Tooth decay doesn’t suddenly appear out of the blue. Cavities and other damage are the result of a long process that begins with bacteria living in a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces known as plaque. These bacteria thrive on sugars from leftover food in your mouth and then produce acid as a waste product. Chronic high levels of acid cause your enamel, the protective layer of your teeth, to soften and erode.
While there are treatment options at each stage of decay — including crowning or even tooth replacement — the best approach is to try to prevent plaque buildup that supports disease-causing bacteria. Here are 3 of the best ways you can do that.
Brush and floss daily. It usually takes 12-24 hours for enough plaque buildup to support bacteria. By brushing and flossing at least once a day, you can remove most of this buildup, with twice a year dental cleanings to remove hard to reach plaque you may have missed. Be sure to use fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen enamel against high acid. And wait a half hour to an hour after eating before brushing to give saliva time to reduce the acid level in your mouth.
Cut back on sweets. You’re not the only one who loves sugary snack foods — so do oral bacteria. The more sugar and other carbohydrates they feast on, the more they produce acid. The best approach is to cut out sugar-rich snacks altogether and instead snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables or dairy products. Limit sweet treats to meal times.
Use decay-fighting supplements. Your mouth and hygiene efforts may need a little assistance, especially if you have low saliva flow. You can boost this with an artificial saliva supplement as well as with products containing xylitol, an alcohol-based sugar. Xylitol also has an added benefit in the fight against decay because it inhibits bacterial growth. And be sure to talk with us first before taking any dental supplement.
If you would like more information on dental hygiene and 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 “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
Did you ever brush your teeth and find that your gums were bleeding slightly? This unwelcome discovery is more common than you might think — and it might have something to tell you about your oral health. Here are five things you should know about bleeding gums.
- As much as 90% of the population occasionally experiences bleeding gums. It happens most often while brushing — and it’s often a sign of trouble, indicating that your gums are inflamed and/or you aren’t brushing or flossing optimally.
- Bleeding gums can be an early warning sign of gum disease. In its earliest stages, this malady is called gingivitis, and it’s quite common. About 10 to 15 percent of people with gingivitis go on to develop a more serious form of gum disease, called periodontitis. If left untreated, it can lead to gum recession, bone loss, and eventually tooth loss.
- A professional exam is the best way to tell if you have gum disease. Your dentist or hygienist may use a small hand-held instrument called a periodontal probe to check the spaces between your teeth and gums. When gum tissue becomes detached from the teeth, and when it bleeds while being probed, gum disease is suspected.
- Other symptoms can confirm the presence of gum disease. These include the presence of pus and the formation of deep “pockets” under the gums, where gum tissues have separated from teeth. The pockets may harbor harmful bacteria, and need to be treated before they cause more damage.
- Several factors may influence the health of your gums. How effectively you brush and floss has a major impact on the health of your gums. But other factors are important too: For instance, women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills sometimes have bleeding gums due to higher hormone levels. Diabetics and people with compromised immune systems often tend to have worse problems with periodontal disease. Certain drugs, like aspirin and Coumadin, may cause increased bleeding; smoking, by contrast, can mask the presence of gum disease by restricting blood flow.
It’s never “normal” to have bleeding gums — so if you notice this problem, be sure to have an examination as soon as you can. If you have questions about bleeding gums or periodontal disease, contact us or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Assessing Risk For Gum Disease.”
Besides reduced biting and chewing function, a missing tooth can cause an embarrassing inhibition to healthy social interaction. This can be especially so for teens who greatly value peer relationships and acceptance.
Be that as it may, we typically discourage a permanent replacement for teens with a missing tooth, particularly dental implants. While we value a patient’s psychological needs, the long-term effect on dental health may be too great to advise otherwise.
The effect we’re concerned with involves jaw growth and development. Although a person’s permanent teeth have usually all erupted by early adolescence, the jaws continue to grow until the late teens or early twenties. Natural teeth can adapt to this growth because the periodontal ligament that holds them in place allows for incremental tooth movement. The teeth move in response to jaw growth and are thus able to maintain their proper relationship and alignment in the jaw as growth occurs.
