Even before your infant's first tooth emerges, you can take steps to reduce the risk for cavities!
Cavities occur when decay-causing bacteria living in the mouth digest carbohydrates (sugars) introduced into the mouth via food and beverages. This produces acid, which can eat through the protective enamel surface of teeth and attack the more vulnerable dentin below. Infants aren't born with decay-promoting bacteria; however, they can acquire them from their caregiver(s) through close contact, for example:
- Kissing on the mouth
- Sharing food
- Sharing eating utensils (e.g., a spoon or glass)
- Cleaning off a pacifier by mouth
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease! It can start as soon as the first tooth erupts — which generally happens around age 6 to 9 months but can be as early as 3 months or as late as 1 year. Besides being potentially painful, severe tooth decay may cause your child to lose the affected primary (baby) tooth before it's due to fall out on its own. That, in turn, can raise the risk of orthodontic problems because primary teeth maintain space for permanent teeth, which also use them as their guide for coming in properly.
It's important to clean your child's teeth regularly once they appear and to refrain from certain feeding activities that have been linked with early tooth decay. For example, use of a sleep-time bottle containing a liquid with natural or added sugars, such as formula or juice, can result in a pattern of severe decay once referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay.” These days, the term early childhood caries (ECC) is more commonly used to also encompass decay linked to continuous sippy-cup use, at-will breast-feeding throughout the night, use of a sweetened pacifier, or routine use of sugar-based oral medicines to treat chronic illness.
We recommend that you schedule a dental visit for your baby upon eruption of his or her first tooth or by age 1. This first visit can include risk assessment for decay, hands-on instruction on teeth cleaning, nutritional/feeding guidance, fluoride recommendations, and even identification of underlying conditions that should be monitored. Your child's smile is a sight to behold; starting early improves the odds of keeping it that way!
If you would like more information about infant 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 “Age One Dental Visit.”
Kids do lots of changing in the teen years, as bodies and minds begin the process of becoming more “grown up.” By now, parental reminders to brush teeth and go easy on sugary snacks might be met with rolled eyes and a groan. But there are still several ways that parents can help their teens to maintain good oral health.
1) Make sure kids get — and wear — a professionally made, custom-fitted mouthguard when playing sports.
The American Dental Association says athletes are 60 times more likely to suffer dental injury if they don't wear a mouthguard. These devices also protect the jaw, lips, cheeks, and tongue — not just the teeth. A mouthguard that's custom-made from a model of your child's teeth costs a little more, but offers greater protection than an off-the-shelf model.
2) Talk to your teens about the dangers of oral piercings.
Like tattoos and iPods, piercings are probably a sign of the times. But that doesn't make them harmless. Installing tongue and lip bolts creates a risk for the teeth and soft tissues that are nearby. Tooth chipping, sensitivity and pain, along with gum recession and infection, are some of the issues that may accompany an oral piercing. Remind teens that future dental problems may be a high price to pay for a fleeting fashion statement.
3) Get professional help if you — or your teen — develop an addiction to tobacco, alcohol or drugs, or an eating disorder.
Nobody wants to admit they aren't in control. But peer pressure, body image concerns and a host of other issues may lead teens into dangerous behaviors. The negative effect of various addictions on one's general health is well-documented; with respect to oral health, there are particular concerns. Tobacco not only stains the teeth, but causes changes in the mouth that can lead to oral cancer. Erosion of the tooth enamel is both a diagnostic signal of a potential eating disorder, and a problem that needs treatment. Don't hesitate to ask questions, particularly when an examination reveals a potential problem, and be sure to seek professional help when needed.
If you would like more information about helping your teen maintain good 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 “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Treating bad breath is big business. Just check your local drug store or supermarket and you'll find a mind-numbing array of mints, gums, mouthwashes, sprays, strips and other products that promise to sweeten your breath and make you (or your mouth at least) irresistible. But most of these products only mask halitosis (from the Latin “halitus” – exhalation, and Greek “osis” – disease) and some even contain ingredients, like sugar, that contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. In most cases, for enduring, healthful results, nothing beats a trusty toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, used faithfully and correctly, along with periodic dental checks and cleanings.
Oral bacteria are the number one reason for noxious breath. More than 600 types inhabit our mouth, and some of them emit awful odors — predominantly volatile sulfur compounds characterized by a “rotten egg” smell) — as they consume remnants of food trapped in our mouth. Brushing and flossing regularly, especially after eating, can dislodge food trapped between teeth (interdental) and under the gums (subgingival), depriving microbes of a ready-made meal. It also disrupts the buildup of sticky plaque (microbial “biofilms”) where odor-causing germs can flourish.
When cleaning your mouth, pay special attention to the back of the tongue. It is the primary location for generating halitosis because it is drier and less efficiently cleansed by saliva and normal oral activity than the front. Our office can instruct you on proper oral hygiene including the gentle use of a tongue scraper or brush.
Sometimes more involved periodontal techniques such as scaling and root planing (deep cleaning) are called for; antibiotics may be useful in targeting the offending microbes. If tooth decay and/or periodontal (or gum) disease is contributing to halitosis appropriate treatment is necessary.
Remember that foul breath is just a symptom of some underlying condition. If diligent oral care at home doesn't do the trick, our office can help you get to the root of the problem and determine the appropriate therapy.
If you would like more information about halitosis and ways to prevent or treat 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 “Bad Breath.”
If a glance in the mirror reveals stained or discolored teeth that are detracting from your self-confidence, it's time to do something about it. The first step is to make an appointment for an office visit to find out how we can help you.
External (extrinsic) stains that form on the surfaces of teeth are usually caused by beverages such as red wine, tea, coffee as well as unhealthy habits like tobacco use. Extrinsic stains generally come in shades of browns, black or grays, but may even be orange or green from color producing bacteria.
Internal (intrinsic) stains are part of the structure of the tooth and cannot be removed by polishing. Among their causes are excessive fluoride levels or tetracycline antibiotics given in childhood and during tooth formation. Teeth do become more yellow and discolored as we age. Discoloration of individual teeth may be indicative of tooth decay, or teeth that have had root canal treatment and have literally lost their vitality tend to darken over time. Internal discoloration comes in a variety of shades and hues from yellows, grays, browns, and even some reds or pink.
Five Ways to lighten, whiten and brighten stained or discolored teeth
- Change your habits. Reduce or stop consuming or using foods, drinks or tobacco if they are staining your teeth.
- Improve your daily oral hygiene. Make sure to brush your teeth well, twice a day. Change to a toothpaste that contains a mild abrasive. Some toothpastes also contain tooth whiteners.
- Visit our office for a professional cleaning and polish. Routine scaling and polishing will remove most superficial external stain and discoloration. Sometimes ultrasonic cleaning (by high frequency vibration) and polishing with slightly abrasive pastes may just do the trick.
- Treatment for internal stain and discoloration. Brown colored decaying teeth need to have the decay removed and the teeth restored. Stained old and leaking fillings may also need to be replaced.
- Tooth whitening by bleaching. Bleaching or tooth whitening is a safe and effective way to brighten stained teeth. Internal tooth bleaching can whiten even discolored root canal treated teeth. Ask us for more information about this technique.
If your mirror tells you that your smile needs attention, there's no time like the present to get started. Get back your bright, white smile and your self-confidence as well.
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.”
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