If you've ever had a run-in with cavities, you know the drill (no pun intended): After getting a local anesthetic for pain, the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. It's an effective treatment protocol we've been using for well over a century.
It does, however, have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn't cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.
But advances in dental tools, technology and techniques are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why.
Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in its earliest stages. By doing so, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we're beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it's visible to the naked eye.
Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it's undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We're also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don't require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.
These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you're in the dentist's chair.
If you would like more information on effectively treating dental disease, 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.”
We all benefit from regular dental care, regardless of our state of oral health. But if you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, those regular dental visits are even more important in making sure your healed gums stay that way.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces. The infection triggers inflammation in the gums that quickly becomes chronic. That's why people with gum disease have reddened and swollen gums that bleed easily.
The infection can aggressively spread deeper below the gum line, eventually affecting the bone. The combination of weakened gum detachment from the teeth and bone loss may ultimately cause tooth loss. But we can stop the infection by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from the teeth and gums. As the plaque is removed, the gums respond and begin to heal.
It's possible then even with advanced gum disease to restore health to your teeth and gums. But although the infection has been arrested, it can occur again. In fact, once you've had gum disease, your susceptibility for another infection is much greater. To stay on top of this, you may need to visit the dentist more frequently.
These upgraded visits known as periodontal maintenance (PM) are actually a continuation of your treatment. Depending on the extensiveness of your gum disease, we may need to see you more than the standard twice-a-year visits: Some periodontal patients, for example, may need a visit every two to three months. Again, the state of your gum health will determine how often.
In addition to standard dental cleanings and checkups, PM visits will also include more thorough examination of the teeth and gums, particularly the health of the tooth roots. We'll also check how well you're doing with daily plaque removal and if there are any signs of gum infection. We may also prescribe medication, rinses or topical antibiotics to help control your mouth's levels of bacteria.
A patient's periodontal “maintenance schedule” will depend on their individual condition and needs. The key, though, is to closely monitor gum health for any indications that another infection has set in. By staying alert through dedicated PM, we can stop a new infection before it harms your dental health.
If you would like more information on gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Although they can be expensive upfront, dental implants often prove to be a wise investment in the long-term. With a success rate that outperforms other teeth replacement restorations, dental implants could be the answer to a more attractive smile that could last for decades.
But while their success rate is high (95% still functioning after ten years), they can and do occasionally fail. Of those that do, two-thirds happen in patients who smoke.
This unfortunate situation stems from smoking's overall effect on dental health. The nicotine in tobacco constricts oral blood vessels, inhibiting the flow of nutrients and antibodies to the teeth and gums. Inhaled smoke can scald the inside skin of the mouth, thickening its surface layers and damaging salivary glands leading to dry mouth.
These and other effects increase the risk for tooth decay or gum disease, which in turn makes it more likely that a smoker will lose teeth than a non-smoker and require a restoration like dental implants. And blood flow restriction caused by nicotine in turn can complicate the implant process.
Long-term implant durability depends on bone growth around the imbedded implant in the ensuing weeks after implant surgery. Because of their affinity with the titanium used in implants, bone cells readily grow and adhere to the implant. This integration process anchors the implant securely in place. But because of restricted blood flow, the healing process involved in bone integration can be impaired in smokers. Less integration may result in less stability for the implant and its long-term durability.
To increase your chances of a successful implant installation, you should consider quitting smoking and other tobacco products altogether before implant surgery. If that's too difficult, then cease from smoking for at least one week before surgery and two weeks after to better your odds of implant success. And be as meticulous as possible with daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental visits, to reduce your risk of disease.
There are many good reasons to quit smoking. If nothing else, do it to improve your dental health.
If you would like more information on tobacco use and dental health, 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 “Dental Implants & Smoking.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
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