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.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
What happens when you lose a tooth? In the short-run, it can certainly undermine your appearance and ability to efficiently chew and digest food. But a chain of events could also be set in motion that may cause the most harm to your appearance and health—and it all has to do with bone loss.
Our bones aren't just rigid structures providing a frame for our bodies. They're living tissue with other purposes like producing blood cells and regulating the endocrine system. Bone tissue is constantly replenishing itself as older cells die and newer ones take their place.
In the jawbone, the pressure generated by the teeth while biting and chewing travels through the roots to stimulate the growth of new bone. If a tooth goes missing, however, the bone around the tooth also loses this growth stimulus.
This can cause normal bone growth to slow so that dying bone cells aren't sufficiently replaced. The bone may then diminish at an alarming rate—a decrease in width of about 25% in the first year after a tooth loss and several millimeters in height after only a few years.
This bone loss can continue to advance, especially if multiple teeth are lost, until the jaw structure as a whole loses significant height. The bite may then collapse, forcing the front teeth to push forward. In this state, a person may not be able to adequately bite or chew food. It can also damage their appearance—their smile suffers, of course, but their entire face may also appear shrunken.
You may be able to avoid this scenario if you replace missing teeth with dental implants. In addition to their life-likeness and durability, implants can also stop or slow bone loss. This is because titanium, the principle metal used in an implant, has a strong affinity with bone: Bone cells readily grow and attach to the titanium surface and foster new growth.
But don't wait: Bone loss could eventually extend beyond what an implant can accommodate—you may then need grafting to build up the bone or consider a different type of restoration. So, speak with your dentist as soon as possible about an implant restoration for a lost tooth to help avoid significant bone loss.
If you would like more information on how tooth loss can affect your life, 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
It’s hard to avoid stress in the 21st Century. We’re all bombarded with stressors, from work to family — even our smart phones!
The problem really isn’t the stressors themselves but how we respond to them and try to relieve stress. This can often have a negative effect on our health. One example: bruxism, also known as teeth grinding or clenching.
These habits involve the rhythmic or spasmodic clenching, biting or grinding of the teeth, often involuntarily, beyond normal chewing function. It often occurs while we sleep — jaw soreness the next morning is a telltale sign. While there are other causes, stress is one of the most common for adults, bolstered by diet and lifestyle habits like tobacco or drug use, or excessive caffeine and alcohol.
Teeth grinding’s most serious consequence is the potential for dental problems. While teeth normally wear as we age, grinding or clenching habits can accelerate it. Wearing can become so extensive the enamel erodes, possibly leading to fractures or cracks in the tooth.
When dealing with this type of bruxism, we must address the root cause: your relationship to stress. For example, if you use tobacco, consider quitting the habit — not only for your overall health, but to remove it as a stress stimulant. The same goes for cutting back on your consumption of caffeinated or alcoholic drinks.
Adopt an “unwinding” pattern at night before you sleep to better relax: for example, take a warm bath or keep work items or digital media out of the bedroom.Â Many people also report relaxation or stress-relief techniques like meditation, mindfulness or biofeedback helpful.
There’s another useful tool for easing the effects of nighttime teeth grinding: an occlusal guard. This custom-fitted appliance worn while you sleep prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other when you clench them. This can greatly reduce the adverse effects on your teeth while you’re working on other stress coping techniques.
Teeth grinding or clenching can prove harmful over time. The sooner you address this issue with your dentist or physician, the less likely you’ll experience these unwanted consequences.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for teeth grinding, 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 Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”
When you floss (you do floss, right?), you probably notice a sticky, yellowish substance called plaque stuck to the thread. This thin film of tiny food particles and bacteria is the reason you floss and brush in the first place: Because it's the main trigger for tooth decay and gum disease, removing it decreases your risk for disease.
But this isn't the only form of plaque you should be concerned about. That same sticky substance can also interact with your saliva and harden into what's commonly known as tartar. Dentists, however, have a different term: They refer to these calcified deposits as calculus. And it's just as much a source of disease as its softer counterpart.
You might have noticed that this form of plaque has the same name as an advanced type of mathematics. Although dental calculus has little in common with algebra's cousin, both terms trace their origins back to the same linguistic source. The word “calculus” in Latin means “small stone;” it became associated with math because stone pebbles were once used by merchants long ago to calculate sales and trades.
The term became associated with the substance on your teeth because the hardened plaque deposits resemble tiny stones or minerals—and they can be “as hard as a rock” to remove. In fact, because they adhere so firmly it's virtually impossible to remove calculus deposits with brushing or flossing alone. To effectively eliminate calculus from tooth surfaces (including under the gum line) requires the skills and special dental tools of dentists or dental hygienists.
That's why we recommend a minimum of two dental cleanings a year to remove any calculus buildup, as well as any pre-calcified plaque you might have missed with daily hygiene. Reducing both plaque and calculus on your teeth fully minimizes your risk of dental disease. What's more, removing the yellowish substance may also brighten your smile.
That's not to say daily brushing and flossing aren't important. By removing the bulk of plaque buildup, you reduce the amount that eventually becomes calculus. In other words, it takes both a daily oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits to keep your teeth healthy and beautiful.
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