Other than the common cold, tooth decay is the most prevalent disease in the world. And while a cavity or two may seem like a minor matter, tooth decay’s full destructive potential is anything but trivial. Without proper prevention and treatment, tooth decay can cause pain, tooth loss and, in rare cases, even death.
This common disease begins with bacteria in the mouth. Though these microscopic organisms’ presence is completely normal and at times beneficial, certain strains cause problems: they consume left over carbohydrates in the mouth like sugar and produce acid as a byproduct. The higher the levels of bacteria the higher the amount of acid, which disrupts the mouth’s normal neutral pH.
This is a problem because acid is the primary enemy of enamel, the teeth’s hard protective outer shell. Acid causes enamel to lose its mineral content (de-mineralization), eventually producing cavities. Saliva neutralizes acid that arises normally after we eat, but if the levels are too high for too long this process can be overwhelmed. The longer the enamel is exposed to acid, the more it softens and dissolves.
While tooth decay is a global epidemic, dental advances of the last century have made it highly preventable. The foundation for prevention is fluoride in toothpaste and effective oral hygiene — daily brushing and flossing to removing plaque, a thin film of food remnant on teeth that’s a feeding ground for bacteria, along with regular dental visits for more thorough cleaning and examination. This regular regimen should begin in infancy when teeth first appear in the mouth. For children especially, further prevention measures in the form of sealants or topical fluoride applications performed in the dentist office can provide added protection for those at higher risk.
You can also help your preventive measures by limiting sugar or other carbohydrates in your family’s diet, and eating more fresh vegetables, fruit and dairy products, especially as snacks. Doing so reduces food sources for bacteria, which will lower their multiplication and subsequently the amount of acid produced.
In this day and age, tooth decay isn’t a given. Keeping it at bay, though, requires a personal commitment to effective hygiene, lifestyle choices and regular dental care. Doing these things will help ensure you and your family’s teeth remain free from this all too common disease.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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.”
While oral hygiene, a nutritious diet and regular dental visits are all crucial to long-term oral health, these efforts complement what your body already does to keep your mouth healthy. One of the major players in this function is saliva.
Produced by hundreds of glands located throughout the mouth, saliva does much more than help you swallow and wash away food. As you chew, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase breaks down starches in your food to make it easier to digest in the stomach. Saliva also contains antibodies, similar to what’s in tears, which can fight bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Perhaps its most important function, though, is its ability to protect and maintain healthy tooth enamel. The strongest substance in the body, enamel nevertheless has one primary enemy — the acid found in certain foods or as a byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates.
When the ideally neutral pH level of the mouth becomes too acidic (nearly every time you eat), minerals in the enamel begin to soften and dissolve. The increased saliva flow when we eat floods the mouth with buffering agents that neutralize the acid and restore the mouth’s normal pH level. Not only does saliva stop demineralization, but it also restores a good bit of the enamel’s mineral content.
In recent years, a new role for saliva has begun to emerge as a means to diagnose disease. Like blood, urine and other bodily fluids, saliva contains molecules that serve as biological markers for disease. Given the right equipment, saliva has the potential to indicate early signs of cancer (including oral), diabetes and other systemic conditions. As the means to examine saliva for these markers increases it promises to be easier and less expensive to collect and sample than blood, while reducing the chances of transmitting bloodborne diseases to healthcare workers.
It’s a lot to consider with this fluid that you hardly notice, except when it isn’t there. Saliva is proof that our efforts at keeping our mouths healthy cooperate and depend on our bodies’ amazing systems.
If you would like more information on saliva and other ways your body maintains a healthy mouth, 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 “Saliva.”
Not all toothaches are alike: Some are sharp and last only a second or two; others throb continuously. You might feel the pain in one tooth, or it could be more generalized.
Because there are as many causes as there are kinds of dental pain, you can expect a few questions on specifics when you come to us with a toothache. Understanding first what kind of pain you have will help us more accurately diagnose the cause and determine the type of treatment you need.
Here are a few examples of dental pain and what could be causing it.
Temperature sensitivity. People sometimes experience a sudden jolt of pain when they eat or drink something cold or hot. If it only lasts for a moment or two, this could mean you have a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling, or an exposed root surface due to gum recession. If the pain lingers, though, you may have internal decay or the nerve tissue within the tooth has died. If so, you may require a root canal treatment.
