Advanced tooth decay is a serious dental problem that can threaten an affected tooth's survival. But for decades now dentists have reliably used root canal treatment to better a decayed tooth's odds. This routine procedure performed with dental drill and special hand tools removes infected tissue inside a tooth and replaces the voids with a filling to prevent future infection.
But now there's a new way to perform a root canal—with a surgical laser. Lasers, amplified and focused light beams, aren't new to healthcare—they're an integral feature of many routine medical treatments and surgeries. But their use is relatively new to dentistry, and to endodontics (treating the interior of teeth) in particular.
Lasers can be used in root canal treatment to perform a number of tasks. They can remove diseased tissue and other debris from the innermost tooth pulp. They can be used to clean and shape root canal walls in preparation for filling. And they can also be used to soften and mold the filling material to fit more precisely within a tooth's particular root canal network.
Although laser-assisted root canal therapy isn't yet widespread, laser's limited use to date has given us a fair picture of both their advantages and disadvantages. As with other medical laser applications, lasers are very precise in removing diseased tissue without too much disruption of healthy tissue. There's less need for anesthesia than with dental drills, and lasers are a lot less noisy and jarring. Patients by and large experience less bleeding, as well as less discomfort or infection afterward.
But because laser light can only travel in a straight line, they're difficult to use in many tightly curved root canals. In these cases, the traditional methods are better suited, although a laser can be used in conjunction with other tasks. Temperature with lasers must also be carefully managed lest the high heat that's often generated damages natural tissues.
Although lasers won't be replacing traditional treatment methods for decayed teeth in the foreseeable future, there's hope they'll become more commonplace as technology and techniques continue to advance. Lasers can only improve what already is an effective means of saving teeth.
If you would like more information on treatments for advanced 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 “Laser-Assisted Root Canal Treatment.”
Most dental problems arise from tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But they aren't the only source of danger to your teeth—gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be just as damaging to your tooth enamel as dental disease.
GERD usually occurs when a ring of muscles at the top of the stomach weaken, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This resulting acid reflux can make life unpleasant and pose potential health dangers—over time it can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause ulcers and pre-cancerous cells. It can also erode tooth enamel if acid enters the mouth and raises its level of acidity.
This can be a problem because acid can soften and dissolve the mineral content of tooth enamel. This is the primary cause of tooth decay as acid produced by oral bacteria attack enamel. The more bacteria present, often thriving in dental plaque, the higher the potential levels of acid that can damage enamel. Stomach acid, which is strong enough to break down food, can cause similar harm to enamel if it causes higher than normal acidity in the mouth.
There are some things you can do to protect your teeth if you have GERD, namely manage your GERD symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. You may need to avoid alcohol, caffeine or heavily acidic or spicy foods, all known to aggravate GERD symptoms. Quitting smoking and avoiding late night meals might also ease indigestion. And your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help control your acid reflux.
You can also boost your teeth's enamel health by practicing daily brushing and flossing—but not right after a reflux episode. The enamel could be softened, so brushing can potentially remove tiny particles of mineral content. Instead, rinse with water mixed with or without a little baking soda to help neutralize acid and wait about an hour—this will give saliva, the mouth's natural acid neutralizer, time to restore the mouth's normal pH level.
And be sure you're using a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens enamel—in fact, your dentist may recommend topical fluoride applications to boost the effect.
These and other tips can help minimize the effects of GERD on your dental health. With an ounce of prevention, you can keep it from permanently damaging your teeth.
If you would like more information on managing your dental health with GERD, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Entering your “sunset” years doesn't mean you're washed up—you still have a lot to offer the world. That's why the theme for this May's Older Americans Month (sponsored by the Administration for Community Living) is “Make Your Mark.” And to really make that difference, you'll have to maintain your health—including protecting your teeth from loss.
Once upon a time, it was considered the norm for older adults to experience tooth loss and the resulting consequences on their overall well-being. Today, though, not only can advanced restorations lessen the impact of lost teeth, it's also more likely that you can keep your teeth intact for the rest of your life.
To give your teeth their best chance for survival in your later years, here are 3 things you can do to promote their continuing health.
Brush and floss every day. Ridding your teeth of disease-causing plaque on a daily basis is important at any age, but perhaps even more so as you get older. However, hand weakness caused by arthritis or another health condition can make it more difficult to brush and floss. It may help to use a larger-handled toothbrush or an electric toothbrush, and a threading device may help with flossing. If manual flossing is still too difficult, you can try a water flosser that emits a water stream to loosen and flush plaque away.
