Posts for tag: tooth decay
Tooth decay (also known as caries by professionals and as cavities by consumers) is an infectious disease process that damages tooth structure. Cavities, hollowed-out holes in the teeth, are the most common result of untreated caries. It affects millions of Americans, young and old alike.
How does this destructive process happen? It begins when acid-producing bacteria multiply beyond normal levels in the mouth. Dental plaque, a film of remnant food particles and bacteria, cover the teeth due to poor oral hygiene. The bacteria break down sugars and carbohydrates present in the mouth, which in turn produces acid. Too many “bad bacteria” can raise the acidic level in the mouth.
The normal pH level of the mouth is neutral — 7 on the pH scale. But when the acidic level increases, dropping the pH to 5.5, the calcium and phosphate minerals in the hard, protective layer of tooth enamel begin to dissolve in a process known as de-mineralization. A healthy flow of saliva, however, acts as a buffering agent to return the pH level of the mouth back to neutral. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate that can replace those lost from the enamel and is referred to as re-mineralization.
So, a constant battle rages within the mouth. On one side acid-producing bacteria, the possible absence of saliva, and poor diet and hygiene habits create the conditions where teeth enamel loses its mineral strength, allowing decay to eventually invade the fragile inner dentin of the tooth; on the other side is an adequate flow of saliva, a good diet and hygiene, boosted by treatment options like sealant application, antimicrobials and the topical application of fluoride.
The key, of course, is prevention. We add protection to the teeth by strengthening them; applying fluoride topically is the best approach, along with sealants that can be applied in our office. We reduce the level of acid-producing bacteria, usually with an anti-bacterial mouth rinse. You can also adopt a healthier diet that limits sugars and carbohydrates and reduces snacking between meals.
These preventive measures, along with early treatment of known tooth decay, can help you avoid the full impact of this destructive disease.
If you would like more information on tooth decay and how to prevent it, 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.”
Refined sugar — most commonly consumed as table sugar or high fructose corn syrup — has developed a reputation as Public Health Enemy #1 among many consumers. These consumers are seeking ways to cut back or even eliminate refined sugar from their diets.
But that may be easier said than done because of our innate “sweet tooth” — the basic human desire for the taste of sweetness in our food. It's been demonstrated to have a biological basis, tapping into the “feel good” reward centers of our brain. For many of us, this desire is a craving that begs to be satisfied.
Artificial sweeteners are now used by many consumers to satisfy this desire apart from refined sugar. The question is, are they safe for your health and well-being? And when it comes to your teeth, do they hinder or promote good oral health?
As to the first question, all the major types of artificial sweeteners (saccharine, aspartame, sucrolose, acesulfame K and rebaudioside A) have undergone rigorous test trials and research for many years. The result, amid wide scientific agreement, is that they indeed are safe if consumed in acceptable levels, and all are FDA-approved.
In recent years different kinds of sweeteners called sugar alcohols (like Xylitol) have been approved as safe and are growing in popularity. The biggest difference between these and the traditional artificial sweetener is a low presence of calories while artificial sweeteners contain none.
So how do these two categories affect dental health? Of greatest significance is that, unlike refined sugar, these sweeteners do not feed the growth of decay-causing bacteria in the mouth. In fact, there is some evidence that sugar alcohols may actually reduce bacteria levels.
While there are still some concerns that artificial sweeteners may contribute to overeating or metabolic problems, there are no current official guidelines against their use. And when used moderately, there is evidence that Xylitol may even be an effective weapon in the fight against tooth decay.
If you would like more information on artificial sweeteners and how they may affect your oral 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
Dentists go to great lengths to save an adult permanent tooth. Even though restoration technology is incredibly advanced, none can completely replace the biological function of natural teeth. Treating a diseased tooth to preserve it is a high priority in dentistry.
It would seem, though, that a child’s primary (baby) tooth might not warrant the same treatment. Since the tooth eventually detaches from the jaw to make way for a permanent tooth, why save it?
It is worth the effort, because primary teeth provide more than a chewing function: they also serve as guides for their permanent successors. When they’re lost prematurely, the permanent teeth may not come in correctly, leading to a malocclusion (poor bite). Other areas of development, like speech and dental bone growth, may suffer as well from the longer time gap between the premature loss and the permanent tooth eruption.
