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.”
Children losing their primary (“baby”) teeth is both natural and necessary. So, is it really that much of a concern if they lose one early?
The answer is yes — premature primary tooth loss could have long-term consequences for the permanent teeth as they develop within the jaw before eruption. Primary teeth play a crucial role in this development: as the permanent teeth form and grow the primary teeth serve as placeholders until they’re ready to erupt. A natural process then takes place in which the primary tooth’s roots dissolve (resorb) to allow them to fall out. Once they’re out of the way, the permanent teeth can then erupt.
If, however, they’re lost before the permanent teeth are ready, it leaves a space in the child’s bite. The dynamic mechanism between teeth and the periodontal ligament causes adjacent teeth to move or “drift” into the space. This can crowd out the permanent tooth intended for the space, causing it to come in improperly forming a malocclusion (bad bite), or it may become impacted and remain partially or fully below the surface of the gums.
This poor dental development could lead to extensive orthodontic treatment later in life, which is why we seek to preserve even decayed primary teeth for their entire natural lifespan. If the tooth is lost, however, we need to take action to preserve the space for the permanent tooth and avoid costly treatment later.
This usually calls for a “space maintenance” appliance — a type of orthodontic “retainer” — worn by the child to prevent other teeth from drifting into the space. Designed by your orthodontist, the appliance can also perform a cosmetic and social function by causing the space to appear unnoticeable.
Maintaining that space requires monitoring — especially by an orthodontist — and continued dental hygiene and care both at home and at the dentist’s office. The extra care preserving the space caused by premature tooth loss will help to ensure your child’s dental structure develops properly and their future smile will be an attractive one.
If you would like more information on the care and treatment of primary teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Early Loss of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
Dental implants are by far the best way to replace missing teeth. But they do more than improve your smile: they can restore your ability to eat, chew and talk properly, especially if the teeth replaced are in the back of your mouth. What’s more, they can improve the entire look of your face by restoring facial height and cheek support lost because of the missing teeth.
There is, however, one obstacle to overcome before receiving dental implants — a lack of sufficient bone at the implant site. Bone loss usually occurs when teeth have been missing for some time. This is because when we chew the forces generated by the teeth stimulate continual bone growth to make up for older bone that has dissolved (resorbed). This stimulation doesn’t occur after teeth are lost, which slows the rate of bone growth. Over time the amount of healthy bone diminishes.
Without enough bone for support, implants can’t be placed properly. Fortunately, some of the bone can be regenerated through techniques that place bone grafting material at the site to stimulate and serve as a scaffold for new bone.Â The new bone will eventually replace the graft.
For missing upper back teeth with bone loss, we can take advantage of facial anatomy to grow the bone needed for implants. This area of the face is where the maxillary sinuses, air spaces lined with a tissue membrane, are located on either side just above the upper jaw. After determining their exact size and location through detailed x-ray imaging, we can surgically access the area inside the mouth just above the missing teeth.
The sinus cavity is an area where bone growth can occur by placing a bone graft between the floor of the sinus and the sinus membrane. Sometimes bone growth enhancers are used to stimulate and speed up regeneration. The procedure can usually be performed with local anesthesia (much like a routine tooth filling), with only mild discomfort afterward for a few days managed by an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen and a decongestant for sinus swelling.
After six to seven months, we re-evaluate the area to see if sufficient bone has returned for implant surgery. If so, you will be well on your way to achieving a new look and better function through dental implants.
If you would like more information on building new bone through sinus surgery, 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 “Sinus Surgery.”
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.”
There are several reasons why dental implants are so popular. Perhaps the most important, though, is their longevity: if maintained properly implants can last for decades. However, they’re not indestructible—certain mouth conditions could put them at risk for early failure. But if you address emerging problems early, you may be able to prevent that unfortunate outcome.
Your implants may be in danger, for example, if you have a teeth grinding or clenching habit. This occurs when a person involuntarily and repeatedly bites down on their teeth when not chewing or speaking. Usually triggered in adults by high stress, teeth grinding can subject both natural teeth and implants to damaging levels of force. Over time this can cause bone loss around an implant and weaken their support. It could also cause a direct break in an implant.
But there are ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of teeth grinding. One effective way is a custom-made bite guard you wear while you sleep. Made of hard plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other, reducing the amount of force generated.
A more prominent problem is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by built-up dental plaque on tooth surfaces. This can trigger inflammation, a normal defensive response that when it persists for an extended period of time can damage tissues and supporting bone. It can also cause a specific form of gum disease related to implants called peri-implantitis, in which the tissues that support an implant become infected and weaken, leading eventually to possible implant failure.
If you have implants, then, you should brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease, as well as see your dentist at least every six months for cleanings and checkups. And if you notice anything like reddened, swollen or bleeding gums, see your dentist immediately. The sooner you undergo treatment, the better the outcome for your implants as well as your overall health.
Dental implants can give you years of great service and can prove to be well worth the cost. But you’ll have to stay on your guard against gum disease and other mouth conditions that could endanger them down the road.
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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method that Rarely Fails.”
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