Tooth decay is a destructive disease that could rob you of your teeth. But it doesn't appear out of nowhere—a number of factors can make it more likely you'll get cavities.
But the good news is you can be proactive about many of these factors and greatly reduce your risk of tooth decay. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to point you in the right direction for preventing this destructive disease.
Do you brush and floss every day? A daily habit of brushing and flossing removes buildup of dental plaque, a bacterial film on teeth that's the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Hit or miss hygiene, though, can greatly increase your risk for developing a cavity.
Do you use fluoride? This naturally occurring chemical has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel against decay. Many locations add fluoride to drinking water—if your area doesn't or you want to boost your fluoride intake, use toothpastes, mouthrinses or other hygiene products containing fluoride.
Do you smoke? The nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels in the mouth so that they provide less nutrients and antibodies to the teeth and gums. Your mouth can't fight off infection as well as it could, increasing your risk of dental diseases like tooth decay.
Do you have dry mouth? This isn't the occasional bout of “cotton mouth,” but a chronic condition in which the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva. Saliva neutralizes mouth acid, so less of it increases your risk for decay. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by medications or other underlying conditions.
Do you snack a lot between meals? Sugary snacks, sodas or energy drinks can increase oral bacteria and acidity that foster tooth decay. If you're snacking frequently between meals, your saliva's acid neutralizing efforts may be overwhelmed. Coordinate snacking with mealtimes to boost acid buffering.
You can address many of these questions simply by adopting a daily habit of brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and eating a healthy, “tooth-friendly” diet. By reducing the risk factors for decay, you can avoid cavities and preserve your teeth.
If you would like more information on preventing 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.”
You're more apt to lose teeth because of periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay than any other cause. But neither of these bacterial diseases have to happen: You can prevent them through daily brushing and flossing and twice-a-year dental cleanings.
But that's not all: You can also boost your dental care practices by eating foods that strengthen and protect teeth. On the other hand, a poor diet could reduce the effectiveness of your oral hygiene practices in preventing tooth decay or gum disease.
A diet that might lead to the latter is often high in refined sugar (sucrose), often added to processed foods and snacks to improve taste. But sucrose is also a top food source for oral bacteria, increasing their numbers when it's readily available. A higher bacterial population greatly increases your risk for tooth decay or gum disease.
On the other hand, certain foods benefit your overall dental health. Fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are filled with nutrients and minerals like vitamin D or calcium that strengthen teeth against disease. And although they can also contain natural sugars, these don't pose the same problems as added sucrose due to the plant fiber you consume with them.
Dairy foods can also help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. Milk and cheese contain minerals like calcium and phosphorus, and a protein called casein, all of which strengthen teeth against decay. The enzymes in cheese stimulate saliva, which in turn neutralizes mouth acid and prevent it from harming enamel.
Some foods are also natural sources of fluoride, a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel. One example is black tea, which also, along with green tea, contains antioxidants that protect against cancer.
The best strategy for “tooth-friendly” nutrition is to pursue a diet that's high in fiber-rich natural foods and low in sugar-added processed foods. In practice, you'll want most of your diet to consist of fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy food, while minimizing foods with added sugar.
Following this kind of diet will certainly benefit your overall health. But it will also make it easier for you to prevent dental disease and keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on how nutrition can boost your 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Kids get pretty inventive pulling a loose primary (baby) tooth. After all, there's a profit motive involved (aka the Tooth Fairy). But a young Kansas City Chiefs fan may have topped his peers with his method, revealed in a recent Twitter video that went viral.
Inspired by all-star KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes (and sporting his #15 jersey), 7-year-old Jensen Palmer tied his loose tooth to a football with a line of string. Then, announcing “This is how an MVP gets their tooth out,” the next-gen QB sent the ball flying, with the tooth tailing close behind.
It appears young Palmer was no worse for wear with his tooth removal technique. But if you're thinking there might be a less risky, and less dramatic, way to remove a loose tooth, you're right. The first thing you should know, though: Primary teeth come out when they're good and ready, and that's important. Primary teeth play an important role in a child's current dental and speech function and their future dental development. For the latter, they serve as placeholders for permanent teeth developing within the gums. If one is lost prematurely, the corresponding permanent tooth might erupt out of position and cause bite problems.
In normal development, though, a primary tooth coming out coincides closely with the linked permanent tooth coming in. When it's time, the primary tooth lets you know by becoming quite loose in the socket.
