Tooth decay is a primary cause of tooth damage and loss, with annual treatment costs in the billions of dollars. It arises mainly from oral bacteria, which proliferates in the absence of effective oral hygiene. There are, however, other risk factors besides poor hygiene that could make you more susceptible to this disease.
Many people, for example, have genetically inherited deeper grooves (fissures) and depressions (pits) than the average tooth anatomy. These may be harder to reach with a toothbrush and can become havens for bacterial plaque. Others may have health conditions that indirectly affect the mouth: bulimia or anorexia, psychological conditions that involve self-induced vomiting, or GERD, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, in which stomach acid could regurgitate into the mouth. These conditions could result in a highly acidic mouth environment.
Some medical and — ironically — dental treatments could also increase your tooth decay risk. Some medications can reduce saliva flow, which inhibits acid neutralization and re-mineralization of enamel. Retainers, braces, bite guards or other dental appliances may also reduce the saliva wash over teeth, and can make brushing and flossing more difficult.
There are also risk factors that result from our lifestyle choices. Eating a lot of foods rich in sugars and other carbohydrates, for example, or acidic beverages like soda, energy or sports drinks contributes to the rise of bacteria in our mouths.
There are ways to reduce the effects of these risk factors. In addition to a daily habit of effective brushing and flossing, you should also include semi-annual cleanings and checkups at our office a part of your routine. If you have genetic, medical or dental issues that are out of your control, we can discuss solutions, such as alternatives to medications or different techniques for cleaning around dental appliances. For lifestyle-related factors, you should consider removing the habit or modifying it: for example, snacking at specific times or drinking acidic beverages only at mealtime.
While tooth decay is a serious, destructive disease, it is highly preventable. Addressing all your risk factors, not just hygiene, will reduce your chances of having it.
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.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
In our constant battle against infectious disease, the “enemy” is often too close for comfort: hospitals and other medical facilities must be ever vigilant against opportunistic infections their patients may contract while in their care.
Dental offices are no exception. Because even the simplest procedure — a dental cleaning, for example — may result in exposure, providers and patients alike face a possible health risk. We must be especially concerned with blood-borne viral infections — spread by person to person contact through blood — the most serious being hepatitis B and C, and HIV/AIDS.
Hepatitis is a viral inflammatory disease that disrupts the critical functions of the liver, particularly as it cleanses and regulates the blood, and cause serious bodily impairment or death. The virus can be transmitted when the blood from an infected person makes its way into the bloodstream of another person, mainly through cuts or a needle injection. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can lead to the chronic condition AIDS that destroys the body’s immune system; it spreads mainly through sexual contact, as well as through person to person blood contact.
The best defense against the spread of these diseases in dental offices or other healthcare settings is to eliminate as much as possible any opportunity for blood-to-blood contact. To accomplish this, all healthcare providers, including dentists, are mandated by federal, state and local authorities to incorporate and follow routine safety precautions. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues regularly updated comprehensive guidelines for protocols and procedures to disinfect and sterilize equipment and facilities.
We dentists and our clinical staffs are also mandated by state licensing boards to refresh our knowledge of infection control procedures through continuing education. Such procedures cover every aspect of infection control, from barrier protection — by way of gloves, masks or gowns — to instrument disinfection.
Protecting patients as well as providers from the spread of infection is one of our profession’s highest standards. As a result, incidents of infection among the 170,000 practicing dentists in the United States are rare. You can be assured, then, that we’re taking every precaution to keep you and your family safe from disease when you visit our office.
If you would like more information on dental office procedures to prevent the spread of infection, 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 “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
When your child says they have a toothache, should you see your dentist? In most cases, the answer is yes.
And for good reason: their “toothache” could be a sign of a serious condition like tooth decay or a localized area of infection called an abscess, which could adversely affect their long-term dental health. The best way to know for sure –and to know what treatment will be necessary—is through a dental exam.
So, how quickly should you make the appointment? You can usually wait until morning if the pain has persisted for a day or through the night—most toothaches don’t constitute an emergency. One exception, though, is if the child has accompanying fever or facial swelling: in those cases you should call your dentist immediately or, if unavailable, visit an emergency room.
In the meantime, you can do a little detective work to share with the dentist at the appointment. Ask your child exactly where in their mouth they feel the pain and if they remember when it started. Look at that part of the mouth—you may be able to see brown spots on the teeth or obvious cavities indicative of decay, or reddened, swollen gums caused by an abscess. Also ask them if they remember getting hit in the mouth, which may mean their pain is the result of trauma and not disease.
You can also look for one other possible cause: a piece of candy, popcorn or other hard object wedged between the teeth putting painful pressure on the gums. Try gently flossing the teeth to see if anything dislodges. If so, the pain may alleviate quickly if the wedged object was the cause.
Speaking of pain, you can try to ease it before the dental appointment with ibuprofen or acetaminophen in appropriate doses for the child’s age. A chilled cloth or ice pack (no direct ice on skin) applied to the outside of the jaw may also help.
Seeing the dentist for any tooth pain is always a good idea. By paying prompt attention to this particular “call for help” from the body could stop a painful situation from getting worse.
If you would like more information on dental care for 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 “A Child’s Toothache: Have a Dental Exam to Figure out the Real Cause.”
Although not high on the glamour scale, saliva is nonetheless an important ingredient in a healthy life. This "multi-tasker" fluid helps break down your food for better digestion and supplies antibodies to thwart threatening microorganisms coming in through the mouth.
But perhaps its most important role is to neutralize mouth acid that can erode tooth enamel. Without this buffering action, you're at much greater risk for tooth decay and possible tooth loss.
That's why chronic dry mouth is much more than just an unpleasant feeling. If you're not producing enough saliva, your risk for developing tooth decay (and periodontal disease too) skyrocket.
Here are 3 things you can do to avoid dry mouth and promote healthier saliva flow.
Watch what goes in your mouth. Some foods, beverages and other substances can interfere with saliva production. Caffeine in coffee, sodas and other beverages can cause your body to lose water needed to produce adequate saliva. So can alcohol, which can also further irritate dry tissues. And any type of tobacco use can decrease saliva production and heighten the dry mouth effect, another good reason to kick the habit.
Drink more water. Water is the main ingredient in saliva, so keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day helps ensure a ready supply. Drinking water also helps dilute acid concentrations and washes away leftover food particles that could become a food source for oral bacteria, the main source for mouth acid.
Ask questions about your medications. Many medications can trigger chronic dry mouth including drugs to treat cancer, high blood pressure, depression or allergies. If you have chronic dry mouth, talk with your physician about the medications you're taking and ask if there are any alternatives that have less of an effect. If not, drink more water, especially while taking oral medication.
You can also reduce dry mouth symptoms by using a humidifier while you sleep or using products that boost saliva production. And be sure you're brushing and flossing daily to further reduce your risk of dental disease. Managing dry mouth won't just make your mouth feel better—it will help your teeth and gums stay healthier too.
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