Tooth decay is a destructive disease that could rob you of your teeth. But it doesn't appear out of nowhere—a number of factors can make it more likely you'll get cavities.
But the good news is you can be proactive about many of these factors and greatly reduce your risk of tooth decay. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to point you in the right direction for preventing this destructive disease.
Do you brush and floss every day? A daily habit of brushing and flossing removes buildup of dental plaque, a bacterial film on teeth that's the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Hit or miss hygiene, though, can greatly increase your risk for developing a cavity.
Do you use fluoride? This naturally occurring chemical has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel against decay. Many locations add fluoride to drinking water—if your area doesn't or you want to boost your fluoride intake, use toothpastes, mouthrinses or other hygiene products containing fluoride.
Do you smoke? The nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels in the mouth so that they provide less nutrients and antibodies to the teeth and gums. Your mouth can't fight off infection as well as it could, increasing your risk of dental diseases like tooth decay.
Do you have dry mouth? This isn't the occasional bout of “cotton mouth,” but a chronic condition in which the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva. Saliva neutralizes mouth acid, so less of it increases your risk for decay. Chronic dry mouth can be caused by medications or other underlying conditions.
Do you snack a lot between meals? Sugary snacks, sodas or energy drinks can increase oral bacteria and acidity that foster tooth decay. If you're snacking frequently between meals, your saliva's acid neutralizing efforts may be overwhelmed. Coordinate snacking with mealtimes to boost acid buffering.
You can address many of these questions simply by adopting a daily habit of brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and eating a healthy, “tooth-friendly” diet. By reducing the risk factors for decay, you can avoid cavities and preserve your teeth.
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.”
If you think periodontal (gum) disease is something that only happens to the other guy (or gal), you might want to reconsider. Roughly half of adults over age 30—and nearly three-quarters over 65—have had some form of gum disease.
Gum disease isn't some minor inconvenience: If not treated early, a gum infection could lead to bone and tooth loss. Because it's inflammatory in nature, it may also impact the rest of your health, making you more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
Gum disease mainly begins with dental plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces. Plaque's most notable feature, though, is as a haven for oral bacteria that can infect the gums. These bacteria use plaque as a food source, which in turn fuels their multiplication. So, the greater the plaque buildup, the higher your risk for a gum infection.
The best way to lower that risk is to reduce the population of bacteria that cause gum disease. You can do this by keeping plaque from building up by brushing and flossing every day. It's important for this to be a daily habit—missing a few days of brushing and flossing is enough for an infection to occur.
You can further reduce your disease risk by having us clean your teeth regularly. Even if you're highly proficient with daily hygiene, it's still possible to miss some plaque deposits, which can calcify over time and turn into a hardened form called tartar (or calculus). Tartar is nearly impossible to remove with brushing and flossing, but can be with special dental tools and techniques.
Even with the most diligent care, there's still a minimal risk for gum disease, especially as you get older. So, always be on the lookout for red, swollen or bleeding gums. If you see anything abnormal like this, see us as soon as possible. The sooner we diagnose and begin treating a gum infection, the better your chances it won't ultimately harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Cowboys wear Stetsons; ballerinas wear tutus; and teenagers wear…braces.
At least that's the popular conception. In actuality, one in five orthodontic patients is an adult, a number that continues to grow. Even adults over fifty are straightening their teeth and improving their smiles.
But it's still a big step and many adults are wary to take it because they think it's too late. Not necessarily: If you're an older adult toying with the idea of straightening your teeth, toy no more. Here's the lowdown on late in life orthodontics.
It's not just about the smile. While wanting a more attractive smile may have started you thinking about orthodontics, it's not the primary reason for considering it. Straightening your teeth can improve your health. Because misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean of disease-causing plaque, realigning them properly can improve your hygiene and lower your risk of dental disease. You'll also gain new chewing efficiency and comfort, which can improve your overall health and nutrition.
Health, not age, is the determining factor. Even if you're well advanced in years you can have your teeth straightened—as long as you're healthy. If your teeth, gums and supporting bone aren't in the best of shape, the stresses associated with tooth movement might be further damaging. Some systemic conditions may also interfere, so a full assessment of your overall health will be needed before treatment.
Only you and your dentist need to know. A lot of adults are embarrassed by the prospect of wearing braces. But you might be a candidate for an alternative to braces called clear aligners. These clear plastic trays are worn in a series to gradually move the teeth to their desired positions. You can remove the trays for eating or hygiene, as well as for rare special occasions. But best of all, they're nearly invisible to others.
If you're serious about straightening your teeth, take the next step by undergoing a complete dental exam. If the results of the exam show you're a good candidate for orthodontics, we can discuss your options for transforming your crooked teeth into a more attractive smile, regardless of your age.
If you would like more information on adult orthodontics, 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Dentures have come a long way since George Washington's time. Today, they're more comfortable, more secure and more lifelike than our first president's famous hippopotamus ivory appliance.
But one thing hasn't changed: Dentures still require regular care and cleaning. And one of the best things you can do for both your dentures and your health is to take them out at night when you go to bed.
Modern dentures are often so comfortable to wear, it's easy to forget you have them in your mouth. But setting a daily habit of taking them out when you turn in for the night will help you avoid a few potential problems.
For one, wearing dentures 24/7 can increase your risk for both oral and general diseases. Constant denture wear can cause greater accumulations of dental plaque, a thin biofilm responsible for gum disease and inflammation. The increase in bacteria could also make you more susceptible to pneumonia and other diseases.
Wearing your dentures non-stop can also worsen bone loss, a common problem associated with dentures. Normally, the biting forces generated when we chew stimulate bone growth in the jaw. A person loses much of this stimulation when they lose teeth, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can't replace this lost stimulation, and the pressure they exert on the jaw's bony ridges they rest upon can accelerate the process of bone loss. In time, any bone loss could affect the denture's fit as the bone beneath them gradually shrinks. By taking them out at night, you can help slow the pace of bone loss.
In addition to giving them and your mouth a rest at night, be sure you're also keeping your dentures clean: Take them out and rinse them off after meals and brush them with a small amount of antibacterial soap (not toothpaste) at least once a day. And don't forget to brush your gums and tongue every day with a soft toothbrush (different from your denture brush) to further reduce dental plaque.
If you would like more information on denture 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 “Sleeping in Dentures.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.