If you think one of your children's primary teeth is ready, clean your hands first with soap and water. Then using a clean tissue, you should be able to easily wiggle the tooth with little tension. Grasp the tooth with the tissue and give it a little horizontal twist to pop it out. If that doesn't work, wait a day or two before trying again. If it does come out, be sure you have some clean gauze handy in case of bleeding from the empty socket.
Normally, nature takes its course from this point. But be on the lookout for abnormal signs like fragments of the tooth left behind in the socket (not to be mistaken for the top of the permanent tooth coming in). You should also look for redness, swelling or complaints of pain the following day—signs of possible infection. If you see anything like this, make a prompt appointment so we can take a look. Losing a primary tooth is a signpost pointing the way from childhood to adulthood (not to mention a windfall for kids under their pillows). You can help make it a smooth transition—no forward pass required.
If you would like more information about caring for primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
Dental patients have amazing options for tooth replacement. Dental implants, for example, can replace the entire tooth, root and crown, giving patients a new tooth nearly as good as the old one.
Nearly—but not exact. Even implants can't match the full benefits of a natural tooth, including one in less than perfect shape. Our first goal as dentists, then, is to save a diseased tooth if at all practical before considering replacing it.
That often involves a root canal treatment to address decay threatening a tooth's interior. The procedure requires drilling into the tooth to access its innermost pulp, cleaning out the pulp and root canals, and then filling the empty spaces. Since all dentists are trained in basic root canal treatment, your general dentist may be able to perform it.
But some dental situations call for more advanced endodontics, the dental specialty for treating disease and other problems inside a tooth. So, in what situations would you see an endodontist?
When your dentist refers you. Your dentist wants you to receive the level of treatment necessary to save your tooth. After examination, they may determine your situation would be better served by the advanced training, equipment and techniques (including surgery) of an endodontist.
When your tooth has complications. Patients often need an endodontist when existing factors complicate treatment of advanced tooth decay. A patient may have dental pain that's difficult to pinpoint, requiring the diagnostic resources of an endodontist. It's also common for a tooth's root canal network to be highly intricate, and which respond better to treatment with specialized endodontic tools and techniques.
When root canal treatment fails. Most root canal treatments are successful in protecting the tooth from further infection. That said, it's still possible for a root-canaled tooth to become re-infected or develop more problems. Again, an endodontist and their “tool chest“ re-treating a root-canaled tooth may be the best option for saving it.
You also don't have to wait for a referral—you can see an endodontist if you believe they would be best to treat your decayed tooth. You can find one near you by visiting an online endodontist directory at www.aae.org/find. An endodontist may be the lifesaver your diseased tooth needs.
Over the years, dentists have become quite proficient in treating even the most severe periodontal (gum) disease. Many of these positive outcomes are achieved through manual effort using simple hand instruments called scalars and conventional periodontal surgery.
But that might be changing soon: Periodontists (specialists who care for the gums and other supporting dental structures) are starting to use a different kind of tool for gum disease treatment—surgical lasers.
Although lasers are more commonplace in other fields of medicine, recent developments hint at a more prominent future role for them in dentistry. One of these developments is a laser procedure called Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP®) that treats deep spaces of infection called periodontal pockets, which develop advanced gum disease.
These pockets form as infected gums gradually detach from a tooth as the supporting bone is lost. This widens the normally narrow gap between the teeth and gums. The ensuing pocket fills with infection that must be removed to adequately treat the gum disease. As the pocket extends down to the root, it's often necessary to perform a surgical procedure through the adjacent gum tissue to fully access it.
But with the LANAP® procedure, the dentist can use a laser to access a deep pocket without opening the gums. Moving from above into the gap between the tooth and gums, the light from the laser has the ability to remove diseased tissue without damaging healthy tissue.
The dentist follows this with ultrasonic equipment and manual scalers to further decontaminate the tooth root surface. The laser is then employed once again to facilitate the formation of a blood clot between the teeth and gums to seal the area with a fibrin clot. Once treated, the dentist will monitor the tooth to ensure maximum bone regeneration and gum reattachment.
Although outcomes are the same for the most part, this laser technique for periodontal pockets may have some advantages over conventional surgery. Studies so far show that LANAP® causes less tissue removal and bleeding, less potential for gum recession and less discomfort experienced by patients.
It's not likely that lasers will fully replace conventional gum disease treatments any time soon. But if the encouraging evidence thus far continues, the laser will one day become as commonplace alongside the other tools used for gum disease treatment.
If you would like more information on treatments for gum disease, 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 “Treating Gum Disease With Lasers.”
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