Although preventable, the occurrences of tooth decay are all too common. Yet decay doesn’t appear out of the blue: certain mouth conditions set the disease in motion.
Here are a few signs of such conditions to watch for — they could be telling you you’re at higher risk for tooth decay.
Visible plaque. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food accumulating on tooth surfaces and a prime haven for causing periodontal disease. If you actually see it — a crusty, yellowish film — that means there’s a large, unhealthy amount of it. It’s essential to remove it daily through diligent brushing and flossing and more thorough office cleanings at least twice a year.
Poor saliva flow. One of this bodily fluid’s functions is to neutralize mouth acid, usually thirty minutes to an hour after we eat. If saliva flow is inadequate, though, acid levels may remain high and endanger the enamel. “Dry mouth” can occur from a number of causes, including some medications and chemotherapy treatments. It’s important to alleviate the cause if possible by changing medications or stimulating saliva flow through other means.
Tooth shape and appliances. Largely determined by heredity, your teeth contain unique, tiny grooves known as pits and fissures that could harbor plaque. Certain appliances like retainers, braces or night guards can inhibit saliva flow and cause your teeth to retain more plaque. It’s important then to adjust your hygiene efforts to offset these anatomical or treatment factors.
Acid-producing conditions. Diseases like gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or eating disorders can introduce stomach acid into the mouth that is highly erosive to tooth enamel. It’s imperative for you or a family member to control these conditions through medication, dietary changes, or — in the case of eating disorders — behavioral therapy.
Eating habits. Sugar and other carbohydrates are a ready food source for bacteria. Likewise, acidic foods and beverages (like coffee, tea, and sports or energy drinks) can cause high acid levels for too long. Cut back on eating and drinking these foods and beverages, especially as snacks, to reduce acid levels that could lead to decay.
If you would like more information on strategies to prevent 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.”
There are two basic facts about tooth decay: 1) next to the common cold, it’s the world’s most prevalent infectious disease; and 2) with modern dentistry, it’s preventable.
Getting from Fact 1 to Fact 2 requires the daily hygiene habits of brushing and flossing. You probably learned these tasks when you could barely peer over the bathroom sink; but the real question is: are you getting the most benefit from your efforts? It’s not merely doing them, but doing them the right way.
For example, bearing down on your teeth and brushing vigorously isn’t just unhelpful, it’s damaging. Instead, you should hold your brush with perhaps just two fingers at a 45-degree angle relative to your gum line and “gently” scrub with short circular or “wiggly” strokes. Continue this action around each arch brushing all tooth surfaces, which should take about two minutes.
Your toothbrush itself is also important: most people (unless otherwise directed by their dentist) should use a multi-tufted brush with soft bristles. If you brush with the proper pressure it should last 4 to 6 months before replacing it. You should also replace it if the bristles become worn or splayed.
Flossing once a day is important for removing the plaque between teeth your toothbrush bristles can’t reach. The best technique is to form a “C” with the floss that wraps around each tooth and move it up and down gently three or four times until you hear a squeaky clean sound on both sides of the tooth.
The ultimate test of your efforts comes during your regular dental checkups. You can get a check now, though, on how you’re doing by using your tongue to feel your teeth at the gum line. If they feel smooth and slick, you’re probably doing a good job of plaque removal; but if they feel a bit rough and gritty, you’re missing some of the plaque and need to be more thorough when brushing. You can also use floss by running it up and down the tooth surface — if it squeaks, they’re clean!
Your particular dental condition may require specific treatment or the use of other dental products like antibacterial mouthrinses. But learning and practicing proper brushing and flossing is key to keeping teeth and gums healthy and disease-free.
Stained teeth can be embarrassing — so much so you may even hesitate to smile. Before you seek out a whitening solution, though, there are a few things you need to know about tooth staining.
Tooth staining is more complex than you might think. There are actually two types: extrinsic, staining from foods and other substances of the outer surface of the enamel; and intrinsic, discoloration deep within a tooth that affects their outward appearance. The latter staining has a number of causes, including the type of dental materials used to fill a tooth, a history of trauma or the use of the antibiotic tetracycline during early tooth development.
There are some noticeable differences between the two types, although an examination is usually necessary to determine which you have. Extrinsic staining tends to be brown, black, or gray, or occasionally green, orange or yellow. Intrinsic staining can be red, pink or, if caused by tetracycline and fluoresced under ultraviolet light, yellow. If only one tooth is discolored it’s most likely intrinsic due to decay in the tooth pulp.