Sharp pain when chewing. Problems like decay, a loose filling or a cracked tooth could cause pain when you bite down. We may be able to solve the problem with a filling (or repair an older one), or you may need more extensive treatment like a root canal. In any event, if you notice this as a recurring problem, don't wait on seeing us—the condition could worsen.
Dull pain near the jaw and sinuses. Because both the jaws and sinuses share the same nerve network, it's often hard to tell where the pain or pressure originates—it could be either. You may first want to see us or an endodontist to rule out tooth decay or another dental problem. If your teeth are healthy, your next step may be a visit with a physician to examine your sinuses.
As you can see, tooth pain can be a sign of a number of problems, both big and small. That's why it's important to see us as soon as possible for an examination and diagnosis. The sooner we can treat whatever is causing the pain, the sooner your discomfort will end.
If you would like more information on treating dental pain, 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 Pain? Don't Wait!”
Between the final game of the World Series in late October and spring training in February, major league baseball players work on their skills preparing for the new season. Reporters on a Zoom call to the New York Yankees' training camp wanted to know what star outfielder Aaron Judge had been doing along those lines. But when he smiled, their interest turned elsewhere: What had Aaron Judge done to his teeth?
Already with 120 homers after only five seasons, Judge is a top player with the Yankees. His smile, however, has been less than spectacular. Besides a noticeable gap between his top front teeth (which were also more prominent than the rest of his teeth), Judge also had a chipped tooth injury on a batting helmet in 2017 during a home plate celebration for a fellow player's walk-off home run.
But now Judge's teeth look even, with no chip and no gap. So, what did the Yankee slugger have done?
He hasn't quite said, but it looks as though he received a “smile makeover” with porcelain veneers, one of the best ways to turn dental “ugly ducklings” into “beautiful swans.” And what's even better is that veneers aren't limited to superstar athletes or performers—if you have teeth with a few moderate dental flaws, veneers could also change your smile.
As the name implies, veneers are thin shells of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, cracks, discolorations or slight gaps between teeth. They may even help even out disproportionately sized teeth. Veneers are custom-made by dental technicians based on a patient's particular tooth dimensions and color.
Like other cosmetic techniques, veneers are a blend of technology and artistry. They're made of a durable form of dental porcelain that can withstand biting forces (within reason, though—you'd want to avoid biting down on ice or a hard piece of food with veneered teeth). They're also carefully colored so that they blend seamlessly with your other teeth. With the right artistic touch, we can make them look as natural as possible.
Although porcelain veneers can accommodate a wide range of dental defects, they may not be suitable for more severe flaws. After examining your teeth, we'll let you know if you're a good candidate for veneers or if you should consider another restoration. Chances are, though, veneers could be your way to achieve what Aaron Judge did—a home run smile.
If you would like more information about porcelain veneers, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before.”
Around one in ten U.S. adults have diabetes, a metabolic disease that can disrupt other aspects of a person's health like wound healing and vision. It could also cause complications with dental implants, the premier replacement choice for missing teeth.
There are two basic types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone needed to regulate the amount of sugar glucose in the bloodstream. With the more prevalent type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't respond efficiently to the insulin produced.
Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to several dangerous health conditions. In addition to vision impairment and poor wound healing, diabetics are at higher risk for other problems like kidney disease or nerve damage. Drastic swings in blood glucose levels can also cause coma or death.
Many diabetics, though, are able to manage their condition through diet, exercise, medications and regular medical care. Even so, they may still encounter problems with wound healing, which could complicate getting a dental implant.
An implant is composed of a titanium metal post imbedded into the jawbone. Because of its affinity with titanium, bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the implant's metal surface. Several weeks after implant surgery, enough bone growth occurs to fully secure the implant within the jaw.
But this integration process may be slower for diabetics because of sluggish wound healing. It's possible for integration to not fully occur in diabetic patients after implant surgery, increasing the risk of eventually losing the implant.
Fortunately, though, evidence indicates this not to be as great a concern as once thought. A number of recent group studies comparing diabetic and non-diabetic implant patients found little difference in outcomes—both groups had similar success rates (more than 95 percent).
The only exception, though, were diabetic patients with poor glucose control, who had much slower bone integration that posed a threat to a successful implant outcome. If you're in this situation, it's better if you're first able to better control your blood glucose levels before you undergo surgery.
So, while diabetes is something to factor into your implant decision, your chances remain good for a successful outcome. Just be sure you're doing everything you can to effectively manage your diabetes.
If you would like more information on diabetes and 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 “Dental Implants & Diabetes.”
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