If your dentist found tooth decay on your last visit, you might have been surprised. But tooth decay doesn't occur suddenly—it's a process that takes time to unfold.
It begins with bacteria—too many, that is. Bacteria naturally live in the mouth, but when their populations grow (often because of an abundance of leftover sugar to feed on) they produce high amounts of acid, a byproduct of their digestion. Too much acid contact over time softens and eventually erodes tooth enamel, making decay easier to advance into the tooth.
So, one important strategy for preventing tooth decay is to keep your mouth's bacterial population under control. To do that, here are 4 common-sense tactics you should perform between dental visits.
Practice daily hygiene. Bacteria thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. By both brushing and flossing you can reduce plaque buildup and in turn reduce disease-causing bacteria. In addition, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can also help strengthen tooth enamel against acid attacks.
Cut back on sugar. Reducing how much sugar you eat—and how often –deprives bacteria of a prime food source. Constant snacking throughout the day on sweets worsens the problem because it prevents saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer, from reducing high acid levels produced while eating. Constant snacking doesn't allow saliva to complete this process, which normally takes about thirty minutes to an hour. To avoid this scenario, limit any sweets you eat to mealtimes only.
Wait to brush after eating. Although this sounds counterintuitive, your tooth enamel is in a softened state until saliva completes the acid neutralizing process previously described. If you brush immediately after eating you could brush away tiny particles of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth out with water and wait an hour for saliva to do its work before brushing.
Boost your saliva. Inadequate saliva flow could inhibit the fluid's ability to adequately neutralize acid or provide other restorative benefits to tooth enamel. You can improve flow with supplements or medications, or by drinking more water during the day. Products with xylitol, a natural sugar alternative, could give you a double benefit: chewing gums and mints containing it could stimulate more saliva flow and the xylitol itself can inhibit bacterial growth.
The Millennials, those born around the turn of the Millennium in 2000, are entering adulthood. Like any generation, they have their collective promise—and problems. An example of the latter seems to involve their teeth: an estimated one in three people between the ages of 18 and 34 have some form of tooth decay.
If a recent survey is correct, that may be a result of poor oral hygiene practices. The absence of a consistent, daily habit of brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque is the number one cause for dental disease. But a survey of 2,000 millennials found only three in ten brushed their teeth at least once a day with many often skipping brushing for two or more days a time.
Interestingly, more than half of the survey also reported an aversion to dental visits. That will likely need to change if these trends in poor hygiene continue, as aging millennials will eventually need extensive treatment for tooth decay and its close counterpart periodontal (gum) disease to save their teeth. Dental professionals recommend a different dental care track: stop dental disease before it develops. And the key to that is a simple but powerful daily brushing and flossing routine.
This routine should involve brushing teeth up to twice and flossing at least once a day. Brushing should be done with gentle strokes, but include all exposed tooth surfaces (about two minutes to perform a thorough job). Flossing is less popular than brushing, but it’s essential for removing plaque between teeth your brush can’t reach. To make it easier, you can use pre-threaded floss or a water flosser that removes plaque with a stream of water.
To round out your prevention strategy, you should see a dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings of hardened plaque deposits (calculus), as well as overall monitoring of your dental health. And if dental visits make you anxious, your dental professional has a number of ways to help you relax.
One thing’s for sure: like any other generation, millennials prize both good health and an attractive smile. Adopting a solid oral hygiene lifestyle will do the most to achieve both.
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
In many parts of the country, summer is often a synonym for "blast furnace" and can be downright hot and miserable. If you find yourself in such a climate, it's imperative that you drink plenty of water to beat both the heat and heat-related injuries. Your teeth and gums are another reason to keep hydrated during those hot summer months.
Your body needs water to produce all that saliva swishing around in your mouth. When you have less water available in your system, the production of this important bodily fluid can go down—and this can increase your risk of dental disease. That's because saliva performs a number of tasks that enhance dental health. It helps rinse the mouth of excess food particles after eating that could become a prime food source for disease-causing bacteria. It also contains antibodies that serve as the first line of defense against harmful microorganisms entering through the mouth.
Perhaps saliva's most important role, though, is protecting and strengthening enamel, the teeth's outer "armor" against disease. Although the strongest substance in the body, enamel has one principal foe: oral acid. If the mouth's normally neutral pH becomes too acidic, the minerals in enamel begin to soften and dissolve. In response, saliva neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes softened enamel.
Without a healthy salivary flow protecting the mouth in these different ways, the teeth and gums are vulnerable to assault from bacteria and acid. As they gain the upper hand, the risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can skyrocket. Keeping yourself adequately hydrated ensures your body can produce an ample flow of saliva.
By the way, summer heat isn't the only cause for reduced saliva: Certain prescription medications may also interfere with its production. Chemotherapy and radiation, if targeting cancer near the head or neck, can damage salivary glands and impact flow as well.
If you have reduced saliva from medication you're taking, talk to your doctor about switching to an alternative prescription that doesn't affect saliva production. If you're undergoing cancer treatment, be extra vigilant about your oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits. And as with summer heat, be sure you're drinking plenty of water to help offset these other effects.
Even when it's hot, summertime should be a time for fun and relaxation. Don't let the heat ruin it—for your health or your smile.
With summer winding down, parents are turning their attention to their kids' upcoming school year. August is often a busy time for families rushing to buy school supplies and fresh sets of clothes and shoes. Although hectic, these last few weeks before school starts are also ideal for focusing on dental health.
As you prepare for the school year, be sure to include these dental health items on your to-do list.
Make a dental appointment. Start the school year off right with a dental cleaning and checkup. Along with daily hygiene, dental visits are key to disease prevention and optimal oral health. Make those appointments early, though: Most dentists report an upsurge in patient visits this time of year.
And if you haven't already, set up an orthodontic evaluation: Having an orthodontist examine your child around age 6 could uncover an emerging bite problem. Early intervention might prevent the need for more costly future orthodontic treatments.
Plan for healthy school snacking. While kids are home on summer break, it's probably easier to keep an eye on the quality of their snacks. But being away from your watchful gaze at school means your children may encounter snacks that are not quite up to your tooth-healthy standards.
Even though schools adhere to federal nutrition standards for food provided on school property, many dentists don't believe they go far enough. Your kids' classmates can also be a source of unhealthy snack choices, so plan ahead to provide your kids an array of snacks to carry to school that they like and that support healthy teeth and a healthy body.
Get a custom mouthguard for your student athlete. If your child is going to play football, basketball or some other contact sport, make sure they have dental protection. A hard impact to the face can cause significant dental damage that's costly to treat, but a mouthguard worn during play can protect the teeth and gums by cushioning the blow.
You can purchase retail mouthguards at your local sporting goods store. Your best option, though, is a mouthguard custom-made by your dentist based on your child's individual mouth measurements. Although more expensive, custom mouthguards offer superior protection, and they're more comfortable to wear.
When the school bell rings, you want your kids as prepared as possible. Make sure their teeth and gums are ready too. If you would like more information about best practices for your child's dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Snacking at School” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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