Preventing tooth decay is mostly about the basics: daily brushing and flossing followed by regular dental cleanings and checkups. But there’s also a bigger picture: your own personal risk profile for decay based on factors you can modify directly — and those you can’t.
The first type of factor usually involves habits and behavior that either work with your mouth’s natural defenses to fight decay or against it. Besides regular hygiene, your diet is probably the most important of these you can modify for better dental health.
A diet rich in fresh vegetables, protein and dairy products boosts strong, healthy teeth resistant to decay. Conversely, bacteria thrive on the sugar in many snack foods, while sodas, sports or energy drinks elevate acid levels that soften and erode the minerals in your teeth’s enamel.
Lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption also increase your decay risk. Not only do they promote plaque buildup (the thin film of bacteria and food particles that feeds the decay process), but tobacco especially can impede the body’s natural prevention and healing properties.
Conscientious hygiene practices, a dental-friendly diet and modified lifestyle habits all can help you prevent decay. But diligence may not be enough — there are other possible factors you can’t control or may find difficult to change. For example, you may have a genetic propensity toward certain bacteria that cause decay. You may have a condition like gastric reflux that increases the mouth’s acid level. You may also be taking medications that reduce saliva flow, the mouth’s natural acid neutralizer.
But if we know which of these indirect risk factors affect you, we can compensate with extra measures. If enamel strength is a problem we can topically apply fluoride; we can also reduce chronic bacterial levels with prescription rinses. If you have restricted saliva flow, we can attempt to modify your prescriptions through your doctor or prescribe aids that increase saliva.
The key is to investigate your complete risk factor profile through a thorough dental examination. Once we know everything about your mouth, life and health that increases your decay risk, we can put in place a balanced strategy of prevention and treatment just for you. Doing so will greatly increase your chances for keeping your teeth decay-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating dental 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
A tooth that's been chipped doesn't mean it's no longer healthy. The same, unfortunately, can't be said about the attractiveness of your smile, especially if it's one of your front teeth. A chipped tooth can be quite noticeable and make you self-conscious.
The good news is a chipped tooth can be restored cosmetically to look just as normal and attractive as your other teeth. Depending on the application there are two different materials we commonly use: porcelains, a type of oven-fired ceramic most often found in veneers or crowns; or composite resins, a mixture of glass and plastic substances we apply in liquid form that hardens in built-up layers on the tooth's surface to ultimately resemble normal tooth shape and color.
So, which of these two materials is the best option for your tooth? That depends on the extent and location of the tooth damage. Composite resins are most often used for mild to moderate chipping or breaks in the enamel (and somewhat for the underlying dentin) or decayed areas in the front teeth. Porcelain veneers or crowns are better for more extensive damage or discoloration.
Both materials have their advantages and disadvantages. Composite resins can be applied in one office visit, but they require a skillful technique and an artistic eye to achieve a life-like appearance; although their strength has improved over the years, they're also limited in their durability and longevity compared to porcelain. Porcelain, on the other hand, is quite durable and has an excellent tooth-like appearance; they do, however, require removal of more tooth material than a composite resin to accommodate the new veneer or crown, along with more than one visit and the services of a dental lab to create the restoration.
The best way to find out which option is best for you is to visit us for a thorough dental examination. From there we can review with you our findings, our recommendations and the costs associated with each option. But whichever material we use, porcelain or composite resins, you can look forward to a new smile you'll be proud to display.
If you would like more information on cosmetic treatments for 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 article “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth with Composite Resin.”
Due to financial circumstances, people often have a lost tooth restored with a removable partial denture, an effective appliance that restores function and a degree of aesthetic appearance. Later, though, they may want to improve both function and appearance with a dental implant.
If this describes you, you’re making a great choice. Dental implants are the closest technology we have to a natural tooth. But there may be a roadblock to your implant, especially if a long time has passed since your tooth loss—there may not be enough bone at the site to place an implant.
The heart of an implant is a titanium metal post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. The titanium naturally attracts bone cells, which grow and adhere to it to form a solid hold that can support a porcelain crown or other restorations like bridges or dentures. But to achieve a natural appearance it’s important that the implant is placed in the right location. To achieve that requires adequate bone.
But there may not be adequate bone if the tooth has been missing for a while. The forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the jawbone, which stimulates bone growth. If that stimulus is absent because of a missing tooth, new bone cells may not replace older ones at a healthy rate and the total bone volume begins to diminish. A denture can’t compensate and, in fact, accelerates bone loss.
But there may be a solution: bone grafting. With this procedure we place a donor bone graft into the area of bone deficiency some time before implant surgery. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Hopefully, this will produce enough healthy bone to support an implant. If the bone deficiency is minor, we may place the implant and the bone graft at the same time.
If you have experienced bone loss, we must first determine the amount of bone at the missing tooth site and whether grafting is a viable option. Bone grafting postpones your implant, but the delay will be worth the wait if we’re successful. With increased bone volume you’ll be able to obtain a new tooth that’s superior to your current restoration.
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
There's a burning sensation in your mouth even though you haven't had anything hot to eat or drink. It's an experience you've had for years, often accompanied by mouth dryness, tingling or numbness that leaves you irritable, anxious or depressed.
The root causes for Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) remain elusive, although there appear to be links to diabetes, acid reflux, menopausal hormonal changes or even psychological issues. Although we may not be able to pinpoint the root cause we can identify contributing factors to BMS through a detailed oral examination and medical history (including drugs you're taking).
Mouth dryness is one of the most common factors for BMS. The lack of lubrication from adequate saliva flow can contribute substantially to the irritating burning sensation. There are a number of causes for mouth dryness, including as a side effect from many medications or other treatments.
We must also consider whether an allergic reaction — the body's over-reaction to a foreign substance — may have a role in your symptoms. Some people react to sodium lauryl sulfate, a foaming agent found in many types of toothpaste, along with whitening substances or flavorings like cinnamon; denture wearers can become allergic to the plastic materials used to construct the denture. These, as well as spicy foods, smoking or alcohol, can irritate or cause the tissues lining the inside of the mouth to peel.
Determining what factors contribute to your symptoms allows us to develop a treatment approach tailored to your situation. If, for example, we've determined your BMS stems from dry mouth as a side effect to medication, we can ask your doctor to prescribe an alternative, increase your water intake when taking pills or stimulate saliva flow. If we identify an allergen as a factor, you can eliminate the substance to reduce symptoms.
You may also need to make changes to your eating and lifestyle habits: stop smoking, reduce your alcohol or coffee consumption and avoid very hot or spicy foods. And look for ways to reduce stress, another contributing factor, through relaxation techniques, exercise or support groups.
It's possible that BMS will resolve itself over time. In the meantime, though, we can help you find ways to alleviate the irritation.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating BMS, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”
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