Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk of 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
On the way to adulthood, permanent teeth steadily erupt until, if all goes normally, you have a full set of teeth. Sometimes, though, one or more teeth may fail to form. This not only can affect your dental health, but it could also diminish your smile.
For example, if the lateral incisors on either side of the central incisors (the two teeth front and center) don't develop, it could create a smile that's “not quite right.” But we can vastly improve such a smile in one of three unique ways.
The first is to fill the resulting gap through canine substitution. This is an orthodontic method in which we use braces to move the pointed canine teeth, which normally position on the other side of the missing laterals, closer to the central incisors. This choice is determined by the size of the canine teeth. If they are slim in width, they can be re-shaped to make them appear more like a lateral incisor, and the gums possibly reshaped as well around them through cosmetic surgery.
We can also install a dental bridge, an appliance that fills the missing lateral space with prosthetic teeth. A traditional bridge requires the teeth on either side of the gap to be reduced in size, which becomes a permanent alteration to accommodate these crowns. This is a disadvantage in a young person. We can also use a “bonded bridge” which uses adhesives to attach extended pieces (or “wings”) of dental material from either side of the prosthetic tooth to one or more supporting teeth. These wings are behind the permanent teeth. Though not as durable as a traditional bridge, it does avoid altering the support teeth.
Finally, we can replace the missing teeth with dental implants. In this method, we install titanium metal posts into the jawbone at the missing tooth locations and then attach a life-like crown to each one. Implants may be more costly than other restorative methods and can take several months to complete. But they are life-like, highly durable, and don't require any alteration to other teeth. A disadvantage is that you should wait until at least 19 years of age to consider this option. What many people do is use a temporary solution until the proper age to do a dental implant.
Each of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages, which should be thoroughly reviewed in consultation with your dentist. And each may also require other dental work, such as initial orthodontics to open adequate space for a restoration. But any of these methods for correcting a missing lateral tooth can be effective and help restore both a healthier mouth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating congenital dental defects, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow.”
Even in the 21st Century, losing most or all of your teeth is still an unfortunate possibility. Many in this circumstance turn to dentures, as their great-grandparents did, to restore their teeth. But today's dentures are much different from those of past generations—and dental implants are a big reason why.
The basic denture is made of a gum-colored, acrylic base with artificial teeth attached. The base is precisely made to fit snugly and comfortably on the patient's individual gum and jaw structure, as the bony ridges of the gums provide the overall support for the denture.
Implants improve on this through two possible approaches. A removable denture can be fitted with a metal frame that firmly connects with implants embedded in the jaw. Alternatively, a denture can be permanently attached to implants with screws. Each way has its pros and cons, but both have two decided advantages over traditional dentures.
First, because implants rather than the gums provide their main support, implant-denture hybrids are often more secure and comfortable than traditional dentures. As a result, patients may enjoy greater confidence while eating or speaking wearing an implant-based denture.
They may also improve bone health rather than diminish it like standard dentures. This is because the forces generated when chewing and eating travel from the teeth to the jawbone and stimulate new bone cell growth to replace older cells. We lose this stimulation when we lose teeth, leading to slower bone cell replacement and eventually less overall bone volume.
Traditional dentures not only don't restore this stimulation, they can also accelerate bone loss as they rub against the bony ridges of the gums. Implants, on the other hand, can help slow or stop bone loss. The titanium in the imbedded post attracts bone cells, which then grow and adhere to the implant surface. Over time, this can increase the amount of bone attachment and help stymie any further loss.
An implant-supported denture is more expensive than a standard denture, but far less than replacing each individual tooth with an implant. If you want the affordability of dentures with the added benefits of implants, this option may be worth your consideration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy doesn't require an elaborate plan. It's simple: Besides twice-a-year dental visits, the most important thing you can do is brush and floss every day to remove accumulated dental plaque.
The bacteria that live and breed in this thin biofilm is the main catalyst for both tooth decay and gum disease, the top two diseases that endanger teeth. Brushing and flossing removes this buildup and thus reduces the long-term risk for either disease.
Unfortunately, the message on these important hygiene tasks hasn't resonated with “Millennials,” the first generation to reach adulthood in the 21st Century and new millennium. One recent survey of 2,000 members of this age group found only about 30% brushed their teeth at least once a day, with many skipping the task for two days at a time.
If brushing has taken a beating among millennials, you can well imagine the state of flossing. Unfortunately, the news media has helped this along: Just a few years ago, the Associated Press reported a study that concluded flossing's role as a dental disease deterrent hadn't been proven. A follow-up study a year or two later by the University of North Carolina pushed back on the original AP story with findings of lower risk of tooth loss among flossers than non-flossers.
This decline in oral hygiene practices among millennials has had an unsurprisingly negative effect. Recent statistics indicate that one in three people between the ages of 18 and 34 have some form of untreated tooth decay. As this generation ages this may inevitably result in more extensive dental treatment and higher rates of tooth loss unless the trend toward hit and miss dental care makes a complete U-turn.
The good news is that it may not be too late for many of those slacking on daily care. All that's needed is to heed the same dental advice their grandparents and parents were given: Brush twice and floss once every day.
No matter what your age, consistent daily brushing and flossing still remains essential to keeping potential dental disease at bay. These twin hygiene tasks remain the solution to good dental health throughout your life.
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