Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air, but is the end result of bacteria feeding on sugar, multiplying and producing acid. High acidity erodes tooth enamel and creates an environment for cavity development.
Modern dentistry can effectively treat cavities and often save the tooth from further damage. But you don't have to wait: You can reduce your chances of cavities by managing risk factors that contribute to decay.
Here are 4 top risk factors for tooth decay and what you can do about them.
Poor saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acid and helps restore minerals to enamel after acid contact. But your enamel may not have full protection against acid if you have diminished saliva flow, often due to certain medications. You can help increase your saliva by consulting with your doctor about drug alternatives, drinking more water or using a saliva boosting product. Smoking can also inhibit saliva, so consider quitting if you smoke.
Eating habits. High sugar content in your diet can increase bacterial growth and acid production. Reducing your overall sugar consumption, therefore, can reduce your risk of decay. Continuous snacking can also increase your decay risk, preventing saliva from bringing your mouth back to its normal neutral pH. Instead, limit your snack periods to just a few times a day, or reserve all your eating for mealtimes.
Dental plaque. Daily eating creates a filmy buildup on the teeth called dental plaque. If not removed, plaque can then harden into a calcified form called calculus, an ideal haven for bacteria. You can help curtail this accumulation by thoroughly brushing and flossing daily, followed by dental cleanings at least every six months. These combined hygiene practices can drastically reduce your cavity risk.
Your genetics. Researchers have identified up to 50 specific genes that can influence the risk for cavities. As a result, individuals with similar dietary and hygiene practices can have vastly different experiences with tooth decay. Besides continuing good lifestyle habits, the best way to manage a genetic disposition for dental disease is not to neglect ongoing professional dental care.
If you would like more information on managing your tooth decay risk factors, 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.”
Today’s technologically advanced dentures aren’t your grandparents’ “false teeth.” Now made with superior materials and processes, you could almost forget you’re wearing them. But don’t let that cause you to leave them in for the night: While it may seem like a harmless thing to do, wearing dentures 24/7 may not be good for them or your health.
For one thing, around the clock denture wearing could worsen bone loss, already a concern with dentures and missing teeth. The forces generated when we chew on natural teeth stimulate new bone growth to replace older bone cells. When teeth go missing, though, so does this stimulus. Even the best dentures can’t restore this stimulation, so bone loss remains a risk.
And, dentures can accelerate bone loss because of the added pressure they bring to the bony gum ridges that support them. Wearing them all the time deprives the gums of any rest, further speeding up the pace of bone loss. Losing bone volume not only affects your overall oral health, it will gradually loosen your dentures’ fit and make them uncomfortable to wear.
Another problem: You may clean your dentures less frequently if you don’t take them out at night. Lack of cleaning can encourage bacterial growth and lead to disease. Studies show that people who don’t take their dentures out at night have more dental plaque accumulation, gum inflammation and higher blood counts of the protein interleukin 6, indicating the body is fighting infection.
And that’s not just a problem for your mouth. Continuous denture wearing could make you twice as likely to develop life-threatening pneumonia as someone who routinely takes their dentures out.
These and other concerns make nightly denture removal a good practice for your health’s sake. While they’re out, it’s also a good time to clean them: Manually brush them for best results (be sure you’re only using regular soap or denture cleanser—toothpaste is too abrasive for them). You can then store them in clean water or a solution designed for dentures.
Having said all that, though, there may be one reason why wearing dentures at night might be beneficial—it may help prevent obstructive sleep apnea. If you have this condition, talk to your dentist about whether wearing your dentures at night has more advantages than disadvantages. And, if bone loss created by wearing dentures is a concern, it could be resolved by having implants support your dentures. Again, discuss this with your dentist.
Taking care of your dentures will help increase their life and fit, and protect your health. And part of that may be taking them out to give your gums a rest while you’re resting.
If you would like more information on denture care, 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 “Sleeping in Dentures.”
Just like adults, teenagers experience chipped, stained or disfigured teeth. And during a life stage where issues with appearance can be acutely painful, these defects call out for a solution.
And, there is one: porcelain veneers. These thin wafers of custom-made porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to cover dental flaws. They’re one of the least invasive—and most affordable—methods for smile enhancement.
There is one caveat, though: The affected teeth will most likely need alteration. Veneers can look bulky when bonded directly to teeth, so we compensate for this by removing some of the surface enamel. This changes the tooth permanently, to the point that it will always require a veneer or some other form of restoration.
But although this may be a minor issue for an adult, it could pose a problem for a teenager. That’s because the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth containing nerves and blood vessels, is larger in a younger adolescent tooth than in an older adult tooth. Because of its size, it’s closer to the tooth’s surface. During enamel reduction for veneers on a young tooth, this could lead to inadvertent nerve damage. If that happens, the tooth may need a root canal treatment to preserve it.
If the adolescent tooth needing a “facelift” has already been root canaled or sustained significant structural damage, then altering it for veneers may not be too concerning. Likewise, if the teeth are smaller than normal, the bulkiness of a veneer may actually improve appearance and not require alteration. We’ll need to examine a young patient first before making any recommendations.
There are also alternatives to veneers for improving smile appearance. Enamel staining could be enhanced temporarily with teeth whitening. Small chips can be repaired with bonded dental material, or in skilled hands be used to “build” a veneer one layer at a time with no enamel reduction. Although not as durable as regular veneers, these bonding techniques could buy time until the tooth is more mature for veneers.
Whichever path we take, there are effective ways to transform a teenager’s flawed tooth. And that can make for an even better smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Henry Ford famously said a customer could have any color they wanted on their Model T “as long as it was black.” Those days are over—today’s cars and trucks come with a slew of options, and not just their paint color.
There’s something else with a wide array of possible options: your choice of toothbrush. Your local store’s dental care aisle has dozens of toothbrushes in a myriad of sizes, shapes and features. And many promise better hygiene outcomes because of their unique design.
It’s enough to make your head spin. But you can narrow your search for the right toothbrush— just look for these basic qualities.
Bristle texture. At this all-important juncture between brush and teeth, softer-textured bristles are better. That might sound counter-intuitive, but soft bristles are just as capable at removing bacterial plaque, that sticky tooth film most responsible for dental disease, as stiffer bristles. Stiffer bristles, on the other hand, can damage gums and cause recession. Also, look too for rounded bristles (gentler on the gums), and multi-leveled or angled ones for better access around teeth.
Size and shape. Toothbrushes come in different sizes because, well, so do mouths. Look, then, for a brush and bristle head that can comfortably reach all the teeth in your mouth. If you have problems with manual dexterity, choose a brush with larger grip handles. A brush that’s comfortable to use and easy to handle can make your brushing more effective.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. The American Dental Association tests hygiene products like toothbrushes. If they pass the association’s standards, the manufacturer includes the ADA Seal of Approval on their packaging. Not all submit their brushes for this evaluation, so the seal’s absence doesn’t necessarily mean a brush is of low quality. The seal, though, does tell you the product passes muster with dental professionals.
It often takes a little trial and error to find the right brush, but since you should change yours out every six months, it’s a small price to experiment. And, no matter how great the brush, it’s only as good at removing plaque as the hand that holds it. So, be sure you learn proper brushing techniques—that and the right brush will keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on choosing the right toothbrush, 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 “Sizing Up Toothbrushes.”
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