Wax to the Rescue

Dec. 1, 2007
The reliable weather radio sounds a shrilling alarm to alert you about approaching inclement weather.

by Karen Kaiser, RDH

The reliable weather radio sounds a shrilling alarm to alert you about approaching inclement weather. You head for home’s safe haven. When you arrive, the power dims off and on and then goes out. As you come to a sudden stop in the darkness, you realize you have no idea where the flashlight may be hiding, or even if the batteries are fresh. The next best thing to shed light in the darkness is the scented, three-wick candle that has always been a decoration to dust around on the sofa table. Moving toward the scent, you locate the candle. You fumble for the lighter in a drawer to bring the needed glow to the wicks. The now-lit candle flickers brightly and the wax melts, pools, and eventually trickles down the candle’s sides. The waxy candle, which was once just an ornamental object, undeniably has come to the rescue. Simple wax, so basic to candles, can also come to the rescue in dentistry.

Ask any orthodontic patient who recently had hardware installed and he or she will most assuredly state that the basic wax placed on the new brackets is a comforting must during the adjustment phase. Wax placed on brackets shields the tissues from catching and tearing on orthodontic brackets by covering bracket and wire. Wax easily molds onto brackets and fills in sharper spaces. Once the tissue has become accustomed to the newly placed brackets, ligatures, and wires, the tissue eventually accepts the hardware and becomes somewhat calloused. Bracket wax placed on orthodontics need not be seen as basic, however. Plak Smackers has an orthodontic home-care kit that has the needed wax included along with other orthodontic upkeep items.

Masel, known for its orthodontic products, offers relief wax for patients to carry in smaller convenient cases, perfect for on-the-go use. This relief wax is available in different colors and scents — orange, lime, cherry, grape, and bubblegum.

Ordinary wax may take on a glossy finish. Carnauba wax, derived from the leaves of a palm plant found in Brazil, may be found in products such as candy corn, floor polishes, and as a common coating for dental floss. In the dental field, it is common to have both waxed and unwaxed floss varieties. When wax is applied to floss, the floss will be more shred-resistant, making flossing easy for the patient. When floss slides easily between the teeth, shredding is avoided. Flavorings are sometimes incorporated into the woven fibers.

Single-use floss products coated with wax are also available. Floss&Go brand has prepackaged dental floss singles, which save time chairside because they have 18 inches of floss ready for use. Floss&Go is available in mint waxed and gliding floss singles. The floss has natural beeswax or candelilla wax, which keeps the floss from tearing in tight contacts. These single-use floss packages are ideal for clinical use.

Woven floss may be found with a wax coating and flavored as well. Wax coating technology makes the floss easy to insert without sticking. When floss works easily into contacts, the gentle flossing on the gumline provides effective plaque removal. Many of our patients have challenging areas where it is difficult to maneuver floss.

Fussy flossers appreciate floss that suits their needs. Tom’s of Maine carries waxed and lightly waxed floss products that contain no synthetic waxes. The type of wax used in this floss is naturally made beeswax, carnauba wax, and jojoba wax from the jojoba plant.

The term “wax” covers and is incorporated into a wide array of products. A common candle’s wax, for example, is refined from petroleum or vegetable or plant-based waxes such as soy, palm, or beeswax. Beeswax is found in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals and in polishing materials and modeling waxes. All-purpose dental wax, also known as utility wax, is available in wax sticks, square ropes, and round strips. Although these waxes may not be commonly used on a daily basis in clinical dental hygiene, these types of waxes do come in handy.

One will find this type of utility wax to be especially helpful when taking impressions. When trays are not custom-made, and perhaps when using disposable trays, wax can be used as a comforting cushion. Hygienic wax sticks may be placed on the tray edges to increase a tray’s height, especially when seating an impression on a patient who has a deep vestibule. This utility wax may be pushed onto the tray and acts as a cushion in the vestibule when the tray is fully seated. Impression material such as alginate will fill the tray more completely and allow for better tissue detail. Wax may also be lightly flavored and available in colors other than clear depending on the wax type. And because wax is soft, it will be comforting to the patient’s tissues.

Wax is also found as an additive in chewing gum. When wax is added to chewing gum, it acts as a softening agent. The wax usually used for gum is paraffin wax or microcrystalline wax. Microcrystalline wax is characterized by the crystal’s fineness compared to paraffin wax, which is a larger molecule and less flexible.

Another beneficial additive in chewing gum is xylitol. This plaque-reducing sweetener has the ability to attract harmful bacteria, allowing the mouth to naturally remineralize tooth structure as the xylitol starves the destructive microorganisms. Orbit, Trident, and Carefree Koolerz chewing gums are popular consumer gums containing xylitol. Spry chewing gum offered by Xlear has 100 percent xylitol and is formulated with beeswax.

Without wax, common consumer and dental office products would be more challenging to use. Patients with tight contacts may find waxed floss to be more effective than unwaxed floss varieties. Orthodontic patients would not have the comforting relief on their tissues if wax were not available for them to use on brackets, ligatures, and wires.

When the alarm sounds and patients’ tissues need relief — whether they may need a special type of floss or gum product — look to simple waxes to come to the rescue.

The author did not receive compensation for the products mentioned. For more information, visit the Web at www.maselortho.com, www.flossandgo.com, plaksmackers.com, www.tomsofmaine.com, www.xlear.com, www.orbit.com, www.tridentgum.com, and www.hersheys.com.

About the Author

Karen Kaiser, RDH, graduated from St. Louis’ Forest Park dental hygiene program in 1994 and currently practices at the Center for Contemporary Dentistry in Columbia, Ill. She has written several articles for RDH and other publications, sits on dental hygiene panels, and is an evaluator for Clinical Research Associates. She can be contacted at [email protected].