Your teeth are under constant attack from bacteria that normally live in your mouth. When these bacteria thrive, they create acid that begins to dissolve the minerals in your enamel (the outer layer of your teeth). In your defense, your saliva protects against these bacteria and adds minerals back to your enamel. Let's take a look at this ongoing battle, and what you can do to sway it in a positive direction.
The outer covering of your teeth, the enamel, is made mainly of the minerals calcium and phosphate. The enamel protects the interior layer of your teeth, the dentin, which is similar in composition to bone. Although it is the hardest substance in your body, the enamel is still vulnerable to attack.
Your mouth is normally full of saliva, which washes over your teeth and maintains a balance between acids and bases. The terms “acids” and “bases” refer to a scientific measurement, the pH scale. Your mouth's pH is usually in the middle of the scale — neither acidic nor basic, but neutral. This is important in controlling the bacteria in your mouth.
You may be surprised to know how many bacteria live in everyone's mouth. More bacteria live in a single mouth than the number of people who have ever lived on earth. Some of these bacteria can cause tooth decay. Let's call them “bad bacteria.”
When the bad bacteria attach themselves to dental plaque — a film that builds up on your teeth every day — they begin to consume sugars that are in your mouth from foods that you have eaten. As the bacteria break down these sugars and turn them into energy, acid is produced as a by-product. This turns the saliva from neutral to acidic.
At a certain level of acidity, minerals in your enamel start to dissolve. This is called “de-mineralization.” It means that more calcium and phosphate are leaving the tooth's surface than are entering it. Early de-mineralization of the enamel shows up as white spots on a tooth.
Fortunately, healthy saliva can return calcium and phosphate to the enamel, or re-mineralize it. De-mineralization and opposing re-mineralization are constantly battling in your mouth. However, if too much enamel is de-mineralized, bacterial acid can go on to attack the next layer of your teeth, the dentin. As this process continues, you develop a dental cavity.
How can you protect your teeth? The first level of defense is regular removal of plaque, so that the bad bacteria do not get a foothold. In an office visit we may also recommend products such as sealants, antibacterial agents, topical fluoride, calcium and phosphate supplements, pH neutralizers, special toothpaste and rinses, which may help your particular situation.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about tooth decay. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World's Oldest & Widespread Disease.”
If you have ever had tooth decay, you should know:
- Tooth decay is one of the most common of all diseases, second only to the common cold.
- Tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children ages 2 to 5, half of those ages 12 to 15, and more than 90 percent of U.S. adults over age 40.
- Tooth decay causes pain, suffering and disability for millions of Americans each year — even more disturbing, tooth decay is preventable.
- If it is not treated, in extreme and rare cases tooth decay can be deadly. Infection in an upper back tooth can spread to the sinus behind the eye, from which it can enter the brain and cause death.
- Tooth decay is an infectious process caused by acid-producing bacteria. Your risk for decay can be assessed in our office with a simple test for specific bacterial activity.
- Three factors are necessary for tooth decay to occur: susceptible teeth, acid-producing bacteria and a diet rich in sugars and refined carbohydrates.
- Babies are not born with decay-causing bacteria in their mouths; the bacteria are transmitted through saliva from mothers, caregivers, or family members.
- Fluoride incorporated into the tooth structure protects teeth against decay by making the enamel more resistant to acid attack.
- Sealants, which close up the nooks and crannies in newly erupted teeth, stop bacterial collection where a toothbrush can't reach. Teeth with sealants have been shown to remain 99 percent cavity-free over six years.
- Restricting sugar intake is important in preventing tooth decay. Your total sugar intake should be less than 50 grams a day (about ten teaspoons) including sugars in other foods. A can of soda may have six teaspoons of sugar — or more!
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about tooth decay. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay – The World's Oldest & Most Widespread Disease.”
In recent years, the number of teenagers with eating disorders has increased dramatically. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), as many as 24 million Americans suffer from some form of eating disorder and 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
There are many long-term problems associated with eating disorders, including osteoporosis, infertility and anemia. Another unfortunate side-effect involves dental health. If your child suffers from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of food binges and vomiting, his or her teeth may show signs of tooth erosion.
Tooth erosion occurs when the tooth surface loses enamel after exposure to acid. It affects more than 90% of individuals with bulimia and 20% of individuals with anorexia nervosa, a disorder that involves starvation. There is often overlap between the two diseases — those with anorexia may sometimes binge and purge, and those with bulimia may try to restrict their food.
