Teeth are composed of layers of different types of tissue. The main inner layers — the pulp and dentin — help the teeth respond and adapt to external forces. But they’re vulnerable to decay and quite sensitive to environmental extremes. They are protected from all these by a coating of enamel, made of the hardest material found in the human body.
But while enamel is strong, it’s not invincible — it can soften and dissolve (de-mineralize) if the mouth environment becomes too acidic. While de-mineralization occurs normally whenever the mouth becomes too acidic after eating or drinking, saliva helps neutralize the acid (buffering); in fact, saliva can restore to the enamel some of the calcium and other minerals it has lost (a process called re-mineralization).
If the acidic level remains too high for too long it can overwhelm saliva’s buffering ability and cause permanent mineral loss to the enamel. This erosion leaves teeth more susceptible to decay and disease and could lead to tooth loss. With this in mind, here’s some ways you can help preserve your enamel:
- Wait about thirty to sixty minutes after eating or drinking to brush your teeth. Counterintuitive as this may sound, it takes about thirty minutes for saliva to restore a normal pH level and re-mineralize the enamel. If you brush within this window of time, you could brush away some of the softened minerals from the enamel.
- Only brush twice a day. Over-brushing causes undue enamel wear, as well as contributing to receding gums.
- Take advantage of less acidic or mineral-rich beverages. Drink milk or water most of the time, rather than juices, sodas or sports drinks. The calcium in milk or as an additive to acidic beverages aids in buffering and re-mineralization.
- Use a straw for acidic beverages. With a straw your teeth avoid direct contact with most of the beverage’s acid, a key factor in de-mineralization.
- Avoid eating just before bed. Saliva flow decreases significantly when we sleep. If you eat right before bed, there may be less saliva available for buffering and re-mineralization.
Following these tips, along with effective oral hygiene, will go a long way in protecting your teeth’s enamel coating — and preserving your teeth in the long run.
If you would like more information on enamel erosion 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
When a tooth is beyond repair due to disease or injury, it may be necessary to remove it. A “simple” tooth extraction is among the most common in dentistry and certainly not the agonizing procedure depicted in common lore.
They’re referred to as simple extractions because the shape of the tooth and root allows for a fairly straightforward and uncomplicated removal. An example would be the normally cone-shaped upper front tooth that doesn’t offer a lot of resistance during the extraction process.
The process itself is fairly straightforward. Teeth are held in place by the periodontal ligament, an elastic tissue made of tiny fibers that attaches the tooth to the supporting bone. These fibers can be dislodged from the tooth with some careful manipulation — in the hands of an experienced dentist there’s a deft “feel” to the fibers loosening. Once they’ve detached, it requires little effort to remove the tooth; with the aid of local anesthesia, you won’t feel anything but a little pressure.
Immediately after the tooth is removed, we commonly insert bone grafting material in the socket to minimize bone loss until a permanent replacement like a dental implant can be installed after tissue healing. We then place sterile gauze over the site for a few minutes to control bleeding and, depending on the size of the wound opening, we may also place a few stitches to close it. We then give you instructions for caring and cleaning the site over the next few days, and prescribe antibiotics to reduce the chance of infection and anti-inflammatory drugs for any discomfort.
Although a simple extraction is a routine procedure, it’s important to perform a proper assessment of the tooth and the surrounding bone beforehand, including x-rays to determine the tooth’s exact shape and position. If we discover a complication that makes a simple extraction impractical (like multiple roots at acute angles), we may then refer you to an oral surgeon for a more complicated surgical extraction.
It’s our hope you’ll have your natural teeth for as long as you live. But if you must have one removed, you can rest assured it’s a common — and uneventful — experience.
If you would like more information on tooth extraction, 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 “Simple Tooth Extraction.”
When you’re posting a profile photo on LinkedIn, Facebook, Match.com and other social media sites, which shot is likely to make the best impression in terms of “likeability,” “competence” and “influence”? One in which you’re smiling and showing some teeth, for starters, according to PhotoFeeler.com, a crowdsourcing website that helps people evaluate their head shots. If something about your teeth is holding you back from parting your lips when you smile for the camera, here are some tried-and-true options for doing something about it!
Picture-Perfect Color, Shape and Alignment
Improving the color of your teeth may be as easy as getting regular professional cleanings, which are necessary for removal of calculus — dark-yellow hardened buildup of bacterial plaque — and can polish out superficial staining caused by certain beverages and foods.
Actually changing the color of your teeth entails whitening/bleaching. Professional whitening achieves the fastest results because it uses the highest concentration of peroxide solution and custom-fitted trays. In-home whitening kits take longer to work but are less expensive. Results last anywhere from six months to two years.
For permanent whitening results, consider veneers or crowns. In addition to changing tooth color, they can also alter tooth shape, hide wear and even minimize gaps between teeth. Veneers are affixed to the front of teeth, while crowns cover the entire tooth.
Teeth that are chipped, cracked or have noticeable areas of decay, can be restored with bonding, in which a composite resin material is applied that is colored to match your natural teeth.
You can straighten misaligned teeth and no one even has to know you’re doing it. Barely visible and entirely invisible orthodontic appliances include clear braces, lingual braces (attached to the tongue-facing side of teeth) and clear aligners, which are removable for tooth brushing/flossing, cleaning the appliance, eating, and special occasions.
If you would like more information about enhancing your smile, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
Once an exclusive procedure reserved for movie stars and millionaires, teeth whitening has become increasingly popular among all sectors of the population — including teens. While long-standing research has proven the process to be safe and effective, there are a few things everyone should know in order to make the experience as pleasant and successful as possible.
Teens, perhaps even more than others, can benefit from the confidence that comes with a healthy smile. And, because sensitivity of the gums is rarely a problem in younger people, their whitening treatments are less likely to cause discomfort. However, it's important for teens (and everyone else) to get treatments under the watchful eye of a dentist. Why?
For one thing, immature adult teeth are relatively vulnerable to the whitening process. And for young and old alike, a discolored tooth may be a symptom of an underlying dental problem, like an abscess or a root canal infection. These problems must be treated before the whitening process is begun. Also, teeth can't always be lightened to the same degree, and existing or planned dental work may have an impact on the whitening procedure. So it's best to come in and see us before you begin any tooth whitening treatment.
There are generally three methods used in tooth-whitening: in-office treatments with concentrated bleach application, at-home treatments with custom-made trays and appropriate dentist-supplied bleach, and over-the-counter (OTC) products. All use a type of peroxide to lighten the teeth, and all are safe when used as directed, under a dentist's supervision.
So what's the difference? Time! One study showed as few as three in-office visits were needed to lighten tooth color by six shades — a change that required 16 days with OTC products. Many opt for the cost-effective middle ground of custom-tray bleaching, which can achieve the same whitening in one week.
But what's especially important for a teen is that a dentist becomes involved in his or her treatment. In some cases, over-enthusiastic young people have used OTC bleach excessively, causing severe damage to the enamel layer of their teeth.
If you would like more information about teeth whitening for teens, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about these issues by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Whitening Safety Tips” and “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered.”
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