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.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
You've seen ads for “Teeth in One Day” that promise immediate implant placement at the same time you have the problem tooth removed. But this presumes the gums and underlying bone are healthy and able to support and protect the implant. If that's not the case, it may be ill-advised to place an implant on the same day.
Even with immediate placement, there will be a small degree of bone and gum opening or space around the implant after it's placed into the socket. This can often be remedied by placing a bone graft and sometimes a gum graft when we install the implant. It's also possible for natural healing to gradually fill in the space, but we'll need to monitor the site carefully for several weeks.
On the other hand, if we detect significant bone loss (or strongly suspect it will occur), immediate placement may not be an option — there's not enough bone or it's too weak to support an implant. In this case, it's necessary to wait on placement and focus on improving the bone health and quantity, beginning when we remove the old tooth and place a bone graft.
After completing the extraction, we typically place a bone graft in the empty socket. The graft will become a “scaffold” for new bone cells to grow upon. We may then allow about two to four months for new bone to partially replenish the area and then place the implant. The bone will continue to regenerate as it grows and attaches to the titanium implant to create a solid attachment.
If the site, however, still appears fragile even after partial bone growth, we may opt to wait another two to four months before attempting placement. From a long-term perspective, this is the best scenario for ensuring a durable foundation for the implant. It also allows for a socket severely compromised by disease to heal more thoroughly.
To determine which of these placement scenarios is best for you, we'll first need to conduct a thorough dental examination. From there we'll be in a better position to discuss the right implant timeline for your situation. Our main goal is to ensure we can securely place your implant in just the right position to achieve the most successful and attractive result.
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 “Implant Timelines for Replacing Missing Teeth.”
Since the late 19th Century, dentists have used established protocols to successfully prevent and treat tooth decay. But there've been changes to this approach the last few years to improve its effectiveness, changes we now refer to as Minimally Invasive Dentistry or MID.
The older approach for treating dental caries (tooth decay) follows the protocols established by Dr. G.V. Black, considered the father of modern dentistry. Black advocated removing not only decayed structure but also some of the healthier but vulnerable portions of a tooth, to avoid further decay and make the tooth easier to clean. This resulted in larger fillings, although they've become smaller as dental techniques have advanced.
MID, on the other hand, aims to remove as little tooth structure as possible while still effectively treating and preventing future decay. To achieve that goal we begin first with a complete assessment of a patient's individual decay risk, known as Caries Management By Risk Assessment (CAMBRA).
With CAMBRA, we're looking at other factors besides individual tooth health: a patient's hygiene, lifestyle and dietary habits; the types and amount of bacteria present; and the quality of saliva flow, needed to neutralize mouth acid. With these the results we develop a customized prevention and treatment strategy.
MID also focuses on detecting dental caries as early as possible. Besides traditional x-rays, we're beginning to use other methods like dental microscopes, laser fluorescence, infrared photography or optical scanning. Early detection leads to early intervention, and with techniques that are much less invasive than the traditional approach.
The new approach also changes how we repair decayed teeth. We're increasingly using air abrasion, a technology that uses fine particles in a pressurized air stream to remove softer decayed tooth material and less healthy structure than the traditional dental drill. We're also using composite resin and other advanced materials for filings: these tooth-colored materials are stronger than previous versions and are quickly taking the place of metal amalgam, requiring less structural removal to accommodate them.
MID's core principles are early disease detection, proactive prevention and treatment with less structural removal. With this enhanced approach to effective dentistry, we're keeping your teeth healthy with minimal discomfort, lower costs and less long-term impact.
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.”
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