As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
Many people use a mouthrinse as part of their daily oral hygiene. If you’d also like to include a mouthrinse in your regimen, the kind you choose will depend on what you want it to do for you.
If your main desire is fresh breath, then a cosmetic rinse that imparts a minty smell to the mouth should fit the bill. That, however, is all they do — cosmetic mouthrinses don’t contribute to oral health beyond your personal satisfaction that your breath is free of bad odors. But, if you want more — added protection against dental disease, for example — then you’ll need to consider a therapeutic mouthrinse.
Therapeutic mouthrinses are usually described as anti-cariogenic (prevents decay) or anti-bacterial, and include both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription rinses. Their purpose is to either strengthen teeth or reduce the mouth’s bacterial levels. Of the OTC variety, most contain a small amount of sodium fluoride, which can strengthen tooth enamel. They’ve proven highly effective: a number of studies show using a sodium fluoride mouthrinse in conjunction with brushing and flossing reduces the chances of new cavities forming.
A number of OTC rinses also have an anti-bacterial effect, usually provided by active ingredients such as triclosan, zinc or essential oils like menthol. Even a slight reduction in bacteria can help lessen the chances of gingivitis (gum inflammation), an early form of periodontal (gum) disease. Reducing bacteria levels may also help alleviate bad breath.
Some individuals, though, have higher than normal levels of bacteria, or a systemic weakness in fighting certain bacterial strains. If this is your case, you might benefit from a prescribed mouthrinse intended to lower bacterial levels. Most prescription mouthrinses contain chlorhexidine, which has been amply demonstrated as an effective anti-bacterial control of tooth decay and gum disease. Chlorhexidine prevents bacteria from adhering to the teeth and so disrupts plaque buildup, the main cause of dental disease. Its prolonged use will result in the dark staining of teeth in some people, but this can be removed during dental cleanings and teeth polishing. Long-term use is generally not preferred compared to getting the proper attention from regular cleanings and examinations.
If you would like more advice on adding a mouthrinse to your daily hygiene regimen, especially to help reduce your risk of dental disease, please feel free to discuss this with us at your next checkup. Regardless of which type of mouthrinse you choose, they should always be used as a complement to daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups.
For more information on mouthrinses, 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 “Mouthrinses.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Home whitening kits are a popular way to turn a dull smile into a dazzling one. But these self-applied products only work for teeth with outer enamel stains — if the discoloration originates inside a tooth, you’ll need professional treatment.
Known as “intrinsic staining,” this type of discoloration most often occurs within a tooth’s pulp or dentin layers. There are a number of causes like tooth trauma or tetracycline use at an early age. A root canal treatment used to remove infection from deep within a tooth can also cause discoloration: sometimes blood pigments left after tissue removal or the filling materials themselves can stain a tooth’s interior.
Intrinsic staining can often be treated by placing a bleaching agent, usually sodium perborate, into the tooth’s pulp chamber. But before undertaking this procedure on a tooth that’s undergone a root canal treatment,Â we want to first ensure the filling is intact and still adequately sealing the tooth from infection. We also want to make sure the supporting bone is also healthy.
If all’s well, we access the pulp in the same way as the root canal treatment, and preferably through the same access hole. We then clean out the pulp chamber of any stained matter and then ensure the root canals remain filled and sealed off from the pulp chamber.
We can then place the bleaching agent into the pulp, a process that will need to be repeated every three or four days to achieve the desired level of brightness. After each session we place a cotton pellet over the opening and held in place with a temporary adhesive; we can easily remove and re-apply this covering during subsequent sessions. Once we’ve achieved the desired color change, we seal the tooth with a permanent filling and restore the access cavity with a tooth-colored composite resin material bonded to the enamel and dentin.
There are other options for an intrinsically stained tooth like veneers or crowns that outwardly cover the discoloration. Internal bleaching, however, is a more conservative approach that causes less alteration of the tooth. If successful, it can restore a stained tooth to a brighter, more attractive shade.
If you would like more information on internal bleaching, 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 “Whitening Traumatized Teeth.”
October is National Dental Hygiene Month. It comes as no surprise that good dental hygiene habits are best acquired early in life—and with good reason, as tooth decay is the most common disease among children. In fact, a full 43 percent of U.S. children have cavities, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. So how do you start young children on the path to a lifetime of good oral health? Here are five tips for instilling good dental hygiene habits in your kids:
Set a good example. Good—and bad—habits often start at home. Research shows that when young children notice other family members brushing their teeth, they want to brush, too. So let your child see you brushing and flossing your teeth, and while you’re at it model good nutritional choices for optimal oral health and use positive language when talking about your own dental visits. The example you set is a powerful force in your child’s attitude toward oral care!
Start early. You can start teaching children brushing techniques around age two or three, using a toothbrush just their size with only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. If they want to brush by themselves, make sure you brush their teeth again after they have finished. Around age six, children should have the dexterity to brush on their own, but continue to keep an eye on their brushing skill.
Go shopping together. Kids who handpick their own oral hygiene supplies may be more likely to embrace the toothbrushing task. So shop together, and let them choose a toothbrush they can get excited about—one in their favorite color or with their favorite character. Characters also appear on toothpaste tubes, and toothpaste comes in many kid-friendly flavors.
Make dental self-care rewarding. Why should little ones care about good dental hygiene? Young children may not be super motivated by the thought of a long-term payoff like being able to chew steak in their old age. A more tangible reward like a sticker or a star on a chart each time they brush may be more in line with what makes them tick.
Establish a dental home early on. Your child should start getting regular checkups around age one. Early positive experiences will reinforce the idea that the dental office is a friendly, non-threatening place. Children who get in the habit of taking care of their oral health from an early age have a much better chance of having healthy teeth into adulthood.
If you have questions about your child’s dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
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