Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk of tooth decay, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
After years of research, we're confident in saying that brushing and flossing daily are essential for maintaining a healthy mouth. A mere five minutes a day performing these tasks will significantly lower your risk of dental disease.
We're also sure about the essentials you'll need to perform these tasks: a soft-bristled toothbrush using fluoride toothpaste, and a roll (or picks) of dental floss. The only deviation might be a water flosser appliance instead of flossing thread.
Unfortunately, some folks deviate even more from the norm for both of these tasks. One of the strangest is a social media trend substituting regular toothpaste with substances containing activated charcoal. The proponents of brushing with charcoal claim it will help whiten teeth and kill harmful microorganisms. People brushing with a black, tarry substance also seem to make for good “gross-out” videos.
There's no substantial evidence to support these claims. Perhaps proponents of charcoal's whitening ability are assuming it can remove stains based on its natural abrasiveness. It could, however, remove more than that: Used over time, charcoal could wear down the protective enamel coating on your teeth. If that happens, your teeth will be more yellow and at much greater risk for tooth decay.
When it comes to flossing (or more precisely, removing food material from between teeth), people can be highly inventive, substituting what might be at hand for dental floss. In a recent survey, a thousand adults were asked if they had ever used household items to clean between their teeth and what kind. Eighty percent said they had, using among other things twigs, nails (the finger or toe variety) and screwdrivers.
Such items aren't meant for dental use and can harm tooth surfaces and gum tissues. Those around you, especially at the dinner table, might also find their use off-putting. Instead, use items approved by the American Dental Association like floss, floss picks or toothpicks. Some of these items are small enough to carry with you for the occasional social “emergency.”
Brushing and flossing can absolutely make a difference keeping your teeth and gums healthy. But the real benefit comes when you perform these tasks correctly—and use the right products for the job.
Every year 150,000 people, mostly women over age 50, find out they have a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia. For many it begins as an occasional twinge along the face that steadily worsens until the simple act of chewing or speaking, or even a light touch, sets off excruciating pain.
The source of the pain is the pair of trigeminal nerves that course along each side of the face. Each nerve has three separate branches that provide sensation to the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.
The problem arises when areas of the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating covering on nerves, becomes damaged, often because of an artery or vein pressing against it. As a result, the nerve can become hypersensitive to stimuli and transmit pain at even the slightest trigger. It may also fail to stop transmitting even after the stimulation that caused it is over.
Although the condition may not always be curable, there are various ways to effectively manage it. The most conservative way is with medications that block the nerve from transmitting pain signals to the brain, coupled with drugs that help stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing.
If medication isn't enough to relieve symptoms, there may be some benefit from more invasive treatments. One technique is to insert a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage nerve fibers to prevent them from firing. Another microsurgical procedure attempts to relocate the nerve away from a blood vessel that may be compressing it.
The latter procedure has some higher risks such as facial numbness or decreased hearing, and is often better suited for younger patients. Older patients may benefit more from the needle insertion procedure previously mentioned or a directed beam of high-dose radiation to alter the nerve.
To learn the best options for you, you should first undergo a neurological exam to verify you have trigeminal neuralgia and to rule out other causes. From there, you and your doctor can decide the best course of treatment for your age and individual condition.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be an unpleasant experience. But there are tried and true ways to minimize its effect on your life.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Officially, Labor Day honors the contributions of America's working men and women. Unofficially, the long holiday weekend in early September marks the end of the laid-back summer season. The day after, Americans snap back to the business, and busyness, of life. Post-Labor Day may also be an opportune time to revitalize another kind of business: taking care of your family's oral health.
Here are a few ways to refocus on healthier teeth and gums as you and yours return to regular work, school or household routines after this last summer holiday.
Make oral hygiene a daily thing. The single best thing anyone can do to maintain good dental health is to brush and floss every day. Diligently performing these tasks prevents the buildup of dental plaque, a thin bacterial film most responsible for dental disease. Twice-a-year dental cleanings round out routine dental care and help minimize your family's risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Restrict sugar in your family's diet. Diets high in sugar increase the risk of tooth decay. That's because the oral bacteria that cause dental disease thrive on this popular carbohydrate. So, if your summer vacation included lots of sweet treats, tighten up your family's sugar intake to the equivalent (or less) of 6-9 teaspoonfuls per day. Instead, focus on foods rich in calcium and other tooth-strengthening nutrients.
Treat emerging dental problems. Even with the best hygiene and dietary practices, none of us is completely immune from dental disease. Regular dental visits should bring to light any threats brewing against your teeth and gums. In between, though, if you or a family member notices tooth pain, swollen or bleeding gums, or other abnormal signs in the mouth, don't put off getting checked. The sooner a dental problem is treated, the less teeth and gum damage—and treatment expense—it will cause.
Pursue a smile makeover. Do you or someone you love want a new smile? Or perhaps just a tweak to your current smile? There are amazing cosmetic dental techniques available, from simple teeth whitening to dental implants for missing teeth, that could completely transform your smile appearance. And don't let age discourage you: As long as a person is in reasonably good health with no prohibitive dental conditions, they can undergo most cosmetic procedures—including orthodontics—well into adulthood.
With vacations from work winding down and school gearing up, it takes no time at all to return to a hectic pace. Just be sure to carve out some time for optimizing oral health and appearance. Even a little effort can make a lifetime of difference.
If you would like more information on enhancing your dental health and smile appearance, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
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