Saving an infected primary tooth should be considered, especially if significant time remains in its lifespan. Due to differences between primary and permanent teeth, though, the treatment approach isn’t the same. For example, the body gradually absorbs the roots of a primary tooth (a process called resorption) as the permanent tooth beneath erupts applying pressure to the primary roots (this is what enables its eventual detachment). Dentists must factor this process into their diagnosis and treatment plan for a primary tooth.
The level of treatment may vary depending on how deep the infection has advanced. If the decay is limited to the tooth’s outer layers and only partially affects the pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth, a dentist may remove as much soft decay as possible, apply an antibacterial agent for any remaining hardened infection, and then restore the tooth with filling materials.
For deeper infection, the dentist may remove some or all of the pulp, disinfect and clean the area, and then fill and seal the empty space with a filling. A filling material like zinc oxide/eugenol paste should be used that’s capable of resorption by the body to coincide with the natural root resorption. After treatment, the tooth should continue to be monitored for changes in appearance or gum swelling, just in case the infection returns or advances.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, treating a primary tooth as you would its successor is worth the effort. Your child will reap the health benefits, both now and long after the primary tooth is gone.
If you would like more information on endodontic treatment for children, 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children’s Teeth.”
Tooth decay can be relentless: left untreated it can work its way into a tooth’s inner core — the pulp chamber or better known as the root canal. Once this occurs, the best course of action to save the tooth may be a root canal treatment to clean out the diseased pulp (nerve) and seal the canal from further decay.
So, what signs and symptoms might you encounter if decay has invaded a tooth’s root canal? When the pulp is first infected you may experience acute pain; over time, however, the pain may suddenly dissipate. This doesn’t mean the tooth has healed itself — quite the contrary, it may mean the infected pulp tissue, including the nerves, has died. Once the nerves die, they no longer transmit pain signals to the brain.
While the pain may cease, the infection hasn’t and will continue to travel from the end of the tooth root into the bone. At this point, you may encounter pain whenever you bite on the tooth. This time the pain is originating in nerves located in the periodontal ligament that surrounds the tooth root and joins the tooth with the jawbone. This can lead to an acute abscess (with accompanying pain) or a chronic abscess that may have no pain symptoms at all. As the decay progresses you may eventually suffer bone and tooth loss.
The important point here is that you may or may not notice all the signs and symptoms that indicate deep decay within a tooth. That’s why it’s important to undergo a thorough dental examination if you have any symptoms at all, especially acute pain that “mysteriously” disappears.
A root canal treatment and removal of the decayed tooth structure will stop the progress of tooth decay and preserve the tooth. The longer you delay, though, the greater the risk your tooth will eventually lose the battle with tooth decay and infection will continue to spread.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”
A consistently dry mouth is not only uncomfortable and unpleasant but also probably more serious than you think. Dry mouth, medically known as xerostomia (“xero” – dry; “stomia” – mouth) affects millions of people, but few understand why it happens or why it is important.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
It is normal to awaken with a dry mouth because saliva flow decreases at night. But if your mouth is persistently dry throughout the day, it may be a result of habits such as smoking, alcohol or too much coffee drinking or even dehydration. It is also a common side effect of some medications. Xerostomia is not a disease in itself, but it could be a symptom of salivary gland or other systemic (general body) disease.
Why is Saliva Important?
A persistently dry mouth can be a problem. Not only does it feel unpleasant and lead to bad breath, it can also significantly increase your risk for tooth decay. Saliva lubricates your mouth for chewing, eating, digestion and even speaking. Saliva also has important antibacterial activities. Most importantly normal healthy salivary flow neutralizes and buffers acids in the mouth to protect the teeth from the acids produced by bacteria on the teeth that cause decay, and by acids in sodas, sports drinks and juices that can erode tooth enamel.
Not only does saliva neutralize acids but with its high mineral content it can actually reverse de-mineralization — the process by which acids attack enamel and remove calcium from the enamel surface. Healthy saliva actually re-mineralizes the outer layers of tooth enamel, but the process can take 30-60 minutes. That's why it's important not to snack on sugars or drink sodas between meals — one an hour and your mouth is acidic all the time.
Individuals without enough saliva are especially at risk for root decay and fungal infections, and they are also more likely to lose tooth substance through abrasion and erosion.
What Can We Do for a Dry Mouth?
If your mouth is usually dry, make an appointment with us to assess the causes of the problem. However it may be more serious with medical implications. The solution may be as simple as drinking more water and using good daily oral hygiene, or it may necessitate prescription medication to promote more saliva flow.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your dry mouth and what we can do to help. For more information read the article in Dear Doctor magazine “Tooth Decay – How To Assess Your Risk.”