Tooth decay is as relentless as it is destructive, and it makes little distinction between age, gender, ethnicity or social status. Although risk levels vary from person to person, we’re all potentially in the crossfire for this harmful disease. Getting ahead of it early could save your teeth.
Tooth decay begins with oral bacteria. While feeding on dental plaque that accumulates on the teeth, bacteria multiply and produce acid as a by-product. Too much acid softens and erodes tooth enamel, which enables decay to advance deeper into the tooth.
If it isn’t stopped, decay can eventually infect and weaken the roots and bone, and ultimately lead to a lost tooth. By stopping it as early as possible before it reaches the inner pulp and root canals, we can greatly limit the damage.
Regular dental care is crucial for early detection. Here’s how we can stay ahead of developing decay during dental visits.
Visible inspection. There are visible signs a trained dentist may notice that point to tooth decay. Besides an already formed hole or cavity, we might also pick up on other unusual appearances like white spot lesions: these slight blemishes often occur in the areas of contact with other teeth, which we can treat with topical fluoride.
X-rays. This tried and true diagnostic tool has been a mainstay of dental care for nearly a century. The images they produce can indicate decay as darker spots or areas on or within the tooth that may not yet be visible to the eye. And with advances in digital processing and more streamlined equipment, we can effectively do this with a very low dosage of radiation exposure.
Advanced technology. We’ve developed other means for better disease detection that complement x-rays and visual inspections. Specialized microscopes and lasers are now important tools for analyzing suspected areas of early decay.
Even if decay gets a foothold we can effectively stop it and restore a tooth with a root canal treatment or a similar procedure. The best outcome, though, is to not allow this destructive disease to get that far. With dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits that uncover early decay, chances are good your teeth can remain healthy for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on fighting 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.”
With a 95-plus percent survival rate after ten years, dental implants are one of the most durable replacement restorations available. Implants can potentially last much longer than less expensive options, which could make them a less costly choice in the long run.
But although a rare occurrence, implants can and do fail—often in the first few months. And tobacco smokers in particular make up a sizeable portion of these failures.
The reasons stem from smoking’s effect on oral health. Inhaled smoke can actually burn the outer skin layers in the mouth and eventually damage the salivary glands, which can decrease saliva production. Among its functions, saliva provides enzymes to fight disease; it also protects tooth enamel from damaging acid attacks. A chronic “dry mouth,” on the other hand, increases the risk of disease.
The chemical nicotine in tobacco also causes problems because it constricts blood vessels in the mouth and skin. The resulting reduced blood flow inhibits the delivery of antibodies to diseased or wounded areas, and so dramatically slows the healing process. As a result, smokers can take longer than non-smokers to recover from diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, or heal after surgery.
Both the higher disease risk and slower healing can impact an implant’s ultimate success. Implant durability depends on the gradual integration between bone and the implant’s titanium metal post that naturally occurs after placement. But this crucial process can be stymied if an infection resistant to healing arises—a primary reason why smokers experience twice the number of implant failures as non-smokers.
So, what should you do if you’re a smoker and wish to consider implants?
First, for both your general and oral health, try to quit smoking before you undergo implant surgery. At the very least, stop smoking a week before implant surgery and for two weeks after to lower your infection risk. And you can further reduce your chances for failure by practicing diligent daily brushing and flossing and seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
It’s possible to have a successful experience with implants even if you do smoke. But kicking the habit will definitely improve your odds.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Cancer treatment can be an all-out battle with intense side effects for your entire body. One particular area that can suffer is your mouth.
Chemotherapy and radiation target and destroy cancer cells, which can lead to non-cancerous cells caught in the crossfire and also destroyed. The salivary glands in the mouth are prone to such damage, which could greatly impact your ability to ward off dental disease.
Saliva, what salivary glands produce, plays a major role in oral health. The bodily fluid disseminates antibodies throughout the mouth that fight disease-causing bacteria. It also neutralizes acid, which can erode tooth enamel, and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel.
If the salivary glands become damaged, however, they may produce less saliva and create a condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This is a common occurrence for cancer patients, which can rob them of saliva’s benefits and make them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result could be tooth loss.
There are things you and your dentist can do to prevent this. First, have a complete dental checkup before undergoing cancer treatment. If at all possible have any necessary dental work undertaken (with adequate recovery time afterward) before beginning chemo or radiation. Your dentist and oncologist (cancer specialist) may need to coordinate any planned dental work.
You should also practice daily oral hygiene with brushing and flossing, along with keeping up your regular dental cleanings. This will prevent the buildup on teeth of bacterial plaque, which in turn will reduce your chances for dental disease. Your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial as well as fluoride mouth rinses to help limit the growth of oral bacteria.
To minimize dry mouth, increase your water consumption as much as possible. You may also use saliva boosters like xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener found in many gums or mints that promotes salivation (it also deters oral bacterial growth).
And don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet, which will not only benefit your stamina during cancer treatment but can also help you maintain better dental health. Providing good care for your mouth during this trying time will help ensure your teeth and gums stay as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on oral 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
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