Dental implants, on the other hand, are imbedded into the jaw bone: they, therefore, can’t move like natural teeth and thus can’t adjust their position with jaw growth, particularly the upper jaw as it grows forward and down. This can result in the implants appearing as though they are left behind or retreat into the jaw. It can also affect the position of the gums and inhibit their growth around the implants.
It’s best then to hold off implants and other permanent restorations until the jaw has finished developing. That, however, isn’t always easy to determine: specialized x-ray diagnostics may help, but it’s not an exact science. Your input as a parent will also be helpful, such as whether you’ve noticed the end of growth spurts (not changing clothes or shoe sizes as often) or your child’s recent similarity in appearance to other adult members of your family. It thus becomes a judgment call, based on examination and experience, as to whether it’s safe to proceed with implants — and may require erring on the side of caution.
In the meantime, there are temporary restorations that can improve appearance while you wait for the appropriate time to undertake a permanent restoration. Two of the most useful are removable partial dentures (RPDs) or a bonded bridge, a less invasive form of the traditional bridge. With a proper assessment we can advise you on which option is your best choice.
If you would like more information on tooth restorations for teenagers, 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 “Teenagers & Dental Implants.”
Office cleanings and other minor procedures are a routine part of regular dental care. For some people, though, a routine visit could put them at slight risk for a serious illness.
The reason for this concern is a condition known as bacteremia. This occurs when bacteria, in this case from the mouth and conceivably during an office cleaning or other routine dental procedure, enters the bloodstream. Although for most people this isn’t a great issue, there’s been concern that bacteremia could further compromise the health of patients with or susceptible to other conditions like endocarditis (heart inflammation), prosthetic joints or compromised immune systems.
This concern grew out of a number of studies in the early 20th Century that seemed to show a link between dental bacteremia and infective endocarditis. At about mid-century it became a common practice to administer antibiotics before dental work (usually 2 grams of amoxicillin or an equivalent about an hour before) to high risk patients as a way of protecting them against infection. The practice later expanded to other health issues, including many heart conditions.
Beginning in 2007, however, guidelines developed jointly by the American Heart Association and the American Dental Association reduced the number of conditions recommended for antibiotic therapy. Based on these guidelines, we now recommend pre-procedure antibiotics if you have a history of infective endocarditis, artificial heart valves, certain repaired congenital heart defects, or heart transplant that develops a subsequent heart valve problem. Patients with prosthetic joints or immune system problems are no longer under the guidelines, but may still undergo antibiotic therapy if believed necessary by their individual physician.
If you have a condition that could qualify for antibiotic therapy, please be sure to discuss it with both your dentist and physician. We’ll work together to ensure any dental work you undergo won’t have an adverse effect on the rest of your health.
If you would like more information on antibiotic therapy and 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 “Antibiotics for Dental Visits.”
It’s absolutely critical to stop tooth decay and repair any damage to tooth structure. Hopefully, we’ve caught it early in the enamel and dentin where we’re able to repair any holes or “cavities” that might have developed by filling them.
But what if the decay has crept deeper into the interior of the tooth? In this case, you’re at a much higher risk of eventually losing the tooth. If the decay has spread into the bone, a root canal treatment is usually your best option.
The first sign that decay has invaded the pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth, and the root canals may be a severe toothache. It’s different from the wince of pain or discomfort caused by sensitivity to temperature or pressure. Inner decay pain is constant and often excruciating. This is because the infection is attacking the nerves bundled within the pulp chamber.
The pain can last for several days, and then suddenly stop altogether. No pain is good news, right? Wrong — the pain has stopped because the infected nerves have finally died and can no longer signal the brain. The infection, though, is very much alive and will continue to advance toward the root where the damage may eventually cause you to lose the tooth.
A root canal treatment removes decay in the pulp chamber and canals. We first drill an access hole to enter the pulp chamber. Once inside, we use special instruments to completely remove all tissue and disinfect the empty chamber. We then fill the chamber and root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole to prevent further decay. A few weeks later we install a custom crown to protect the tooth further.
If you have a toothache, or you’ve had one that suddenly went away, you should schedule an appointment for a dental examination as soon as possible: this is the only way to accurately determine the cause of the pain. If a root canal is deemed necessary, the sooner we perform it, the less chance the infection will cause you to lose your tooth.
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.”
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