Relieve chronic dry mouth. Older adults are more prone to chronic dry mouth because of increased use of medications, many of which interfere with saliva flow. It's more than an unpleasant feeling: Deprived of the protective properties of saliva, your mouth is at increased risk of dental disease. If dry mouth is a problem for you, speak with your doctor about alternatives to any saliva-inhibiting medications you're taking. Also, drink more water and use saliva boosters to promote better saliva flow.
Keep up dental visits. Regular dental visits become even more important as you age. Dental cleanings are especially necessary, particularly if you have dental work that can interfere with plaque removal during brushing and flossing. Disease monitoring and screening are more in-depth for older adults who are more prone to tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer. And if you wear dentures, you should have them checked regularly for fit and overall condition.
If you've already enjoyed decades of dedicated dental care, you need only stay the course. But even if you haven't, adopting new dental care habits now can boost your teeth's health and longevity. To get started, make an appointment with us: We'll assess your current dental health and offer a care strategy for keeping your teeth healthy through the next exciting season of your life.
If you would like more information about dental care for older adults, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
Oral cancer is one of the more dangerous malignancies people face. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of this deadly disease through changes in lifestyle habits and behaviors.
Two of the better known behaviors for increased oral cancer risk are immoderate consumption of alcohol and the use of tobacco, particularly chewing tobacco and snuff. Eliminating these, especially the latter, can vastly improve your odds of avoiding cancer. Another factor is a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) that's transmitted sexually, which you can avoid through safe sex practices.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, there's one more you should make to lower your oral cancer risk: adjustments to your diet. Research over the last half century has provided ample evidence of a link between the foods we eat and our risk of all types of cancers, including oral.
The biggest concern is over certain elements in some foods that can damage DNA, the molecular “operating instructions” that regulate the formation and function of our bodies' cells. These elements are collectively known as carcinogens because of their role in cancer formation.
An example of a carcinogen is a group of chemicals called nitrosamines. These form during preservation processes using nitrites in meats like bacon or ham. They're also found in beer or certain preserved fish. To limit your consumption of nitrosamines, you should reduce these and other processed products and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables, or organic meats and dairy products.
Our DNA can also be damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals that arise during normal cellular function. But there are also substances known as antioxidants that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Many plant-based foods contain nutrients like vitamins C and E that have antioxidant properties, so including them in your diet could help reduce your oral cancer risk.
Several clinical studies over the years have been consistent in their findings that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of oral or throat cancers, as well as other forms of cancer. Making changes to your diet in that direction, plus other lifestyle changes, could help you avoid this devastating oral disease.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
The month of May blossoms annually with commencement ceremonies honoring students graduating from high schools, colleges and universities. For each graduate, the occasion represents a major milestone along their road to adulthood. It's also an appropriate time to assess their dental development.
Although our teeth and gums continue to change as we age, the greatest change occurs during the first two decades of life. In that time, humans gain one set of teeth, lose it, and then gain another in relatively rapid succession. The new permanent teeth continue to mature, as do the jaws, up through the time many are graduating from college.
Of course, you don't have to be in the process of receiving a diploma to “graduate” from adolescent to adult. If you are in that season, here are a few things regarding your dental health that may deserve your attention.
Wisdom teeth. According to folklore, the back third molars are called wisdom teeth because they usually erupt during the transition from a “learning” child to a “wise” adult. Folklore aside, though, wisdom teeth are often a source for dental problems: The last to come in (typically between ages 17 and 25), wisdom teeth often erupt out of alignment in an already crowded jaw, or are impacted and remain hidden below the gums. To avoid the cascade of problems these issues can cause, it may be necessary to remove the teeth.
Permanent restorations. Though not as often as in adults, children and teens can lose teeth to disease, injury or deliberate removal. Because the jaw is still in development, dental implants are not generally advisable. Instead, patients under twenty often have temporary restorations like partial dentures or bonded bridges. As the jaws reach full maturity in a young adult's early 20s, it's often a good time to consider a permanent implant restoration.
Smile makeovers. An upcoming graduation is also a great reason to consider cosmetic smile upgrades. When it comes to improving a smile, the sky's the limit—from professional teeth whitening for dull teeth to porcelain veneers or crowns to mask dental imperfections. It's also not too late to consider orthodontics: Braces or the increasingly popular clear aligners can straighten almost anyone's teeth at any age, as long as the person is in reasonably good health.
This may also be a good time to update your own personal care. Regular dental visits, along with daily brushing and flossing, are the foundation stones for keeping your teeth and gums healthy throughout your life. So, as you “commence” with this new chapter in your life, make a dental appointment now to “commence” with a renewed commitment to your dental health.
If you would like more information about adult dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Teenagers & Dental Implants.”
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