Each disorder results in dental diseases for different reasons. In bulimia, tooth erosion is caused by vomit, which is highly acidic and damaging. The frequency that a person engages in this activity will determine how much the teeth are affected. Usually, we will notice this erosion on the upper front teeth. In more severe cases, the salivary glands can become enlarged, causing puffiness on the side of the face. Anorexics, on the other hand, may have dental problems because they are often negligent about grooming and hygiene in general, including oral hygiene.
Every time your teenager visits our office, we will conduct a thorough examination, which includes looking out for the specific signs of eating disorders. If we do find that your teenager has severe tooth erosion, we'll be sure to discuss our findings with you. We may recommend a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce its loss. Most importantly, you should speak with your child and seek guidance from a professional to help deal with the issue.
If you would like more information about eating disorders and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bulimia, Anorexia and Oral Health.”
The image of Grandma and Grandpa taking out their dentures every night and placing them in a glass of water by the bed is still a reality for a lot of people.
If you have dentures, you probably know that the conditions in your mouth will or have changed over time, necessitating adjustments. This is because full dentures exert continuous pressure on the gum tissues and underlying bone of your jaw resulting in a slow shrinkage. The gum tissues, and the bone beneath, atrophy or melt away. The result — over time the dentures lose their original tight fit and become loose. This can cause discomfort and embarrassment as the dentures slip and slide around.
Reline (refit) your current dentures. If your dentures are in good condition and are functional, applying a new inner lining to the dentures will restore their former fit. Because the rate of bone loss differs from person to person, some denture wearers may need more frequent relines than others. A temporary reline involves adding a layer of moldable plastic material under the denture while you are in the dentist's chair. The material will harden and fill in spaces where the gums have shrunk away from the denture. For a more permanent relining, the dentures must be sent to a dental lab, which will replace the temporary material with permanent denture material. This can usually be done in one day.
A new set of dentures. If your dentures are worn or you cannot speak, eat, bite or chew properly with them, a new set of dentures may be the answer. The condition of your jaw is another factor. If examination shows that a reline will not achieve the fit and stability you need, then remaking the dentures is another option.
Dental Implants — State-of-the-art tooth replacement systems. Dentures used to be the only solution to the problem of missing teeth, but with today's technology it's amazing what dentists can do. Implants do not only replace teeth but also stabilize the gradual bone loss that takes place when teeth are missing. Choose dental implants to replace at least two of your missing teeth to anchor your dentures and make them more stable.
Have all your missing teeth replaced with dental implants. Dental implants are generally the best option for long-term denture wearers who have endured jawbone loss and can no longer tolerate dentures alone. Bridgework (or dentures) are attached to the implants, stabilizing them and the underlying bone. The new teeth also provide support to the face, lips and cheeks giving a more youthful appearance.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to discuss your questions about dentures and other tooth restorations. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Loose Dentures.”
While most people can expect to have a temporary case of bad breath after eating spiced foods like garlic, smoking, drinking coffee or wine, odor that persists and becomes chronic is not something to take lightly. We can help diagnose the underlying cause of your bad breath, making both you and the people around you much happier!
Chronic bad breath, also known as “halitosis,” affects about 25% of Americans to some extent. Treating the condition effectively requires a thorough oral examination to uncover the source of the odor. Although some forms of bad breath can be caused by medical conditions like diabetes, lung infections, even kidney failure and cancer, between 85% and 90% of cases originate in the mouth. There are more than 600 types of bacteria found in the average mouth and, given the right (or, should we say, wrong) oral environment, dozens of these bacteria can produce foul odors including a “rotten egg” smell from the production of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs).
Some of the oral causes of bad breath include:
- Naturally occurring bacteria found on the back of the tongue that thrive on food deposits, dead skin cells and post nasal drip (Yuck!);
- Dry mouth, after sleeping, especially when an individual breathes through his or her mouth;
- Unclean dentures;
- Decaying or abscessed teeth;
- Diseased gums; and
- Infected tonsils.
Once the exact origin of the odor has been determined, we can tell you what form of treatment you'll need to successfully banish the bad breath for good. If your problem is merely the result of poor oral hygiene you can play a large role in turning your situation around. In any case, treatments for mouth-related halitosis can include:
- A careful, at-home plaque control routine using dental floss and a special toothbrush designed to clean between teeth — nobody really knows how to properly clean without professional instruction;
- In-office and at-home tongue cleaning using a tongue scraper or brush;
- Instruction on how to properly clean your dentures;
- To treat underlying gum disease, periodontal therapy in the form of a deep cleaning, also known as scaling or root planing; and
- Extraction of wisdom teeth that exhibit debris-trapping gum tissue traps.
So if you are ready to toss your breath mints away and pursue a more permanent solution to rectify your mouth odor, call our office today to schedule an appointment. For more information about the causes of bad breath, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
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