TheresMoreWeCanDoAboutToothDecayBesidesDrillandFill

Until recently, the standard treatment for tooth decay remained essentially the same for nearly a century: Remove any decayed structure, then prepare and fill the cavity. But that singular protocol has begun to change recently.

Although "drilling and filling" saves teeth, it doesn't fully address the causes of decay. In response, dentists have broadened their approach to the disease—the focus now is on an individual patient's particular set of risk factors for decay and how to reduce those.

At the heart of this new approach is a better understanding of oral bacteria, the true cause of decay. Bacteria produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and create a gateway into the tooth for decay to advance. We therefore want to lower those risk factors that may lead to bacterial growth and elevated acidity.

One of our major objectives in this newer approach is to reduce plaque, a thin film of food particles used by bacteria for food and habitation. Removing plaque, principally through better oral hygiene, in turn reduces decay-causing bacteria.

Plaque isn't the only mechanism for bacterial growth and acidity. Appliances like dentures or retainers accumulate bacteria if not regularly cleaned. Reduced saliva flow, often due to certain medications or smoking, limits this fluid's ability to buffer acid and acid reflux or acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks can disrupt the mouth's normal pH and increase the risk for enamel erosion.

Our aim, then, is to develop a long-term strategy based on the patient's individual set of oral disease risk factors. To determine those, we'll need to examine their medical history (including family), current health status and lifestyle habits. From there, we can create a specific plan targeting the identified risk factors for decay.

Some of the elements of such a strategy might include:

  • Daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings;
  • Fluoride dental products or treatments to strengthen enamel;
  • Changes in diet and excess snacking, and ceasing from any tobacco use;
  • Cleaning and maintaining appliances, as well as monitoring past dental work.

Improving the mouth environment by limiting the presence of oral bacteria and acid can reduce the occurrence of tooth decay and the extent of treatment that might be needed. It's a more nuanced approach that can improve dental health.

If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention and treatment, 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.”

KickingtheSmokingHabitBoostsYourHealthIncludingTeethandGums

Quitting smoking is hard. The love affair between your brain and nicotine chains the habit to your daily life. But it's still worth the effort to quit to save your health from disease—including those that impact your teeth and gums. And, there's no time better to launch your "kick the habit" project than the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout day this November 18.

As to smoking's impact on your teeth and gums: Two-thirds of America's 32 million smokers contend with gum disease. A smoker's risk for tooth decay is also higher, as well as their prospects for implant failure.

So, why is smoking hazardous to your oral health?

Primarily, nicotine constricts oral blood vessels, which in turn reduces the nutrients and antibodies reaching the teeth and gums. Your mouth thus struggles to fight bacteria that cause tooth decay or gum disease.

Inadequate blood circulation can also hide signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. Instead, a smoker's gums may look deceivingly healthy, although you may have a gum infection that could be well advanced when it's finally diagnosed.

Gum or bone grafting also depends on good blood flow, or the grafts may not fully regenerate new tissue. The situation's similar for an implant: Its titanium post needs bone to grow and adhere to its surface to acquire sufficient strength and stability. But slow wound healing due to poor circulation can interfere with this process and cause an implant to fail.

For your mouth's sake, as well as the rest of your body, quitting smoking could help you avoid these problems. But as an ingrained, addictive habit, your body needs to "unlearn" it to stop it. Here are some ideas to help make that process easier.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy. Under your doctor's guidance, you can take medications that deliver nicotine to the body without smoking, and gradually reduce its concentration. This approach can be costly, however, and cause unpleasant side effects.

Brand fading. With this technique, you continuously switch to cigarette brands with less nicotine. This gradually acclimates your body to lower concentrations of the chemical, and eventually wean off it entirely. Here's an online site listing nicotine strength by brand.

Don't do it alone. Quitting smoking doesn't need to be a solo act. Developing relationships with those who don't smoke or who are also quitting can make it easier. One way is to attend a smoking cessation group for support and encouragement from others who're also trying to quit.

