Among our most common diseases, tooth decay can be a big problem at any age: in the U.S., one in four children 5 and under has some form of the disease, as well as ninety percent of those 60 and older — and a quarter of those have suffered complete tooth loss.
Fortunately, we now know what needs to be done on a regular basis to prevent tooth decay. Unfortunately, many are uninformed about all they need to do to lower their risk.
Here, then, are 5 questions to ask yourself to see if you’re on the right prevention path or not.
Do I brush and floss daily? If not, you’re aiding and abetting the “enemy” — bacteria that cause tooth decay. Bacteria that make up plaque feed on any food remnants that adhere to tooth surfaces. Brushing at least once daily (twice is better) removes plaque, while flossing removes plaque between teeth that can’t be reached with a brush. Removing plaque will lower your mouth’s acid levels that cause a loss of minerals to the enamel surface.
Do I use the proper techniques for brushing and flossing? While it’s important to establish daily hygiene habits, if you’re not performing them properly you won’t realize the full benefit from your efforts. But don’t dismay — we can train you in the proper techniques for brushing and flossing your teeth.
Do I use fluoride toothpaste? This naturally-occurring chemical strengthens tooth enamel and makes it more resistant to decay. You can increase fluoride’s absorption rate into enamel by using hygiene products that contain it.
Do I constantly snack between meals? Saliva neutralizes acid remaining in the mouth after eating in about 30 to 60 minutes. If you’re constantly snacking or sipping acidic beverages, however, saliva can’t do this effectively. It’s best to limit snacking to a few, specific times and restrict acidic beverages to meal time only.
Do I visit the dentist for cleanings and checkups? While brushing and flossing reduce plaque, it can’t remove it from hard-to-reach places below the gums or harder deposits (calculus) that have developed. A professional cleaning twice a year removes the plaque and calculus left from daily hygiene. We can also gauge the health of your teeth and determine if tooth decay or gum disease may be developing.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention, 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.”
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.”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Today’s dental care has advanced leaps and bound over the last century. But these advances are tiny steps compared to what many believe may be coming in the next few decades. This optimism arises from our growing understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chain-like molecule that houses the genetic instructions for the growth, function and reproduction of every cell in the body.
As researchers unlock the secrets of this vast genetic blueprint unique to each individual the possible applications from this knowledge are astounding. Here are just a few possibilities that could one day impact everyone’s oral health.
Preventing tooth decay. This rampant disease, triggered by bacteria (particularly Streptococcus mutans), can cause extensive damage in otherwise healthy teeth. There’s already some indications from the study of genomics that we may be able to stop or at least hinder this disease in its tracks. Already we’re seeing advances in gene therapy that might be able to inhibit the growth of Strep mutans and reduce its colonies in the mouth.
Growing new teeth. Composed of various layers, a natural tooth is part of a dynamic system of bone and gum ligaments that allow movement, protection and nourishment. Although dental implants are the closest and most advanced artificial approximation we now have to them, implants still can’t fully measure up to the function and capabilities of a natural tooth. But further insight into the genetic code may one day allow us to reproduce a living replacement tooth for a lost one.
Harnessing saliva for detecting disease. The impact of genomics related to the mouth could impact more than just the mouth itself. Researchers have discovered that saliva contains genetic information similar to blood, urine and other bodily fluids with markers for various disease conditions. Unlike other fluids, though, saliva is relatively easy to collect. The key is new equipment and testing protocols to take advantage of the information already available in a single drop of saliva.
These examples illustrate the range of possibilities for better health in the future: a reduction in dental disease early in life; new and better ways to restore missing teeth; and quicker ways to diagnose dangerous health conditions.
If you would like more information on new developments in 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 “The Future of Dentistry: A Sneak Preview of Your Dental Future.”
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy doesn't require an elaborate plan. It's simple: Besides twice-a-year dental visits, the most important thing you can do is brush and floss every day to remove accumulated dental plaque.
The bacteria that live and breed in this thin biofilm is the main catalyst for both tooth decay and gum disease, the top two diseases that endanger teeth. Brushing and flossing removes this buildup and thus reduces the long-term risk for either disease.
Unfortunately, the message on these important hygiene tasks hasn't resonated with “Millennials,” the first generation to reach adulthood in the 21st Century and new millennium. One recent survey of 2,000 members of this age group found only about 30% brushed their teeth at least once a day, with many skipping the task for two days at a time.
If brushing has taken a beating among millennials, you can well imagine the state of flossing. Unfortunately, the news media has helped this along: Just a few years ago, the Associated Press reported a study that concluded flossing's role as a dental disease deterrent hadn't been proven. A follow-up study a year or two later by the University of North Carolina pushed back on the original AP story with findings of lower risk of tooth loss among flossers than non-flossers.
This decline in oral hygiene practices among millennials has had an unsurprisingly negative effect. Recent statistics indicate that one in three people between the ages of 18 and 34 have some form of untreated tooth decay. As this generation ages this may inevitably result in more extensive dental treatment and higher rates of tooth loss unless the trend toward hit and miss dental care makes a complete U-turn.
The good news is that it may not be too late for many of those slacking on daily care. All that's needed is to heed the same dental advice their grandparents and parents were given: Brush twice and floss once every day.
No matter what your age, consistent daily brushing and flossing still remains essential to keeping potential dental disease at bay. These twin hygiene tasks remain the solution to good dental health throughout your life.
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