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Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates knows how important it is to present your best face to the world — and one of the most important features of that face is a beaming smile. But there came a point when she noticed something was a little off. “I've always had good teeth, but it seemed to me as I was getting older that they weren't looking as good,” Kathy explained in a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine.

That's when she decided it was time to take action. Kathy had orthodontic treatment when she was in her fifties, and she keeps her smile bright with tooth whitening treatments. She uses a kit provided by her dentist with a safe, effective whitening solution.

Of course, a bright, healthy smile looks great anywhere — whether you're on the red carpet or “off the grid.” And you don't have to be a Hollywood star to have professional whitening treatments. In fact, teeth whitening is one of the most popular and affordable cosmetic treatments modern dentistry offers.

The basic options for professional teeth whitening include in-office bleaching or take-home kits. Both types of dentist-supervised treatments offer a safe and effective means of getting a brighter smile; the main difference is how long they take to produce results. A single one-hour treatment in the office can make your teeth up to ten shades lighter — a big difference! To get that same lightening with at-home trays, it would take several days. On the plus side, the take-home kit is less expensive, and can achieve the same results in a bit more time.

It's important to note that not all teeth can be whitened with these treatments. Some teeth have intrinsic (internal) stains that aren't affected by external agents like bleaches. Also, teeth that have been restored (with bonding or veneers, for example) generally won't change color. And you can't necessarily whiten your teeth to any degree: Every tooth has a maximum whiteness, and adding more bleach won't lighten it beyond that level. Most people, however, find that teeth whitening treatments produce noticeable and pleasing results.

What about those off-the-shelf kits or in-the-mall kiosks? They might work… or they might not. But one thing's for sure: Without a dentist's supervision, you're on your own. That's the main reason why you should go with a pro if you're considering teeth whitening. We not only ensure that your treatment is safe — we can also give you a realistic idea of what results to expect, and we will make sure that other dental problems aren't keeping you from having a great-looking smile.

How often does Kathy Bates see her dentist for a checkup and cleaning? “I go about every four months,” she noted. “I'm pretty careful about it.” And if you've seen her smile, you can tell that it pays off. If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “Teeth Whitening.”

By Jeffrey H. Wallen DDS
March 03, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: antibiotics  

The development of antibiotic drugs is widely considered one of the greatest medical achievements of the last century. Their widespread use has turned life-threatening diseases like cholera, strep throat or bacterial meningitis into manageable, treatable ones. It’s no exaggeration to say antibiotics changed the face of healthcare, including dentistry.

But this gleaming sword for fighting dangerous diseases has a double edge because our biological “enemies” can adapt to the microscopic attacks against them. This has created an ironic conundrum: as antibiotics have proliferated in both the amount and frequency used they’ve become less effective against ever-resistant organisms.

This unfortunate situation has been helped along by a widespread, misguided practice in the medical profession, created by a “better safe than sorry” philosophy, to use them to treat any illness. This has morphed in recent decades into using antibiotics as a preventive measure in those not even exhibiting signs of disease, which then evolved into using antibiotics as a feed additive for livestock. As a result, antibiotic drugs have made their way into the food chain to accelerate, in many people’s opinion, bacterial and viral resistance.

What can we do then as “super-bugs” are on the rise, like Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) which is resistant to the most common antibiotics?

Certainly, continuing research into creating new antibiotics that address resistance is vital. But it won’t be enough: we — both healthcare providers and patients — must also change our approach and attitude toward antibiotics. This means putting in place better prescription guidelines that reduce the application of antibiotics for only those conditions where it’s absolutely necessary. And, we must restrict their use as a preventive measure, particularly in regard to their use in livestock feed.

This will take a change in everyone’s mindset, our professional standards and guidelines, and perhaps our laws. Thankfully, many are seeing the looming danger, and change is already happening. But time is of the essence, and the future depends on it — not just for people today but also for tomorrow’s generations.

If you would like more information on prudent antibiotic use, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Antibiotics: Use and Abuse.”

By Jeffrey H. Wallen DDS
February 16, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tmj disorders  

It’s estimated that between 10 and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic jaw pain and disability. Healthcare providers refer to it as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), a group of conditions characterized by pain and limited function with the jaw joints, as well as related muscles and tissues.

People with TMJD often experience popping, clicking or grating sounds when they move their lower jaw. The more serious symptoms, however, are severe pain and limited movement of the jaw. The causes of TMJD haven’t been fully substantiated, but it’s believed to be influenced by a person’s genetic background, their gender (most patients are women of childbearing age), their environment and behavioral habits. This uncertainty about the underlying causes has made it difficult to improve treatment strategies for the disorder.

One promising area of research, though, is suspected connections between TMJD and other health problems. In one survey of over 1,500 TMJD patients, nearly two-thirds indicated they had three or more other chronic conditions. Among the most frequently named were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disturbances.

