Tooth decay is as relentless as it is destructive, and it makes little distinction between age, gender, ethnicity or social status. Although risk levels vary from person to person, we’re all potentially in the crossfire for this harmful disease. Getting ahead of it early could save your teeth.
Tooth decay begins with oral bacteria. While feeding on dental plaque that accumulates on the teeth, bacteria multiply and produce acid as a by-product. Too much acid softens and erodes tooth enamel, which enables decay to advance deeper into the tooth.
If it isn’t stopped, decay can eventually infect and weaken the roots and bone, and ultimately lead to a lost tooth. By stopping it as early as possible before it reaches the inner pulp and root canals, we can greatly limit the damage.
Regular dental care is crucial for early detection. Here’s how we can stay ahead of developing decay during dental visits.
Visible inspection. There are visible signs a trained dentist may notice that point to tooth decay. Besides an already formed hole or cavity, we might also pick up on other unusual appearances like white spot lesions: these slight blemishes often occur in the areas of contact with other teeth, which we can treat with topical fluoride.
X-rays. This tried and true diagnostic tool has been a mainstay of dental care for nearly a century. The images they produce can indicate decay as darker spots or areas on or within the tooth that may not yet be visible to the eye. And with advances in digital processing and more streamlined equipment, we can effectively do this with a very low dosage of radiation exposure.
Advanced technology. We’ve developed other means for better disease detection that complement x-rays and visual inspections. Specialized microscopes and lasers are now important tools for analyzing suspected areas of early decay.
Even if decay gets a foothold we can effectively stop it and restore a tooth with a root canal treatment or a similar procedure. The best outcome, though, is to not allow this destructive disease to get that far. With dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits that uncover early decay, chances are good your teeth can remain healthy for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on fighting 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
For over half a century, dentists have promoted a proven strategy for sound dental health. Not only is this strategy effective, it’s simple too: brush and floss every day, and visit your dentist at least twice a year or as soon as you see a problem.
Unfortunately, this strategy isn’t resonating well with people between the ages of 18 and 34, known more commonly as the “millennials.” A recent survey of 2,000 members of this age bracket found a startling number: over one-third didn’t brush their teeth as often as recommended, some going as long as two days between brushings. About the same number also reported fear of dental visits. Given all that, the next statistic isn’t surprising: tooth decay affects one in three people in the millennial age group.
This isn’t to pick on millennials, but to point out that good oral hygiene naturally leads to good oral health, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. Here’s more about the dental care basics for better health.
Brush twice, floss once daily. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a thorough brushing with toothpaste containing fluoride twice a day. You also shouldn’t neglect a once a day flossing between teeth to remove plaque from areas brushing can’t effectively reach. Keeping plaque accumulation to a minimum is the best way to prevent diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Visit your dentist at least twice a year. Dental visits every six months (or more if your dentist recommends it) accomplish two things: a professional dental cleaning removes any buildup of plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) missed by daily hygiene. It also allows your dentist to inspect your teeth and gums for any signs of disease that may require treatment.
See your Dentist ASAP if you notice problems. You should also see your dentist sooner if you notice anything abnormal like unusual spotting on the teeth, tooth pain or sensitivity, or swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. These are all signs of disease, and the sooner it’s treated the less chance your teeth and gums will suffer serious harm.
Like other age groups, millennials know the importance of a healthy smile, not only for social and career interaction, but also for their own personal well-being. Sticking to a regular dental care program is the primary way to keep that healthy smile.
Your teeth were meant to shine! Tooth enamel’s polished translucence, framed by the dentin layer beneath it, has a way of vibrantly catching the light when you smile. But tooth wear and structural changes as you age can dim that shine. Add to that staining caused by foods and beverages or disease and your smile could further lose its luster.
On your supermarket or pharmacy oral hygiene aisle you’ll find dozens of products promising to restore that lost luster, including toothpastes, whitening kits or even chewing gum. While such products work to some degree, our dental office may have the right solution for you: a safe and effective treatment for whitening teeth.
Why see us for teeth whitening? For one, professional whitening solutions contain a higher concentration of bleaching agent (usually 35-45% hydrogen peroxide) than home kits. We usually apply it in a gel form directly to the teeth while using barrier devices like dams to protect the lips and other soft tissue from irritation. We may then apply heat or light to the applied gel to enhance the release of peroxide into your enamel.
This professional procedure can often give you a brighter smile in fewer sessions than a home whitening kit — and it may last longer. What’s more, we can control the level of brightness to produce only a subtle change or a dazzling “Hollywood” smile — whatever your preference.
Like a home kit, this procedure bleaches staining on the outer surface of enamel, known as extrinsic staining. But you can also have discoloration deep within a tooth, known as intrinsic staining, caused by a variety of reasons like tetracycline use early in life or complications from a root canal treatment. Home kits or even the professional treatment described above can’t whiten intrinsic staining.
For intrinsic staining you’ll need a special procedure that places a bleaching agent inside the tooth. Depending on the extent of staining the procedure could require more than one session.
To find out what kind of discoloration you have, visit us for a full examination. We’ll then be able to give you your options for putting the shine back in your smile.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Teeth Whitening.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on dental health, 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.”
Your gums aren’t just for show—they also play an important role in supporting and protecting your teeth. Healthy gums are essential for healthy teeth.
Your gums can take a lot from daily chewing or other environmental factors. Unfortunately, disease or trauma can weaken their resilience. This weakening could lead to gum recession.
Gum recession occurs when the tissues covering a tooth begin to lose their attachment and shrink back (recede). As a result, the tooth appears “longer” as more of it that’s normally below the gum line becomes visible. Not only is gum recession unattractive, it also exposes more of the tooth to disease-causing bacteria.
The most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease, an infection arising from the accumulation of a thin bacterial biofilm on the teeth called plaque. Infected gums become inflamed, a normal defensive response to isolate diseased or damaged tissues from the rest of the body. Chronic inflammation, however, weakens affected tissues over time and results in bone loss.
Other factors can also contribute to gum recession. A tooth that didn’t erupt properly and has come in away from the center of its protective bony housing can impede adequate gum coverage. Your gum tissue thickness, which you genetically inherit, can also increase the risk of gum recession. People with thinner gum tissues are more susceptible to recession than with thicker tissues.
You can also damage your gums (ironically) while trying to care for them. Over-aggressive brushing over time may traumatize the gums to the point that they recede. While it’s essential in removing disease-causing dental plaque, brushing only requires a gentle scrubbing action covering all portions of tooth surfaces. The brush bristles and mild abrasives in the toothpaste do most of the work of plaque removal.
To minimize the chances of gum recession, you should practice proper oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups. And you might also consider orthodontics for improperly positioned teeth that could not only improve your smile, but also your gum health.
And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum infection like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you begin gum disease treatment, the less likely your gums will recede in the future.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession: Getting Long in the Tooth.”
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