Posts for: April, 2018
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is mainly caused by bacterial plaque built up on tooth surfaces due to ineffective oral hygiene. For most cases, treatment that includes plaque and calculus (tartar or calcified plaque) removal and renewed daily hygiene is highly effective in stopping the disease and restoring health to affected gum tissues.
However, you might have additional health factors that may make it more difficult to bring the disease under control. If your case is extreme, even the most in-depth treatment may only buy time before some or all of your teeth are eventually lost.
Genetics. Because of your genetic makeup, you could have a low resistance to gum disease and are more susceptible to it than other people. Additionally, if you have thin gum tissues, also an inherited trait, you could be more prone to receding gums as a result of gum disease.
Certain bacteria. Our mouths are home to millions of bacteria derived from hundreds of strains, of which only a few are responsible for gum disease. It’s possible your body’s immune system may find it difficult to control a particular disease-causing strain, regardless of your diligence in oral care.
Stress. Chronic stress, brought on by difficult life situations or experiences, can have a harmful effect on your body’s immune system and cause you to be more susceptible to gum disease. Studies have shown that as stress levels increase the breakdown of gum tissues (along with their detachment from teeth) may also increase.
Disease advancement. Gum disease can be an aggressive infection that can gain a foothold well before diagnosis. It’s possible, then, that by the time we begin intervention the disease has already caused a great deal of damage. While we may be able to repair much of it, it’s possible some teeth may not be salvageable.
While you can’t change genetic makeup or bacterial sensitivity, you can slow the disease progression and extend the life of your teeth with consistent daily hygiene, regular cleanings and checkups, and watching for bleeding, swollen gums and other signs of disease. Although these additional risk factors may make it difficult to save your teeth in the long-run, you may be able to gain enough time to prepare emotionally and financially for dental implants or a similar restoration.
If you would like more information on the treatment of 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 “Periodontal (Gum) Treatment & Expectations.”