Teeth can take a lot of force over a lifetime of biting and chewing, thanks to enamel, their outer layer made of the strongest substance in the human body. Unfortunately, they’re not invincible: it’s even possible for you to break or “fracture” a tooth while biting or chewing normally.
Although such a fracture might seem to occur out of the blue, it’s usually related to a condition known as cracked tooth syndrome. It usually occurs in three stages: in the first, miniscule cracks in the outer enamel known as craze lines develop. They’re not immediately dangerous since they only involve the enamel surface; but left untreated they could deepen and progress to the next stage, a larger crack that penetrates the tooth’s underlying dentin.
If allowed to grow, this crack in turn can lead to the third stage, a full fracture that could extend down to the root. A fracture can put the tooth in danger of loss, especially if its inner pulp becomes exposed. To avoid this worst case, it’s best to treat the tooth at the earliest stage possible when craze lines are just developing.
There is a difficulty, though, with detecting craze lines — they’re small, too small to detect normally with x-rays. We, therefore, rely on other methods such as using an instrument called an explorer to feel for cracks, having the patient bite on a stick or rubber pad to replicate pain symptoms or using fiber-optic lighting with special dye stains to highlight possible cracks. Endodontists, specialists in root canals, can use microscopic equipment that’s quite adept at detecting craze lines.
There are also some signs you can be on alert for that might indicate a craze line or crack. If you feel a short, sharp pain — a “wince” — when chewing and releasing food, you could have a crack that hasn’t yet affected the nerves. If a true fracture occurs, the pain will intensify and you may notice pieces of the tooth coming off. If the crack extends to the root, the pain will become greater and more chronic.
It’s important then that you see us for any recurring pain symptoms as soon as possible. If it’s a crack, the sooner it’s treated the better your tooth’s chances for survival.
If you would like more information on cracked tooth syndrome, 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 “Cracked Tooth Syndrome.”
Vacationing abroad can be the trip of a lifetime — or a nightmare if you have a medical or dental emergency while traveling. Dental care in many locations around the world can be limited, expensive or even dangerous.
Here are 3 important things you should to do to prepare for a possible dental emergency during that dream vacation in a foreign country.
Have a complete checkup, cleaning and necessary dental work before you leave. Whoever said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” must have been a traveler. Better to take care of problems beforehand than have them erupt into an emergency far from home. Be sure especially to have decayed or cracked teeth repaired, as well as any planned dental work like root canal treatments before you go. This is especially important if you’re flying — high altitudes can increase pressure and pain for many dental problems.
Research your destination’s available dental and medical care ahead of time. Standards and practices in other countries can differ from those in the United States, sometimes drastically. Knowing what’s available and what’s expected in terms of service and price will help immensely if you do encounter a health emergency while traveling. A good starting place is A Traveler’s Guide to Safe Dental Care, available at www.osap.org.
Know who to contact if you have a dental emergency. While it may be frightening having a dental issue in a strange place, you’re not alone — there are most likely a number of fellow Americans in your location who can help. Have contact information ready for people you know or military personnel living in your locale, as well as contacts to the American Embassy in that country. And if you’re staying in a hotel, be sure to make friends with the local concierge!
It’s always unsettling to have a dental emergency, but especially so when you’re far from home. Doing a little preparation for the possibility will help lessen the stress if it happens and get you the help you need.
If you would like more information on preparing for dental emergencies while traveling, 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 “Traveling Abroad? Tips for Dealing with Dental Emergencies.”
A focus on dental care in senior citizens is just as important as it is for children. Indeed, oral health in your later years can be a major factor in your quality of life.
For one, aging effects on other parts of the body can make dental care more challenging. Some hygiene tasks once performed easily become harder — arthritis, for example, or loss of muscle strength may make it difficult to hold a toothbrush or floss. In such cases, you may need to find new ways to make the task easier: a power toothbrush with a larger handle; pre-loaded floss holders or a water flosser; or adaptations to a manual brush to make it easier to hold, like attaching a tennis ball or bike handle.
Other age-related conditions — and their treatments — can negatively impact oral health. Less saliva production, which is a consequence of aging or certain drugs, increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Older adults often develop gastric reflux problems that can introduce tooth enamel-eroding stomach acid into the mouth. And medications called bisphosphonates, often prescribed to treat osteoporosis, may interfere in rare cases with bone healing after tooth extraction or similar procedures.
