Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk of tooth decay, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
If a pain you’ve been feeling goes away, you might believe the problem that caused it is gone too. But that doesn’t mean it has, especially with a tooth. An excruciating toothache that suddenly stops should still be examined. Here’s why.
Tooth decay often works its way into a tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp, which contains bundles of nerves and other tissue. The infection attacks the nerves, which send pain signals to the brain. As the infection persists, though, the nerves will eventually die and will no longer be capable of sending pain signals — hence the “mysterious” end of your toothache.
Although the pain has stopped, the infection is very much active in the tooth and will continue to work its way through the root canals to the jaw. And ultimately, the pain will return as the infection invades the bone.
But there’s good news: a tooth in this condition can be saved with a procedure known as root canal therapy. We drill a small hole in the tooth to access the pulp, usually through the biting surface of back teeth or in the rear in front teeth. Once inside the pulp chamber, we clean out the infected and dead tissue. We then fill the empty pulp chamber and the root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole. In a few weeks the tooth receives a life-like crown to further protect it from re-infection and fracture years later.
A straightforward root canal treatment can be performed by a general dentist. If there are complications like a complex root canal network, however, then the skills and specialized equipment of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals) may be needed.
A root canal treatment resolves the real cause of a toothache that suddenly stopped, as well as puts an end to future pain and infection related to the tooth. More importantly, it can save your tooth and add many more years to its life.
If you would like more information on tooth 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 “A Severe Toothache.”
Dentures in one form or another have been around for centuries. Although dental implants have earned a well-deserved prominence of late, the denture still remains a viable tooth replacement option.
What's more, dentures aren't reserved for total tooth loss only. Even if you've lost just a few of your teeth, we can fit you with a removable partial denture (RPD). Although mainly considered a temporary solution for missing teeth, some people depend on an RPD for many years due to finances or other issues.
The traditional RPD consists of a rigid acrylic plastic base that resembles gum tissue supported by a metal framework, with prosthetic (false) teeth precisely placed to fill the space of the missing teeth. They're held in place with metal clasps that extend from the metal framework to fit over the remaining natural teeth.
Although they're an effective restoration, traditional RPDs have a few drawbacks. Some people find them uncomfortable to wear or have an allergy to the acrylic plastic. They also have a propensity to stain from beverages like tea, coffee or wine.
But there's a more recent version called a flexible RPD that addresses these and other concerns. It's made of a pliable nylon that's durable, yet comfortable to wear. Rather than metal clasps, they're secured in place with thin, finger-like nylon extensions that fit into the small, natural depressions in the crowns of the teeth around the gum line.
Flexible RPDs are also highly adaptable to appear life-like in many situations. We can fashion the nylon base to cover areas around natural teeth where the gums may have receded due to gum disease.
They do, however, have a few downsides. Unlike traditional dentures, they're difficult to reline or repair. Like any oral appliance, they can suffer from wear and neglect, so you must properly clean and maintain them. And, like any RPD their best role is as a temporary bridge rather than a permanent restoration.
In the meantime, though, you can count on a flexible RPD to restore your ability to eat and speak proficiently, as well as smile with confidence. It's a great affordable way to address a few missing teeth.
If you would like more information on dentures as a restoration option, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures.”
E-cigarettes have taken the world by storm, especially among younger adults. The reason: the widespread perception that “vaping” is healthier than smoking tobacco.
But a deeper look at this wildly popular habit reveals a product that doesn't live up to its reputation as smoking's “safer alternative.” One aspect of health that's especially in harm's way is the mouth: Teeth and gums could in fact be just as prone to disease with an e-cigarette as the tobacco variety.
E-cigarettes are handheld devices that hold a cartridge of liquid vaping product, which is then heated to produce an inhalable vapor. Technically, it's an aerosol in which solid chemical compounds within the vaping liquid are suspended in the vapor. The aerosolized vapor thus serves as a transporting medium for these chemicals to enter the user's body.
It's these various chemicals inhaled during vaping that most concern dentists. Top on the list: nicotine, the addictive chemical also found in regular tobacco. Among its other effects, nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, causing less blood flow of nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the gums and teeth. This not only heightens the risk for gum disease, but may also mask initial infection symptoms like swelling or redness.
Flavorings, a popular feature of vaping solutions, may also contribute to oral problems. These substances can form new chemical compounds during the vaping process that can irritate the mouth's inner membranes and trigger inflammation. There's also evidence that e-cigarette flavorings, particularly menthol, might soften enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay.
Other chemicals commonly found in vaping solutions are thought to increase plaque formation, the sticky film on teeth that is a major cause for dental disease. And known carcinogens like formaldehyde, also included in many formulations, raise the specter of oral cancer.
These are just a few of the possible ways vaping may damage oral health. Far from a safe tobacco alternative, there's reason to believe it could be just as harmful. The wise choice for your body and your mouth is not to smoke—or vape.
If you would like more information on the oral hazards of e-cigarettes, 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy doesn't require an elaborate plan. It's simple: Besides twice-a-year dental visits, the most important thing you can do is brush and floss every day to remove accumulated dental plaque.
The bacteria that live and breed in this thin biofilm is the main catalyst for both tooth decay and gum disease, the top two diseases that endanger teeth. Brushing and flossing removes this buildup and thus reduces the long-term risk for either disease.
Unfortunately, the message on these important hygiene tasks hasn't resonated with “Millennials,” the first generation to reach adulthood in the 21st Century and new millennium. One recent survey of 2,000 members of this age group found only about 30% brushed their teeth at least once a day, with many skipping the task for two days at a time.
If brushing has taken a beating among millennials, you can well imagine the state of flossing. Unfortunately, the news media has helped this along: Just a few years ago, the Associated Press reported a study that concluded flossing's role as a dental disease deterrent hadn't been proven. A follow-up study a year or two later by the University of North Carolina pushed back on the original AP story with findings of lower risk of tooth loss among flossers than non-flossers.
This decline in oral hygiene practices among millennials has had an unsurprisingly negative effect. Recent statistics indicate that one in three people between the ages of 18 and 34 have some form of untreated tooth decay. As this generation ages this may inevitably result in more extensive dental treatment and higher rates of tooth loss unless the trend toward hit and miss dental care makes a complete U-turn.
The good news is that it may not be too late for many of those slacking on daily care. All that's needed is to heed the same dental advice their grandparents and parents were given: Brush twice and floss once every day.
No matter what your age, consistent daily brushing and flossing still remains essential to keeping potential dental disease at bay. These twin hygiene tasks remain the solution to good dental health throughout your life.
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