Although we've known for some time how tooth decay forms, it's still prevalent across the population—even more so than cancer or heart disease. Along with gum disease, it's a leading cause of tooth loss.
Fortunately, our knowledge about tooth decay has grown considerably, to the point that we now recognize a number of risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop this disease. By first identifying them in individual patients, we can take steps to address them specifically to reduce the chances of this destructive disease.
Genetics. Researchers have identified around 40 to 50 genes that can influence cavity development. The best way to assess your genetic risk is through family history—if numerous close family members contend with tooth decay, your risk may be high. If so, it's important to be extra vigilant with addressing other areas over which you have more control.
Saliva. Cavities are directly caused by oral acid, a byproduct of bacteria, that can erode tooth enamel over prolonged contact. This is minimized, though, through a normal saliva flow that neutralizes acid and helps remineralize enamel. But poor saliva production can slow acid neutralization. You can improve your saliva flow by drinking more water, changing medications or using saliva-boosting products.
Oral hygiene. You can reduce bacteria (and thus acid) by removing their "room and board"—dental plaque. This accumulating film of food particles harbors the bacteria that feed on it. Daily brushing and flossing, accompanied by regular dental cleanings, effectively removes dental plaque, which in turn lowers the levels of oral bacteria and acid.
Dental-friendly diet. Even if you diligently address the previous risk factors, your diet may fight against your efforts. Diets high in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, provide abundant food sources for bacteria. On the other hand, a diet primarily of whole foods rich in vitamins (especially D) and minerals like calcium and phosphorous strengthen teeth against decay.
Preventing tooth decay isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach. By identifying your own particular risk, we can craft a care strategy that can be your best defense against this destructive dental disease.
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of 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 “Root Cavities.”
July is Park and Recreation Month, a great time to pack up the tent, bed roll and camp stove and head for your nearest state or national park. Just don't take the concept of "getting away from it all" too literally. It's not a good idea to leave all of civilization behind, particularly your daily oral hygiene and dental care habits.
You might think, What's the harm going a few days without brushing and flossing? Actually, there's plenty of harm—even a brief period of neglected oral hygiene is sufficient to give oral bacteria a chance to trigger a case of tooth decay or gum disease.
It's true that you're limited on what you can take with you into the great outdoors (that's kind of the point). But with a little forethought and wise packing, you can take care of your dental care needs and still tread lightly into the woods. Here then, are a few tips for taking care of your teeth and gums while camping.
Bring your toothbrush. There are some things in your personal toiletry you may not need in the wild (looking at you, razor). But you do need your toothbrush, toothpaste and a bit of dental floss or floss picks. We're really not talking about a lot of room, particularly if you go with travel sizes. Just be sure everyone has their own brush packed separately from each other to discourage bacterial spread.
Dry and seal hygiene items. Bacteria love moist environments—so be sure you thoroughly dry your toothbrush after use before you pack it away. You should also stow toothpaste in sealable bags so that its scent won't attract critters (bears seem partial to mint). And, be sure to clean up any toothpaste waste or used floss and dispose of items properly.
Be sure you have clean water. Brushing and flossing with clean water is something you might take for granted at home—but not in camp. Even the clearest stream water may not be as clean as it may look, so be sure you have a way to disinfect it. Alternatively, bottled water is a handy option for use while brushing and flossing your teeth.
Easy on the trail mix. Although seeds and nuts make up most popular snacking mixes for hiking or camping, they may also contain items like raisins or candy bits with high sugar content. Since sugar feeds the bacteria that cause dental disease, keep your snacking on these kinds of trail mixes to a minimum or opt for snacks without these sweetened items.
Camping can be a great adventure. Just be sure you're not setting yourself up for a different kind of adventure in dental treatment by taking care of your teeth and gums on your next big outing.
If you would like more information about taking care of your teeth no matter the season, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.
With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”
That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.
Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.
Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.
But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.
This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.
Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.
While your dentist plays an important role in keeping things inside your mouth healthy, what you do every day often makes the biggest difference. Here are 5 routine things you can do for better oral health.
Brush and floss every day. The most important thing you can do for your teeth and gums is adhere to a daily schedule of brushing and flossing. These twin tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a thin bacterial biofilm most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
Check your hygiene. There's brushing and flossing—and then there's brushing and flossing effectively. To make sure you're getting the job done, run the tip of your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss. If it feels smooth, mission accomplished! If it feels rough and gritty, though, try again. You can also use plaque disclosure products occasionally to highlight any missed plaque still on your teeth.
Say no to sugar. Chances are you love sugar—and so do the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. As they feed on sugar, they multiply and produce acid, which in high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Limiting sugar in your diet reduces oral bacteria and the acid they produce, and thus lowers your risk for disease.
Drink plenty of water. Saliva plays an important role in oral health: It helps fight off bacteria, neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes tooth enamel. But it can't do those things if there's not enough of it. So, if your mouth consistently feels dry, drink more water to give your body what it needs to make saliva. Drinking water also washes away food particles that could become plaque and lowers your mouth's acidity.
Maintain your dental appliances. You can extend the life of dentures, retainers or other types of dental appliances by cleaning and maintaining them. You should clean your appliance regularly using regular hand soap or a designated cleaner (not toothpaste, which can be too abrasive). Unless otherwise directed by your dentist, take them out at night and be sure to store them where kids or pets can't get to them.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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