Posts for: March, 2019
If your dentist found tooth decay on your last visit, you might have been surprised. But tooth decay doesn't occur suddenly—it's a process that takes time to unfold.
It begins with bacteria—too many, that is. Bacteria naturally live in the mouth, but when their populations grow (often because of an abundance of leftover sugar to feed on) they produce high amounts of acid, a byproduct of their digestion. Too much acid contact over time softens and eventually erodes tooth enamel, making decay easier to advance into the tooth.
So, one important strategy for preventing tooth decay is to keep your mouth's bacterial population under control. To do that, here are 4 common-sense tactics you should perform between dental visits.
Practice daily hygiene. Bacteria thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. By both brushing and flossing you can reduce plaque buildup and in turn reduce disease-causing bacteria. In addition, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can also help strengthen tooth enamel against acid attacks.
Cut back on sugar. Reducing how much sugar you eat—and how often –deprives bacteria of a prime food source. Constant snacking throughout the day on sweets worsens the problem because it prevents saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer, from reducing high acid levels produced while eating. Constant snacking doesn't allow saliva to complete this process, which normally takes about thirty minutes to an hour. To avoid this scenario, limit any sweets you eat to mealtimes only.
Wait to brush after eating. Although this sounds counterintuitive, your tooth enamel is in a softened state until saliva completes the acid neutralizing process previously described. If you brush immediately after eating you could brush away tiny particles of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth out with water and wait an hour for saliva to do its work before brushing.
Boost your saliva. Inadequate saliva flow could inhibit the fluid's ability to adequately neutralize acid or provide other restorative benefits to tooth enamel. You can improve flow with supplements or medications, or by drinking more water during the day. Products with xylitol, a natural sugar alternative, could give you a double benefit: chewing gums and mints containing it could stimulate more saliva flow and the xylitol itself can inhibit bacterial growth.
If you're over 30 your chances for developing periodontal (gum) disease are better than half. And it's not a minor matter—untreated gum disease can lead not only to tooth loss, but to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory conditions.
Fortunately, we have effective ways to treat gum disease, even in advanced stages. But the best approach by far in avoiding a devastating outcome for your teeth is to prevent gum disease from developing in the first place.
It helps first to know how gum disease begins. The most common cause is dental plaque, a thin biofilm of food particles on tooth surfaces that harbors the bacteria that triggers the disease. If you keep your teeth clean of built-up plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings, you'll minimize the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
If you don't practice effective oral hygiene, however, within a few days you could develop an initial infection called gingivitis. This form affects the outermost layers of the gums and triggers a defensive response from the body known as inflammation. Ordinarily, inflammation helps protect surrounding tissues from infection spread, but it can damage your gums if it becomes chronic. Your weakened gums may begin to detach from the teeth, forming voids filled with inflammation known as periodontal pockets. Eventually, the infection can spread to the supporting bone and lead to tooth loss.
In addition to a dedicated oral hygiene and dental care program, you should also be on the lookout for early signs of gingivitis. Infected gums can become red, swollen and tender to the touch. You may notice they bleed easily while brushing and flossing, or a foul taste or breath that won't go away even after brushing. And if some of your teeth feel loose or don't seem to bite together as they used to, this is a sign of advanced gum disease that deserves your dentist's immediate attention.
Practicing preventive hygiene is the best way to stop gum disease before it starts. But if gum disease does happen, catching it early can be a game-changer, both for your teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Your teen is about to embark on an orthodontic journey to a straighter, more attractive smile. But although you're excited about the outcome, you both may be steeling yourselves for a few years of "life with braces."
But maybe not—your teen may be able to take advantage of a different kind of corrective appliance: clear aligners. This 21st Century teeth movement method has a number of advantages over braces. For teens, though, there's one big one that could have a huge impact on their social life—clear aligners are nearly invisible to other people.
Clear aligners consist of a series of clear, removable, computer-generated trays based on photographs, models and x-rays of an individual patient's teeth and bite. Each of the trays is slightly different from the previous one in the series, and by wearing each one for about two weeks before moving on to the next, the aligners gradually move the teeth to the desired new positions.
Besides reducing embarrassment often associated with wearing metal braces, clear aligners have other benefits. Unlike braces, they can be removed for eating, easier oral hygiene or for rare special occasions (although for best effectiveness, they should be worn for 20 to 22 hours each day). Recent developments like added elements that help target certain teeth for movement or "power ridges" for more controlled and efficient force have increased the range of bite problems they can be used to correct.
While this means clear aligners can be used for many bite problems, in some severe cases braces and other orthodontic treatments might still be necessary. And because they're not fixed like braces (only the orthodontist can remove them) the patient must have the maturity and self-discipline to wear them consistently.
Your teen will need to undergo a thorough orthodontic examination to see if clear aligners are a viable option for them. If so, it could make the next few treatment years less stressful for both of you.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens: User-Friendly Orthodontics.”