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.
After a year of lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions, people are itching this summer to get back out into the great outdoors. The good news is that quite a number of national and state parks are open. But there may still be some restrictions, and you might need reservations in busier parks. The key is to plan ahead—and that includes for normal contingencies like dental emergencies.
Anyone who's physically active can encounter brunt force to the face and jaws. A tumble on a hike or a mishap with a rental bike could injure your teeth and gums, sometimes severely. But if you're already prepared, you might be able to lessen the damage yourself.
Here's a guide for protecting your family's teeth during that long-awaited summer vacation.
Locate dental and medical care. If you're heading away from home, be sure you identify healthcare providers (like hospitals or emergency rooms and clinics) in close proximity to your vacation site. Be sure your list of emergency providers also includes a dentist. Besides online searches, your family dentist may also be able to make recommendations.
Wear protective mouth gear. If your vacation involves physical activity or sports participation, a mouthguard could save you a world of trouble. Mouthguards, especially custom-made and fitted by a dentist, protect the teeth, gums and jaws from sudden blows to the face. They're a must for any activity or sport with a risk of blunt force trauma to the face and jaws, and just as important as helmets, pads or other protective gear.
Know what to do for a dental injury. Outdoor activities do carry a risk for oral and dental injuries. Knowing what to do if an accident does occur can ease discomfort and may reduce long-term consequences. For example, quickly placing a knocked out tooth back into its socket (cleaned off and handled by the crown only) could save the tooth. To make dental first aid easier, here's a handy dental injury pocket guide (//www.deardoctor.com/dental-injuries/) to print and carry with you.
And regardless of the injury, it's best to see a dentist as soon as possible after an accident. Following up with a dentist is necessary to tidy up any initial first aid, or to check the extent of an injury. This post-injury dental follow-up will help reduce the chances of adverse long-term consequences to the teeth and gums.
Your family deserves to recharge after this tumultuous year with a happy and restful summer. Just be sure you're ready for a dental injury that could put a damper on your outdoor vacation.
If you would like more information about preventing or treating dental injuries, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
A wise sage once said the largest room in the world is the "room for improvement." Indeed, many modern advances would never have happened if someone hadn't first asked, "How can I make this better?"
Dentures and bridges are a case in point. Both of these tooth replacement methods have a long, successful track record in restoring functional, life-like teeth. But a recent development has made them even better: the incorporation of dental implants.
Most people associate implants, metallic posts imbedded in the jawbone, with single tooth replacements. But a few strategically placed implants can connect to and support a full removable denture (or overdenture). We can also use them to permanently affix a full or partial bridge without altering any remaining teeth as with a regular bridge.
There are two great benefits to using implants in this way. The most obvious is that they provide greater support for restorations than the traditional means for securing them in place. But there's also a less obvious benefit: They help sustain and improve bone health.
When you lose teeth, there's a high probability of bone loss. The bone is constantly forming new cells to replace older cells that have dissolved. The forces generated during chewing travel up through the teeth and help stimulate new bone growth. When teeth go missing, though, that stimulus disappears.
As a result, new cell formation can't keep up with the loss of older cells, causing the volume and density of jawbone to diminish over time. And this gradual bone loss continues to occur even with dentures or bridges, which can't replicate the chewing stimulus. Even worse, dentures irritating the bony ridges of the jaw may actually accelerate bone loss.
But the titanium in dental implants attracts bone cells, which readily grow and adhere to the implant surface. They can stop the progression of bone loss, or even help stimulate more growth. That bone growth benefit is also applicable when incorporated with dentures or bridges.
If you're looking at a denture or bridge restoration, consider implant support. It may even be possible to retrofit your existing dentures for implants. It could give you a more secure restoration and healthier bone.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dentures and bridges, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.
Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.
Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.
But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.
As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.
In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.
As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.
Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Lichen Planus.”
Here's a bit of magic: Hold your smart phone camera in front of someone and say, "Cheese!" More times than not, they'll break into a smile. No one knows for sure the origin of this grin-inducing phrase, but it works like a charm. And it's quite appropriate too! That tasty aging of proteins and fat also helps to keep the stars of our smile—our teeth—in good health.
In the fight against tooth decay and gum disease, daily oral hygiene—brushing and flossing—and regular dental visits get top billing. But nutrition is also a critical factor for great dental health. A diet low in sugar and processed foods and rich in whole foods can also lower your dental disease risk.
Dairy is an important part of this "tooth-friendly" eating. In recognition of National Dairy Month this June, here's how products like milk and cheese can help you maintain a healthy—and photogenic—smile.
Nutrients. Dairy products like milk and cheese are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Two of the most important are calcium and phosphorous, both of which the body uses to build strong bones and teeth. The micronutrient Vitamin D found heavily in dairy helps regulate these important minerals so that they're available for teeth.
Reduced decay risk. Cheese and other dairy products do contain a form of sugar called lactose. But it has a milder effect within the mouth than other sugars, particularly sucrose (refined sugar): While bacteria readily feed on sucrose and release enamel-eroding acid as a by-product, they're less likely with lactose. Even so, there's still a risk, albeit lower, of lactose leading to tooth decay, so go easy on consumption.
Acid buffering. Speaking of acid, cheese in particular seems to contribute to neutralizing this bacterial byproduct. It's believed it does this by stimulating saliva production, which is the body's primary means for restoring proper pH balance in the mouth after eating. So, eating a little cheese during or after consuming a food with sugar may help offset any acid resulting from the sweet snack.
Cheese and other dairy products are a good source of protein, but also fat, so they should be consumed in moderation for overall health. But nibbling on a bit of Gouda, Havarti or Mozzarella can be a good thing for your teeth—and make it more likely you'll smile wide for the camera.
If you would like more information about the role of nutrition in better dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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