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.”
Dental patients have amazing options for tooth replacement. Dental implants, for example, can replace the entire tooth, root and crown, giving patients a new tooth nearly as good as the old one.
Nearly—but not exact. Even implants can't match the full benefits of a natural tooth, including one in less than perfect shape. Our first goal as dentists, then, is to save a diseased tooth if at all practical before considering replacing it.
That often involves a root canal treatment to address decay threatening a tooth's interior. The procedure requires drilling into the tooth to access its innermost pulp, cleaning out the pulp and root canals, and then filling the empty spaces. Since all dentists are trained in basic root canal treatment, your general dentist may be able to perform it.
But some dental situations call for more advanced endodontics, the dental specialty for treating disease and other problems inside a tooth. So, in what situations would you see an endodontist?
When your dentist refers you. Your dentist wants you to receive the level of treatment necessary to save your tooth. After examination, they may determine your situation would be better served by the advanced training, equipment and techniques (including surgery) of an endodontist.
When your tooth has complications. Patients often need an endodontist when existing factors complicate treatment of advanced tooth decay. A patient may have dental pain that's difficult to pinpoint, requiring the diagnostic resources of an endodontist. It's also common for a tooth's root canal network to be highly intricate, and which respond better to treatment with specialized endodontic tools and techniques.
When root canal treatment fails. Most root canal treatments are successful in protecting the tooth from further infection. That said, it's still possible for a root-canaled tooth to become re-infected or develop more problems. Again, an endodontist and their “tool chest“ re-treating a root-canaled tooth may be the best option for saving it.
You also don't have to wait for a referral—you can see an endodontist if you believe they would be best to treat your decayed tooth. You can find one near you by visiting an online endodontist directory at www.aae.org/find. An endodontist may be the lifesaver your diseased tooth needs.
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.”
Tooth decay can be a big problem for children's primary (baby) teeth. It doesn't take long for a tooth to become infected and the infection spread to their neighbors.
But since it will eventually give way to a permanent tooth, why not just pull a diseased primary tooth? Although that sounds sensible, there are important reasons for helping a troubled primary tooth survive to its natural end.
Current usefulness. They may not be around for long, but primary teeth serve children well while they have them. They enable a child to eat solid foods to further their physical development. They also figure prominently in speech development, which could be stunted by lost teeth.
The smile factor. Young children are also honing their social skills, and smiling is an important part of learning to fit in with family and friends. A tooth that's missing for some time, especially in the “smile zone,” could affect their smile and have an adverse effect on their social development.
Future teeth health. A primary tooth reserves the space intended for the future permanent tooth, helping to ensure the incoming tooth erupts in the right position. If it's not there, however, other teeth can drift into the space, crowding the incoming tooth out of its proper alignment.
That last reason could have the most long-term effect, causing the development of a poor bite that could require extensive orthodontic treatment. To avoid this and any other physical or social consequences accompanying its premature loss, it's worth the effort to try to protect and save a primary tooth.
Preventively, we can apply sealants on biting surfaces more prone to plaque buildup (the main cause of decay) and topical fluoride to strengthen enamel. When decay does occur, we may be able to remove it and fill the tooth, cap a tooth with a steel crown, or even use a modified root canal procedure in the case of advanced tooth decay.
The best way, however, to protect your child's primary teeth is to brush and floss them every day. Removing harmful plaque vastly reduces the risk of tooth decay. Coupled with professional dental care, your child can avoid tooth decay and get the most out of their primary teeth.
If you would like more information on children's dental 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Being a parent can be a rewarding role. But it's also hard work, especially the effort required in keeping children healthy. In that respect, there's one area you don't want to overlook—their dental health.
Taking care of their teeth and gums has two aspects: their current state of dental health and their ongoing development that impacts future health. Fortunately, you can address both the present and the future by focusing on the following areas.
Prioritizing oral hygiene. From the moment your child is born, you'll want to practice daily oral hygiene to keep their teeth and gums clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. This starts even before teeth erupt—simply wipe their gums with a clean wet cloth after feeding. As teeth emerge, begin brushing each one with a small amount of toothpaste. Around your child's second birthday, start training them to brush and floss on their own.
Limit their sugar intake. The biggest threat to your child's teeth is tooth decay, which is caused by bacteria. These bacteria multiply when they have plenty of sugar available in the mouth, one of their primary food sources. It's important then to reduce the sugar they eat and limit it to mealtimes if possible. Also avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with sweetened liquids, including juices and even formula.
Visit the dentist. You're not in this alone—your dentist is your partner for keeping your child's teeth healthy and developing properly. So, begin regular visits when your child's first teeth appear (no later than their first birthday). You should also consider having your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 to make sure their bite is developing properly.
Practice oral safety. Over half the dental injuries in children under 7 occur in home settings around furniture. As your child is learning to walk, be aware of things in your home environment like tables and chairs, or hard objects they can place in their mouths. Take action then to move these items or restrict your child's access to them.
Good habits in each of these areas can make it easier to keep your child's teeth and gums healthy and on the right development track. That means good dental health today that could carry on into adulthood.
If you would like more information on children's dental 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children.”
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