Posts for: November, 2014
Tooth decay (dental caries) is one of the world’s most common infectious diseases. Left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss. The best treatment strategy, of course, is to prevent it from occurring in the first place with a long-term approach that begins in early childhood and continues throughout our lifetime.
Here are some basic components for just such a prevention strategy.
Know your risk. We each don’t share the same level of risk for tooth decay, so it’s important to come to terms with any factors that raise your personal risk for the disease — your dental history, inadequate oral hygiene, absence of fluoride use, and lifestyle habits like smoking. Coming to terms with these and other factors — and altering those you can change — can lower your risk.
Reduce acid-producing bacteria in your mouth. Tooth decay usually arises from elevated acidic levels in the mouth caused by certain strains of oral bacteria. You can reduce these bacteria by removing plaque, a thin film of food particles that collect on tooth surfaces, with daily oral hygiene and regular cleanings in our office. In some cases, we may also recommend antibacterial mouthrinses like chlorhexidine to further lower the bacterial population.
Apply protective measures to teeth. Fluoride, a naturally occurring chemical, has been proven effective in strengthening tooth enamel and reducing tooth decay. In addition to fluoride found in many oral hygiene products and public water systems, children can also benefit from a direct application of fluoride to the enamel surface just after the teeth have erupted in the mouth. Many clinical studies have shown 99% cavity free results in over a thousand teeth receiving a fluoride application with sealants.
Control your diet. Bacteria ferment leftover sugars and other carbohydrates in the mouth; this creates acid, which can soften tooth enamel and lead to decay. You can limit this effect by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing your consumption of refined sugar. You should also limit between meal snacking — constant snacking prevents saliva, the mouth’s natural acid neutralizer, from effectively restoring the mouth’s pH balance.
A prevention strategy for tooth decay will help you avoid unnecessary pain and problems — physically and financially. You’ll also reap the rewards that come from a lifetime of good dental health.
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.”
Contrary to what you might think, a knocked out tooth doesn’t inevitably mean tooth loss. Time is of the essence — the shorter the interval between injury and replanting the tooth, the better the tooth’s long-term survival. The longer the interval, on the other hand, the less likely the tooth can survive beyond a few years. That phenomenon is due to the mouth’s natural mechanism for holding teeth in place.
The tooth root maintains its attachment with the jaw bone through an intermediary tissue known as the periodontal ligament. Tiny fibers from one side of the ligament securely attach to the tooth root, while similar fibers attach to the bone on the opposite side of the ligament. This maintains stability between the teeth and bone while still allowing incremental tooth movement in response to mouth changes like tooth wear.
While the ligament fibers will attempt to reattach to a replanted tooth’s root, the longer the tooth is out of the socket the less likely the fibers will fully reattach. An “ankylosis” may instead form, in which the root attaches directly to the jaw bone without the periodontal ligament. In this situation the body no longer “recognizes” the tooth and begins to treat it like a foreign substance. In all but the rarest cases, the tooth root will begin to resorb (dissolve); at some point (which varies from patient to patient) the attachment becomes too weak for the tooth to remain in place and is lost.
Ideally, a knocked out tooth should be replanted within 5 minutes of the injury (for step-by-step instructions, refer to The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries available on-line at www.deardoctor.com/dental-injuries). Even if you pass the 5-minute window, however, it’s still advisable to attempt replanting. With a subsequent root canal treatment (to remove dead tissue from the inner tooth pulp and seal it from infection), it’s possible the tooth can survive for at least a few years, plenty of time to plan for a dental implant or similar tooth replacement.
If you would like more information on treatment for a knocked out tooth, 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 “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”