What can be done also depends on which type. Extrinsic staining can be modified through whitening, with either an office application or a home kit (there are differences, so you should consult with us before you decide). It may also be essential to modify your diet by restricting foods and beverages (coffee, wine or tea) known to cause staining and by eliminating tobacco use. You should also practice daily hygiene, including brushing with a toothpaste designed to diminish staining, and regular office cleaning and polishing.
Intrinsic staining can’t be addressed by these methods. Instead, you may need to undergo a procedure where we enter the interior of the tooth and insert a bleaching agent. If this isn’t an option, you can also choose a cosmetic restoration such as a porcelain veneer or crown that will cover the tooth to better match the color of your other teeth.
Dealing with stained teeth begins with a visit to our office to determine what type of discoloration you have and to learn your options. But regardless of what type you have, there is a way to a brighter smile.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of tooth staining, 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 Staining.”
Although highly preventable, total tooth loss continues to affect millions of people worldwide, harming their nutrition, health and social standing. In the United States alone, a quarter of adults between 65 and 74 suffer from total tooth loss.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to restore lost teeth, including fixed bridgework and dental implants. These fixed solutions, though, can put a strain on finances; implants in particular require a minimum amount of bone in the jaw, which may not be present in people with extensive tooth loss. In these cases, removable dentures, time-tested and affordable, are a viable option.
While the technology is simple, adaptable and effective, creating custom-fitted dentures is a painstaking process. It begins with an impression mold of the patient’s jaw ridges that once supported the natural teeth. A dental lab technician uses the impression to fashion a life-like plastic resin base, making sure the final dimensions won’t interfere with the patient’s cheeks, lips, and jaw movement.
The prosthetic (artificial) teeth, each chosen to match the patient’s facial structure and past appearance, are then carefully positioned on the base. Teeth positioning on each denture arch must also balance with the opposing arch to assure a good bite. Once delivered, the dentist may make other adjustments to assure they fit comfortably within the patient’s mouth.
Dentures also require regular care and maintenance to ensure a continuing good fit and an overall healthy mouth. Your gums will still be susceptible to disease, so cleaning and maintaining both your dentures and the mouth’s soft tissues is an ongoing necessity.
The lack of natural teeth can also lead to more bone loss, which can cause the dentures to lose their accurate fit and make them uncomfortable to wear. To remedy this, we can add more resin material to the dentures to refit them or, in extreme cases of poor fit, create a new denture to match current gum contours. Alternatively, we can install a few dental implants that will support the denture instead of the gum ridges, which would inhibit further bone loss.
To learn whether dentures could be a good option for you, we’ll first need to conduct a thorough examination of your mouth. It could be this original tooth replacement system will bring back the teeth and smile you’ve lost.
If you would like more information on dentures, 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 “Removable Full Dentures.”
As a regular part of your daily hygiene you may be using a mouthrinse — or “mouthwash” — mainly to keep your mouth feeling fresh and clean. Some mouthrinses, though, do more than give you fresher breath.
While there are countless mouthrinses available, we can place all of them into two broad categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. The first refresh your mouth and breath, usually with a mentholated or minty taste and smell that masks unpleasant odors. How well they work is mainly subjective: if you feel better after using them, they’ve done their job.
Therapeutic rinses have a different role, intended to improve oral health in some way. We can divide these into anti-cariogenic (decay prevention) or anti-bacterial rinses. You can find fluoride-based anti-cariogenic rinses over-the-counter in retail or drug stores, usually containing about .05% sodium fluoride per volume. Numerous studies have shown these rinses highly effective in preventing tooth decay when used with daily brushing and flossing.
Likewise, over-the-counter antibacterial rinses have proven somewhat effective in reducing bacteria that leads to dental disease. Formulated usually with triclosan, sanguinaria extract, zinc or essential oils, they can also help reduce the incidence of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), but only if used in conjunction with brushing and flossing.
Perhaps, though, the most widely studied and substantiated therapeutic mouthrinse is chlorhexidine, a prescription-only rinse. Chlorhexidine inhibits the formation of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces, the main trigger for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s often used as a post-surgery rinse when brushing and flossing may not be possible, but dentists will often prescribe it for patients who have a high propensity for dental disease.
Using a mouthrinse depends on your current oral health and personal preferences. Therapeutically, most people gain some added tooth strength protection from using a fluoride rinse in their daily hygiene. If fresh breath and the way your mouth feels are important to you, you should consider such a rinse that also has a pleasant taste and effect for you. We can further discuss with you whether a different type of rinse, or a prescription-strength formula, might be best for your particular needs.
If you would like more information on mouthrinses, 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 “Mouthrinses.”
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