Posts for tag: tooth decay
Tooth decay is one of the world's most prevalent diseases — and one of the most preventable. We've known the primary prevention recipe for decades: brushing and flossing daily, and dental cleanings and checkups at least twice a year.
But consistent oral hygiene isn't enough — you should also pay attention to your overall health, diet and lifestyle habits. Each of these areas in their own way can contribute to abnormally high mouth acid, which can soften enamel and open the door to tooth decay.
Lower saliva production is one such problem that can arise due to issues with your health. Among its many properties, saliva neutralizes acid and helps maintain the mouth's optimum neutral pH level. But some health conditions or medications can reduce saliva flow: less saliva means less neutralization and chronic acidity.
You can also inhibit saliva flow with one particular lifestyle habit — smoking. Tobacco smoke can damage salivary glands. Nicotine, tobacco's active ingredient, constricts blood vessels, leading to fewer antibodies delivered by the blood stream to mouth tissues to fight disease.
A diet heavy on acidic foods and beverages can also increase mouth acidity. It's not only what you're eating or drinking — it's also how often. If you're constantly snacking or sipping on something acidic, saliva doesn't have a chance to complete the neutralizing process.
In addition to your daily oral hygiene practice, you should also make changes in these other areas to further lower your risk of tooth decay. If you're taking medications that cause dry mouth, see if your doctor can prescribe a different one or try using products that stimulate saliva. Quit smoking, of course, as much for your mouth as for the rest of your health.
On the dietary front, reduce your intake of acidic foods and beverages, especially sodas, energy or sports drinks. If you've counted on the latter for hydration, switch to water instead. And limit acidic foods to mealtime rather than throughout the day.
It's all about maintaining a healthy pH level in your mouth. Doing so along with good oral hygiene will help you better avoid destructive tooth decay.
If you would like more information on preventing 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
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.
Over the last century effectively treating a decayed tooth has often required removing any decayed structure with drilling and then filling the remaining cavity. While this approach does save teeth that might otherwise be lost, it can also result in a fair amount of healthy structure removed in the process.
But continuing advances in dentistry are now making possible a new approach to tooth decay treatment that preserves as much of the healthy portions of tooth as possible. This new way is often referred to as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
The primary goal of MID treatment is to intercept and treat decay as early as possible to minimize tooth damage. It begins with helping patients identify their own individual risk factors for decay such as the presence of disease-causing bacteria, the adequacy of their saliva flow, or their lifestyle and dietary habits. We then recommend changes or preventive measures to reduce those risks.
The next step in MID is using various diagnostic technologies to find decay as early as possible. X-rays continue to play a major role, but dentists are also using dental microscopy to magnify the earliest forms of decay. Many also utilize laser fluorescence, infrared photography and optical scanning to further “see” decay difficult to detect with the naked eye.
In regard to treatments, MID adopts the adage “less is more.” If caught early enough, we can encourage the re-mineralization of enamel that acid has eroded with CPP-ACP, a substance acquired from milk, or strengthen teeth with topical fluoride applications. Instead of the dental drill, many dentists now turn to air abrasion for decay removal, equipment that emits a fine stream of abrasive particles that harms less healthy structure than a drill.
And if lasers continue to develop at their current pace, we’ll be able to use this technology to perform much more precise decay treatment than possible with manual instruments. As a result, we’ll be able to treat decayed teeth with less invasive means to preserve as much healthy structure as possible.
As these and other developments continue, MID promises a bright future for preventing and treating tooth decay. As a result, there’ll be less tooth structure loss and more attractive and healthy smiles.
If you would like more information on the latest techniques for treating 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
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.
From the moment your child's first tooth appears, usually between six and nine months, you need to be concerned about Early Childhood Caries (ECC). This particular form of tooth decay can have a devastating effect on primary (baby) teeth and lead to their premature demise. Losing one before its time could adversely affect how the future permanent tooth comes in.
You can help prevent ECC with daily brushing and cleaning, regular dental visits (beginning around their first birthday) and limiting the sugar they eat. Here are 3 more things to consider for boosting your prevention efforts.
Breastfeeding. Pediatricians generally recommend breastfeeding if possible for a baby's overall health, including dental development. And although breast milk contains fermentable carbohydrates that boost bacterial growth, it no more promotes tooth decay than similar foods and beverages. That said, though, once the child begins to eat and drink other foods and beverages, the combination of sugars in them and breast milk could increase the bacteria that causes ECC. This is another good reason to wean the child from breast milk as they begin to eat more solid foods.
Bottles and pacifiers. It's quite common for parents and caregivers to soothe a fussing or crying baby with a bottle filled with formula, milk or juice for sipping, or even a pacifier dipped in jam, sugar or some form of sweetener. But these practices can create an environment that promotes high acid production from bacteria feeding on the sugars. Instead, avoid giving them a “prop-up” bottle filled with liquids containing sugar and try to limit bottle use to mealtimes. And provide them pacifiers without sugary additives if you use them.
Medicines. Children with chronic illnesses or other needs often take medication containing sugar or with antihistamines that reduce the flow of acid-neutralizing saliva. If the medications can't be altered, then it's extra important for you to practice diligent, daily hygiene to reduce the effect of higher mouth acid.
If you would like more information on dental disease prevention in babies and young children, 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: Why it's Important for Your Baby.”