A dentist fields some of the questions teenagers who are worried about their teeth are posting on Yahoo Answers

If you have a dental query do you (a) phone a friend for advice, (b) research the answer yourself or (c) seek expert help from a dentist?

Well, according to new research many people experiencing dental pain are exploring a fourth option; turning to Twitter for advice.

Dental-related tweets cover issues including toothache, wisdom teeth and dental braces such as Invisalign. London-based pop singer Lily Allen recently used Twitter to update her followers on the day-to-day progress following a painful tooth extraction.

A study with the catchy title ‘Public Health Surveillance of Dental Pain via Twitter’ collected 4,859 tweets relating to dental pain over just seven days.

It was found that 22 per cent of these tweets were about action “taken or contemplated” and 14 per cent of these actively sought advice from the Twitter community.

The Yahoo Answers website offers even more direct answers about dental queries than Twitter does. The people posing the questions seem to mostly be teenagers – perhaps reflecting young people’s preference for using internet forums.

I asked London dentist Dr. Glafcos Tombolis, who runs Ethicare, to look at some of the questions posed by teenagers on Yahoo Answers.

Kathryn asked: “Will Invisalign clear braces work?” She is 17 and her main concern is that her front six teeth (top and bottom) are pretty crowded – one of the answers mentioned that Invisalign takes a little longer than normal braces.

Glafcos Tombolis: It’s not necessarily true that Invisalign can take longer to have an effect than more old-fashioned braces – sometimes Invisalign can obtain quicker results. The fact that they are clear braces makes them great for self-conscious younger patients. Kathryn should ask her dentist to take a look at the degree of crowding in her teeth and advise her further.

Totoro’s question has the title: “How many months of bulimia until tooth decay?” After 6 months of bulimia will she have tooth decay and will her dentist be able to tell? Is there a legal obligation to tell her parents (her age was not specified)?

GT: Bulimia involves regurgitating acid into the mouth – a harmful action which initially causes acid erosion rather than decay. The effect of this is rather like acid rain falling on rock; it damages the surface. In a tooth’s case this is the enamel. Damaged surface enamel can make tooth decay more likely and cause painful tooth sensitivity too. The dentist should be able to see the results of bulimia. If a patient is below the age of 16, then parents do have a right to know about matters like this.

Tod asks: If you brush AND floss, do you floss before or after you brush?

GT: I always advise that it is better to floss first. You can pull out all the particulate matter and then brush it away afterwards. I’m not sure if there are studies which show that people’s oral health improves if flossing is done first. The important thing is that flossing should be carried out once a day, just find a convenient time to do it.

Singergr’s question has the title: “Tooth changing colour after filling?” The Yahoo Answers member had a filling behind one of his front teeth and discovered to his horror that a tiny part of the tooth looks a blue-ish colour and isn’t smooth.

GT: This discolouration could result from a filling being the wrong shade. It could be that the tooth’s nerve is dying off, which often results in a grey stain appearing. Singergr really needs to see their dentist to find out more.

Alex is one of many teenagers with a wisdom tooth enquiry. At the age of 14 she had an X-Ray where her bottom wisdom teeth were clearly visible under the gum line. However, now 16, she has been told by her orthodontist that she “isn’t going to get wisdom teeth”. Will the wisdom teeth definitely come through?

GT: It’s very rare that you can safely predict that wisdom teeth won’t emerge and need attention. There is always potential for wisdom teeth to emerge, apart from in rare cases where the wisdom teeth are ‘buried’ deep in the jawbone, far away from the mouth.

Lindsey, who is 14-years-old asked: “How young is too young for teeth whitening?”

GT: UK guidelines say that anyone under the age of 14 shouldn’t have teeth-whitening treatment. The youngest patients I have given teeth whitening treatment to have been 17.

A question from a 15-year-old boy with the Yahoo name ‘Unknown’ is typical of many; he wants to be a dentist because he “wishes to be able to make money because my parents don’t make much” but what does he need to study?

GT: Biology, chemistry, maths and physics. Good luck!

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