.

What to do in the meantime

  • Take some Ibuprofen if you are in pain and you can gently rinse your mouth out with salt water
  • If your chipped or broken tooth has left a jagged edge, cover it with a piece of wax or sugarless gum to prevent cutting your mouth.
  • Do not eat foods that require ripping or tearing, as this can further damage the tooth. Drink through a straw and choose soft foods instead.

Cosmetic Dental Solutions

When you arrive at Chicago Smile Spa, Dr. Alfe will determine the extent of the damaged tooth. If it isn’t severe, then she can sometimes just polish the rough area.  If the chip is a little more extensive, it may involve using a dental bonding technique. If the tooth is cracked, then a porcelain veneer, or porcelain crown or onlay that can be color-matched to the rest of your teeth is a great, conservative dentistry option.

Whether or not you’ve recently damaged your tooth or if you need a replacement for a previously fixed tooth, Dr. Alfe can help you restore your smile! Contact our office today at (773) 348-2704.

What Type of Crowns Are Available?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

If you need to protect a tooth that is weakened by decay or fix a cracked or chipped tooth, Dr. Alfe at Chicago Smile Spa may recommend a dental crown. A dental crown functions the same way as a fitted sheet; it’s a thin layer that covers the entire tooth to restore it back to its original shape and size.

There are a variety of different types of  dental crowns depending on what your tooth needs.

  • Metal Crowns. Metal crowns are generally composed of gold alloy or other malleable alloys. The benefit of metal crowns is that they resist wear and tear from biting, grinding and chewing. With this type of crown, less of the original tooth will need to be removed in preparation.
  • Porcelain-fused-to-metal. These dental crowns are a great option for teeth that can be visibly seen in a person’s smile because the porcelain allows Dr. Alfe to match the color of your original teeth, while the metal gives added structure and support. It’s important to take care of this type of crown as the porcelain can often wear down or chip.
  • Porcelain Crowns. Best for front teeth as they are the closest in appearance to original teeth, porcelain crowns are also a great option for those with metal allergies. Although this material isn’t as strong as metal alloys, Dr. Alfe can give you a few tips on how to properly care for your new crown so that it lasts longer.
  • Zirconia-based Crown. If a metal crown isn’t right for you, then you may need a zirconium crown. This type of dental crown is digitally designed and constructed. Patients will have benefit from the strength of this crown along with better aesthetics than a metal crown.

Be sure to talk with Dr. Alfe at her Chicago-based cosmetic dentistry office to determine what type of dental crown is best for you. There may be alternative options to choose from, such as a dental bridge or veneers, in order to improve your smile. Contact Chicago Smile Spa today to schedule an appointment!

How Do I Care for Porcelain Veneers?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

Perhaps you’re considering Chicago Smile Spa’s dental services to repair chipped, cracked or discolored teeth with veneers. Either way, it’s important to understand how to care for them.

Here are a few helpful tips to make sure your new porcelain veneers last as long as possible.

  • Brush & floss thoroughly. Careful brushing and flossing is your first line of defense to ensure your veneers last a long time. Take at least two minutes, twice a day to brush your teeth! If you aren’t sure how to floss properly, Dr. Alfe can always show you how to reach all the nooks and crannies.
  • Avoid foods and liquids that would hurt your natural teeth. Beverages such as coffee and soda can sometimes discolor your veneers.  Extremely hard foods (nuts, popcorn, etc) can chip or break a veneer just like they can a natural tooth .  Depending on the type of veneer you have, you might want to ease off chewing gum or eating anything very chewy, to prevent its dislodgement.  
  • Don’t bite anything inedible. It’s always a good idea to not use your teeth as tools, but this rule of thumb especially applies to those with porcelain veneers. Opening a package with veneers can cause them to shift, crack, or detach completely from the tooth.  
  • Purchase a sonic toothbrush. A vibrating ultrasonic toothbrush is a must-have when you have veneers.  With a gentle ultrasonic toothbrush,  you’ll get a much more thorough brushing session.
  • Wear a mouth guard. Whether you participate in a contact sport or if you have a tendency to clench your jaw at night, having a mouth guard is a good investment when it comes to prolonging the life of your veneers. This will prevent them from cracking, shifting or chipping. At Chicago Smile Spa, Dr. Alfe can even make you a custom night guard to ensure it fits your teeth snugly for the best protection.

Understand that porcelain veneers will, eventually, need replacement. However following these tips will significantly prolong their lifespan. Also note that veneers cannot be whitened. Please contact Dr. Alfe at (773) 348-2704 to determine whether or not you qualify for porcelain veneers!

Dentist-Patient Benefits of Using Digital Radiography

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

Technology is always changing in the dental world, and the introduction of digital radiography to the industry is one that benefits both patients and dentists. Before the widespread popularity of this new technology, film was used to take images of patient’s oral cavity. Unfortunately, film was expensive for doctors, and patients were exposed to excessive amounts of radiation because of the film used.

Benefits of Digital Radiography for Patients

One of the biggest benefits for patients with digital radiography is that it takes less time to diagnose your dental problem. Dr. Alfe at Chicago Smile Spa simply has to capture the image and, within seconds, that image is displayed on a screen right in front of you for you to see. Chicago Smile Spa prides itself in being transparent when it comes to diagnosis and treatment suggestions, and having digital radiography allows for this transparency.

