More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.
You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.
This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.
There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.
In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
Tooth replacement at any age is a challenge, but especially for teenagers. Dental implants in particular may not be possible yet for teens or young adults whose jaws are still developing. Because it’s imbedded directly into bone, the implant will not move with the jaw as jaw growth occurs, making it look potentially unattractive.
The best solution could be a temporary replacement until their jaw reaches maturity. One such option is a removable partial denture (RPD), an artificial tooth set in an acrylic base that resembles gum tissue. Although we associate dentures with older adults, an RPD works well for teens as a temporary measure. Perhaps the best version for a younger person utilizes metal clips that fit over adjacent teeth and hold the RPD in place. Although quite resilient, the wearer needs to be careful when biting into something hard (like an apple or similar firm fruit) or the artificial tooth may break off.
Another option, a bonded bridge, is a fixed solution similar to a traditional bridge. Whereas a traditional bridge is supported by crowns affixed to the teeth on either side of the empty socket (and requiring extensive alteration of the teeth to accommodate them), a bonded bridge attaches to the supporting teeth with wing-like projections of dental material that attaches to the backs of the adjacent teeth, hidden from view. Although not as secure as a traditional bridge, they can conceivably endure until the teen’s jaw structure is ready for an implant or other permanent solution.
Choosing between an RPD and a bonded bridge will depend on a number of factors, including the teen’s individual bite, clenching or biting habits and the health and strength of supporting bone and gums. Regardless of the type of solution chosen, it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene, especially around a bridge. If bacterial plaque is allowed to build up on tooth surfaces, it could result in an infection that can damage both gums and bone, and reduce the chances of a successful implant in the future.
All these and other considerations should be discussed after a thorough examination. From there, we can advise you on the best course of action to restore both appearance and function until it’s time for a permanent restoration.
One of the unfortunate aspects of aging is tooth wear. Depending on your diet, years of biting and chewing can cause enamel along the biting surfaces to erode. Your body also can't replace enamel — so when it comes to teeth it's not a question of if, but how much your teeth will wear during your lifetime.
To make matters worse, certain conditions cause tooth wear to accelerate. Teeth softened by acids or tooth decay, for example, erode faster than healthier teeth. So will grinding habits: often fueled by stress, these include chewing on hard items like nails, pencils or bobby pins.
You may also grind your teeth, usually while you sleep. Normal biting and chewing produces pressure of about 13 to 23 pounds per square inch: grinding your teeth at night can well exceed this, even up into the hundreds of pounds.
There are some things we can do to alleviate these issues. For clenching and grinding habits, one primary step is to address stress through counseling or biofeedback therapy. For nighttime teeth grinding we can create a bite guard to wear while you sleep that will prevent your teeth from generating abnormal forces.
Finally, it's important that you take care of your teeth through daily oral hygiene, regular office cleanings and checkups, and a nutritious diet for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Keeping your teeth free from diseases that could compromise your enamel as well as other aspects of your mouth will help them stay as strong as possible.
If you would like more information on slowing the rate of tooth wear as you age, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
Today’s healthcare patients are asking questions. They want to know the “why” behind the “what” that their care providers are recommending for their health.
There’s a similar trend in dentistry — and it’s one we dentists encourage. We want you to know the “why” behind your treatment options — because you’re as much a participant in your own dental health as we are. The more informed you are, the better equipped you’ll be to make decisions to maintain or improve your health and the appearance of your smile.
As your dental care partner, it’s also essential we help you develop a long-term care plan based on your needs. There are aspects of dental care that are routine: daily brushing and flossing, an oral-friendly diet, and regular dental cleanings and checkups to assess your oral health. But we also need to think strategically, especially if you have risk factors that could impact your future dental health.
To do this we follow a four-step dental care cycle. In Step 1 we identify all the potential risk factors you personally face. These include your potential for dental disease, which could lead to bone and tooth loss, and the state of your bite and jaw structure that could complicate future health. We’ll also take into account any factors that could now or eventually affect your smile appearance.
Once we’ve identified these various factors, we’ll then assess their possible impact on your health in Step 2, not just what may be happening now but what potentially could happen in the future. From there we move to Step 3: treating any current issues and initiating preventive measures to protect your future health.
In Step 4 we’ll monitor and maintain the level of health we’ve been able to reach with the preceding steps. We’ll continue in this stage until we detect an emerging issue, in which we’ll then repeat our cycle of care.
Maintaining this continuum will help reduce the chances of an unpleasant surprise in your dental health. We’ll be in a better position to see issues coming and help reduce their impact now so you can continue to have a healthy mouth and an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on planning your dental 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 “Successful Dental Treatment: Getting the Best Possible Results.”
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