We’re not quite sure how or why TMJD might be linked to these other conditions, but further study is underway. Researchers hope any knowledge uncovered could lead to advances in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent TMJD.

Until then, the more traditional treatment approach remains the best course of action: medication to relax muscles and relieve pain; thermal therapies using hot and cold compresses during flare-ups; and physical therapy. Switching to softer foods temporarily may also give jaw muscles a rest from over-activity. Although jaw surgery is an option, we should consider it a last resort after other therapies have proven altogether ineffective in relieving pain and restoring function.

If you suspect you have TMJD, please visit a medical doctor first. Other conditions could mimic the symptoms of the disorder and would need to be ruled out first. If the diagnosis is TMJD, you’re not alone. You can receive information, support and updates on the latest research by visiting the TMJ Association at www.tmj.org.

If you would like more information on chronic jaw pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”

By Jeffrey H. Wallen DDS
February 01, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: smoking  

While cigarette smoking has been linked with lung cancer and heart disease, it, can also contribute to dental disease. You can reduce these risks by doing one thing — quitting smoking.

But that’s easier said than done: forty-six percent of smokers try to quit every year, but only one in ten are successful long term. The difficulty is tied to tobacco’s active ingredient, nicotine, an addictive substance that triggers chemical and behavioral dependence. Nicotine “re-wires” the brain to feel pleasure when it encounters the chemical, and to feel bad when it’s deprived. Social, occupational or recreational activities can further reinforce the habit.

Many smokers try to quit through sheer willpower or “cold turkey.” Because of nicotine’s addictive properties, this rarely works — instead, you need a comprehensive strategy tailored to you.

You should begin first with trying to understand your individual smoking patterns: when do you smoke, how frequently, or during what activities? To help with this you can use a “wrap sheet”, a piece of paper you keep wrapped around your cigarette pack. Each time you take out a cigarette, you would record how you feel on the sheet. This also slows down the action of taking out a cigarette and lighting it, which can help you become less mechanical and more mindful of your habit.

You can also break your dependence by gradually introducing restrictions to your smoking: smoke only in certain locations or at certain times; substitute other stress-relieving activities like a walk or other physical exercise; or gradually reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke. You can do the latter by setting a goal, say to smoke 20% fewer cigarettes each successive week; this will force you to increasingly make choices about when you smoke.

Finally, don’t try to go it alone. You can benefit greatly from professionals, including your dentist, to help you kick the habit through Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NTR) with prescription medication, counseling or smoking cessation support groups.

Quitting smoking isn’t so much stopping a behavior as it is “unlearning” one and establishing new, healthier ones. The first step, though, is accepting you need a change, one that will benefit your whole life.

If you would like more information on quitting smoking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”

By Jeffrey H. Wallen DDS
January 17, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures

Magician Michael Grandinetti mystifies and astonishes audiences with his sleight of hand and mastery of illusion. But when he initially steps onto the stage, it’s his smile that grabs the attention. “The first thing… that an audience notices is your smile; it’s what really connects you as a person to them,” Michael told an interviewer.

He attributes his audience-pleasing smile to several years of orthodontic treatment as a teenager to straighten misaligned teeth, plus a lifetime of good oral care. “I’m so thankful that I did it,” he said about wearing orthodontic braces. “It was so beneficial. And… looking at the path I’ve chosen, it was life-changing.”

Orthodontics — the dental subspecialty focused on treating malocclusions (literally “bad bites”) — can indeed make life-changing improvements. Properly positioned teeth are integral to the aesthetics of any smile, and a smile that’s pleasing to look at boosts confidence and self-esteem and makes a terrific first impression. Studies have even linked having an attractive smile with greater professional success.

There can also be functional benefits such as improved biting/chewing and speech, and reduced strain on jaw muscles and joints. Additionally, well-aligned teeth are easier to clean and less likely to trap food particles that can lead to decay.

The Science Behind the Magic

There are more options than ever for correcting bites, but all capitalize on the fact that teeth are suspended in individual jawbone sockets by elastic periodontal ligaments that enable them to move. Orthodontic appliances (commonly called braces or clear aligners) place light, controlled forces on teeth in a calculated fashion to move them into their new desired alignment.

The “gold standard” in orthodontic treatment remains the orthodontic band for posterior (back) teeth and the bonded bracket for front teeth. Thin, flexible wires threaded through the brackets create the light forces needed for repositioning. Traditionally the brackets have been made of metal, but for those concerned about the aesthetics, they can also be made out of a clear material. Lingual braces, which are bonded to the back of teeth instead of the front, are another less visible option. The most discrete appliance is the removable clear aligner, which consists of a progression of custom-made clear trays that reposition teeth incrementally.

How’s that for a disappearing act?!

If you would like more information about orthodontic treatment please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Magic of Orthodontics.”

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