Above all, speak with your doctor or dentist to learn more about what you can do to stop smoking. It can be difficult, but the rewards—especially for your oral health—are well worth it.

If you would like more information about smoking and oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”

DentalCleaningsTakeonNewImportanceAfterGumDisease

There are few things sweeter to hear than for your dentist to tell you your periodontal (gum) disease is under control. Depending on how deep the infection may have advanced, your treatment journey may have been a long one.

Unfortunately, while the battle may be over, the threat still lingers—once you've experienced a gum infection, you're at higher risk for a recurrence. To minimize that risk, you may need to undergo dental cleanings on a more frequent basis than before.

The average patient typically sees their dentist for cleanings every six months. The aim of these visits is to remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacterial-laden particles that is the prime source for gum disease. These cleanings are meant to supplement a daily habit of brushing and flossing, which should remove the bulk of plaque that builds up throughout the day.

After gum disease treatment, though, you may need to have these cleanings more frequently, and of a more involved nature than the normal cleaning. For patients who've overcome advanced gum disease, that frequency could initially be every other week, every couple of months or every three months. This frequency may change depending on the status of your gum health.

Besides a thorough cleaning, a specialized periodontal maintenance visit may include other interventions. For example, your dentist may apply topical antibiotics or other anti-bacterial products to keep bacterial growth under control.

Protecting you from further gum infection isn't totally on your dentist's shoulders—you also have a role to play. You'll need to brush and floss your teeth thoroughly every day, along with using any other hygiene products prescribed or recommended by your dentist. Daily hygiene will help prevent the buildup of dental plaque and subsequent bacterial growth.

You'll also need to keep a watchful eye on your gums for any emerging signs of infection. If you begin to notice swelling, pain or bleeding, contact your dentist as soon as possible to initiate remedial treatment.

Gum disease treatment can bring your gums back to a reasonable state of good health. But that state could be reversed with a returning gum infection. Only vigilance practiced by both you and your dentist can stop that from happening.

If you would like more information on post-gum disease dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

WhetherVotingforaCandidateorWisdomTeethYouCanChooseWisely

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.

If you would like more information about what's best to do about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Wisdom Teeth.”

5SignsYourChildMayBeDevelopingaPoorBite

A Malocclusion—better known as a poor bite—can have far-ranging consequences that could follow a child into adulthood. Bite abnormalities make it more difficult to chew and digest food. And, misaligned teeth are also harder to keep clean, increasing the risk of dental disease.

But the good news is that we can often curb these long-term effects by discovering and treating a malocclusion early. A poor bite generally develops slowly with signs emerging as early as age 6. If you can pick up on such a sign, interventional treatment might even prevent a malocclusion altogether.

Here are 5 possible signs that might indicate your child is developing a poor bite.

Excessive spacing or crowding. A poor bite may be developing if the gaps between teeth seem unusually wide or, at the opposite spectrum, the teeth appear crooked or "bunched up" from crowding.

Underbite. In a normal bite the teeth on the upper jaw arch slightly cover the lower. If the opposite is true—the lower teeth are in front of the upper—then an underbite could be forming.

Open bite. Normally, when the jaws are shut, there is no open space between them. But if you notice a space still present between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut, it may indicate an open bite.

Crossbite. This abnormal bite occurs when some of the lower teeth bite in front of the upper, while the remaining lower teeth are properly aligned behind the upper. Crossbites can occur with either the front or the back teeth.

Front teeth abnormalities. Front teeth especially can indicate a number of problems. In a deep bite, the upper front teeth extend too far over the lower teeth. Protrusion occurs when the upper teeth jut too far forward; in retrusion, the lower teeth seem to be farther back than normal.

See your dentist if you notice these signs or anything else unusual with your child's bite. Better yet, schedule a bite evaluation with an orthodontist when your child reaches age 6. Getting a head start on treating an emerging malocclusion can save them bigger problems down the road.

If you would like more information on malocclusions and their impact on your child's oral 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 “Problems to Watch For in Children Ages 6 to 8.”





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