Prior dental work can also prove challenging to treating dental disease. It becomes more difficult to preserve teeth threatened with decay if there are significant restorations or appliances to work around. Pain perception can also diminish with age, so that dental disease may not be noticed until later stages when significant damage has already occurred.
Oral care requires more attention as we grow older, or as we care for older family members. Your best defense against disease is to continue regular six-month visits with us. In addition to normal cleanings and checkups, we’ll also screen for oral cancer (a more prevalent occurrence in older adults), review your prescriptions or other supplements and medications for any possible side effects to oral health, check the fit of any dentures or other restorations and evaluate the effectiveness of your hygiene.
While other age-related conditions may capture the majority of your attention, you shouldn’t allow that to neglect your dental care. With your continued efforts, along with our support and your family’s, you can continue to enjoy good oral health throughout your lifetime.
You may think an office cleaning is mainly cosmetic — giving your teeth that polished look and you that pleasant, “squeaky clean” feeling. But your dental hygienist is doing more than making your teeth look great during your cleaning session — they’re also providing a valuable service keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
Here, then, are 3 things your dental hygienist is doing during a cleaning session that protects your health.
Removing disease-causing plaque. An office cleaning produces more than a fresh and clean smile. Your hygienist is manually removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) in hard to reach places or where it has built up despite your best efforts at brushing and flossing. This built-up plaque is a ready source of bacteria producing acids, which give rise to both tooth decay and gum disease. And for actual occurrences of the latter, plaque removal is an important part of the treatment to restore your gums to a healthy pink.
Checking for signs of dental disease. As your hygienist cleans your teeth, they’re also looking for abnormalities in the mouth’s soft tissue — lumps, bumps, sores, or swelling — that may indicate something more serious requiring further examination. They’re also assessing your overall gum health, probing any areas that might indicate gum disease. And, of course, they’re looking for cavities, softened enamel or other signs of tooth decay.
Helping you improve your oral hygiene.Â As proficient as they are, a dental hygienist can only do so much to help prevent dental disease; the rest — daily brushing and flossing — is on your shoulders. But you’re not completely on your own, because your hygienist is your best personal hygiene training partner: not only can they assess how well you’re doing in your daily regimen, but they can also give you expert advice and tips on improving your brushing and flossing performance.
If you would like more information on the role of your hygienist in your dental care, 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 “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
Every good oral hygiene regimen has two parts — the part you do (brushing and flossing) and the part we do (professional cleanings and checkups).
But what’s involved with “professional cleanings” — and why do we perform it? The “why” is pretty straightforward — we’re removing plaque and calculus. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food remnant that adheres to tooth surfaces and is the main culprit in dental disease. Calculus (tartar) is calcified plaque that occurs over time as the minerals in saliva are deposited in bacterial plaque. It isn’t possible for you to remove calculus regardless of your efforts or hygiene efficiency. Ample research has shown that calculus forms even in germ-free animals during research studies, so regular cleanings are a must to keep you healthy.
The “what” depends on your mouth’s state of health and your particular needs. The following are some techniques we may use to clean your teeth and help you achieve and maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Scaling. This is a general term for techniques to manually remove plaque and calculus from tooth surfaces. Scaling typically encompasses two approaches: instruments specially designed to remove plaque and calculus by hand; or ultrasonic equipment that uses vibration to loosen and remove plaque and calculus, followed by flushing with water and/or medicaments. Scaling can be used for coronal maintenance (the visible surfaces above the gum line) or periodontal (below the gum line).
Root planing. Similar to scaling, this is a more in-depth technique for patients with periodontal disease to remove plaque and calculus far below the gum line. It literally means to “plane” away built up layers of plaque and calculus from the root surfaces. This technique may employ hand instruments, or an ultrasonic application and flushing followed by hand instruments to remove any remaining plaque and calculus.
Polishing. This is an additional procedure performed on the teeth of patients who exhibit good oral health, and what you most associate with that “squeaky clean” feeling afterward. It’s often performed after scaling to help smooth the surface of the teeth, using a rubber polishing cup that holds a polishing paste and is applied with a motorized device. Polishing, though, isn’t merely a cosmetic technique, but also a preventative measure to remove plaque and staining from teeth — a part of an overall approach known as “prophylaxis,” originating from the Greek “to guard or prevent beforehand.”
If you would like more information on teeth cleaning and plaque removal, 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 Polishing.”
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