As a patient, you also won’t have to wait around in the dentist’s chair while a traditional X-Ray image is developing. Going digital can save you 15 minutes of waiting! The most important benefit for patients is health-related. Using X-Ray film exposes your body to radiation. Although there are steps to reduce the amount of radiation (including wearing a lead vest) you are exposed to, why risk it? Digital radiography can reduce radiation levels by up to 85%.

Benefits of Digital Radiography for Dentists

At Chicago Smile Spa, Dr. Alfe works hard to build a lasting doctor-patient relationship — and that relationship is built on trust. The quick turnaround time from taking the image of the oral cavity to displaying it on a screen for patients builds a sense of trust. Dr. Alfe is always happy to review her diagnostic findings with her patients, showing them their radiographs on the computer screen and explaining what she is seeing.

Image enhancement is another major benefit of digital radiography. According to statistics, 73% of respondents to a survey said that it was easier to diagnose a patient when images were taken with this technology. Lastly, this advancement saves Dr. Alfe time as well — time that she can now use to better get to know you!

Contact our Chicago-based dental office today for more information or to schedule an appointment.

How Can Botox Help Reduce TMJ Symptoms?

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

Those suffering from temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) understand that there is no simple way to control or reduce the pain associated with jaw muscle stiffness. Also known as TMJ, the cause of temporomandibular jaw joint problems is multi-factorial and side effects include teeth grinding or clenching.

Common TMJ Treatments

The most effective way to reduce TMJ symptoms would be to start conservatively. Most dentists will start off recommending softer foods that are easier to chew as well as cold or heat packs. Therapeutic exercises coupled with pain medication is also an option for temporary relief. Dentists will also stress the importance of bite guards for patients to wear at night.

How can Botox Help?

Botox is mostly known as a neurotoxin that helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in the face or neck region. However, the properties of Botox can also help temporarily reduce TMJ pain.  When using Botox for the skin, it helps relax the facial muscles and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

A Botox injection into the chewing muscles (which are hyperactive in patients with TMD) helps relax them.  When these muscles are hyperactive, they cause clenching or grinding.  The FDA has approved Botox for reducing the symptoms of migraines, which are often closely related to the symptoms of TMD as the cause is the same in 75% of migraine patients (hyperactive chewing muscles).

Risks to Consider

Because Botox is a neurotoxin, there is always the small chance that your body could react negatively to the treatment. Botox injections for TMJ are only temporary relief; the average treatment lasts around 3-4 months before it wears off. 

Be sure to consult Dr. Alfe at Chicago Smile Spa before opting for Botox to treat TMJ. Dr. Alfe’s dentist office can help you determine if you have TMD by using a Joint Vibration Analysis (JVA) prior to treatment in the more severe cases. The office also provides other alternative treatments such as a Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition Tension Suppression System (NTI-tss), which is a specialized mouth guard.  Often the combination of an NTI guard and Botox helps Dr. Alfe’s patients achieve a pain-free life without daily medication!

What Are Sugary Drinks Doing to Your Teeth This Holiday Season

Serving Chicago, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and surrounding areas in Illinois

The holidays are usually a time we use to indulge and enjoy ourselves. That means that most of the time, healthy decisions and choices go right out the window. That is what New Year’s Resolutions are for, right? Dr. Alfe adds an extra emphasis on regular brushing and flossing to prevent sugary foods and beverages from ruining your teeth this holiday season. Sugar drinks, such as fruit juices, soft drinks, and festive alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are ones that Dr. Alfe recommends you have in moderation or not at all. Drinking too much of these types of drinks can cause multiple dental problems, including gum disease, tooth decay, dental cavities and even bad breath.

What Do Sugary Drinks Do to Teeth?

We all know that having too many sugary drinks is not good for your overall health. The sugar in these drinks sticks to your teeth, giving that sticky feeling after you haven’t brushed your teeth for a while. The natural bacteria inside your mouth eat the sugar and then form an acid that is dangerous for the enamel on your teeth! Enamel is the hard protective coating on your teeth that cannot be replaced once it is gone. Breaking down the enamel makes your teeth thinner and weaker. As the enamel weakens, you are more susceptible to developing cavities.

How Can I Avoid This Damage?

The best way to minimize the tooth decay because of sugary drinks is to avoid them whenever possible. Do enjoy your holiday gatherings, but also don’t forget to incorporate water and milk when you can! If you are making holiday cocktails, try to find natural fruit juices and use fruits like lemons, limes, and apples as a healthy way to add sweetness. To dilute fruit juice, add seltzer water to your drinks to further minimize the amount of sugar you have this year.

Be sure to rinse with water and brush your teeth, to affectively remove the sugar at the end of the evening. When picking out a toothpaste, find one with fluoride to help reduce cavities and strengthen tooth enamel, so it can help to reverse the damage caused by these drinks. If you visit Dr. Alfe regularly she can directly apply fluoride to your teeth as well, to help strengthen your enamel. Make an appointment right after the holidays to get a deep oral cleaning and start the year 2016 off right!