Tooth decay is as relentless as it is destructive, and it makes little distinction between age, gender, ethnicity or social status. Although risk levels vary from person to person, we’re all potentially in the crossfire for this harmful disease. Getting ahead of it early could save your teeth.
Tooth decay begins with oral bacteria. While feeding on dental plaque that accumulates on the teeth, bacteria multiply and produce acid as a by-product. Too much acid softens and erodes tooth enamel, which enables decay to advance deeper into the tooth.
If it isn’t stopped, decay can eventually infect and weaken the roots and bone, and ultimately lead to a lost tooth. By stopping it as early as possible before it reaches the inner pulp and root canals, we can greatly limit the damage.
Regular dental care is crucial for early detection. Here’s how we can stay ahead of developing decay during dental visits.
Visible inspection. There are visible signs a trained dentist may notice that point to tooth decay. Besides an already formed hole or cavity, we might also pick up on other unusual appearances like white spot lesions: these slight blemishes often occur in the areas of contact with other teeth, which we can treat with topical fluoride.
X-rays. This tried and true diagnostic tool has been a mainstay of dental care for nearly a century. The images they produce can indicate decay as darker spots or areas on or within the tooth that may not yet be visible to the eye. And with advances in digital processing and more streamlined equipment, we can effectively do this with a very low dosage of radiation exposure.
Advanced technology. We’ve developed other means for better disease detection that complement x-rays and visual inspections. Specialized microscopes and lasers are now important tools for analyzing suspected areas of early decay.
Even if decay gets a foothold we can effectively stop it and restore a tooth with a root canal treatment or a similar procedure. The best outcome, though, is to not allow this destructive disease to get that far. With dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits that uncover early decay, chances are good your teeth can remain healthy for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on fighting 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: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Dental implants are known for their durability as well as life-like beauty. Thanks to their unique construction and ability to integrate with bone, they have a very high success rate and can last for decades.
But while they’re less problematic than other restorations, we still can’t “set them and forget them.” While the implants themselves aren’t susceptible to disease, the supporting gums, bone and adjacent teeth are. If you want them to last as long as possible, you’ll need to care for them and the rest of your mouth through daily oral hygiene and semi-annual office cleanings.
With that said, there are a few differences in how we perform hygiene tasks with implants. This is due to the way in which they attach to the jaw, as the titanium post is inserted directly into the bone. Natural teeth, on the other hand, are held in place by the periodontal ligament, a strong connective tissue that lies between the teeth and bone. The ligament holds the teeth firmly in place while also allowing minute tooth movement in response to changes in the mouth.
The ligament also has an ample blood supply that assists with fighting infection that may arise in the tooth and its supporting gums. Without this extra source of defense, infections that arise around an implant can grow quickly into a condition known as peri-implantitis and lead to rapid bone loss that could cause the implant to fail.
That’s why you and your hygienist must be ever vigilant to the buildup of plaque, the bacterial film that gives rise to dental disease, around implants and adjacent teeth. This includes removing plaque buildup from implant surfaces, although your hygienist will use tools (scalers or curettes) made of plastic or resin rather than traditional metal to avoid scratching the implant’s dental material. They’ll likewise use nylon or plastic tips with ultrasonic equipment (which uses high vibration to loosen plaque) and lower power settings with water irrigation devices.
Keeping infection at bay with effective hygiene is the number one maintenance goal with dental implants. Doing your part along with your hygienist will help you get the most of this investment in your smile.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene with dental implants, 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 Implant Maintenance.”
We've all done it — suddenly bit the inside of our mouth while chewing food. All too often our cheek, lip or tongue finds itself in the way of our teeth.
The small wound caused by these types of bites usually heals quickly. But it's also common for the natural swelling of these wounds to cause the skin to become prominent and thus more in the way when we eat. As a result we bite it again — and again. If bit a number of times, the old wound can form a bump made of tougher tissue.
Also known as a traumatic fibroma, this growth is made up of a protein called collagen that forms into strands of fibers, similar to scar tissue or a callous. As you continue to bite it, the fibers form a knot of tissue that becomes larger with each subsequent bite and re-healing.
Unlike malignant lesions that form relatively quickly, these types of lumps and bumps usually take time to form.Â They're not injurious to health, but they can be irritating and painful when you re-bite them. We can alleviate this aggravation, though, by simply removing them.
The procedure, requiring the skills of an oral surgeon, periodontist or a general dentist with surgical training, begins with numbing the area with a local anesthetic. The fibroma is then removed and the area closed with two or three small stitches. With the fibroma gone, the tissue surface once again becomes flat and smooth; it should only take a few days to a week to completely heal with mild pain medication like ibuprofen to control any discomfort.
Once removed, we would have the excised tissue biopsied for any malignant cells. This is nothing to cause concern: while the fibroma is more than likely harmless, it's standard procedure to biopsy any excised tissue.
The big benefit is that the aggravating lump or bump that's been causing all the trouble is no more. You'll be able to carry on normal mouth function without worrying about biting it again.
If you would like more information on minor mouth sores and wounds, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
When they’re introducing a new movie, actors often take a moment to pay tribute to the people who helped make it happen — like, you know, their dentists. At least that’s what Charlize Theron did at the premiere of her new spy thriller, Atomic Blonde.
"I just want to take a quick moment to thank my dentists," she told a Los Angeles audience as they waited for the film to roll. "I don’t even know if they’re here, but I just want to say thank you."
Why did the starring actress/producer give a shout-out to her dental team? It seems she trained and fought so hard in the action sequences that she actually cracked two teeth!
“I had severe tooth pain, which I never had in my entire life,” Theron told an interviewer from Variety. At first, she thought it was a cavity — but later, she found out it was more serious: One tooth needed a root canal, and the other had to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant — but first, a bone grafting procedure was needed. “I had to put a donor bone in [the jaw] to heal,” she noted, “and then I had another surgery to put a metal screw in there.”
Although it might sound like the kind of treatment only an action hero would need, bone grafting is now a routine part of many dental implant procedures. The reason is that without a sufficient volume of good-quality bone, implant placement is difficult or impossible. That’s because the screw-like implant must be firmly joined with the jawbone, so it can support the replacement tooth.
Fortunately, dentists have a way to help your body build new bone: A relatively small amount of bone material can be placed in the missing tooth’s socket in a procedure called bone grafting. This may come from your own body or, more likely, it may be processed bone material from a laboratory. The donor material can be from a human, animal or synthetic source, but because of stringent processing techniques, the material is safe for human use. Once it is put in place your body takes over, using the grafted material as a scaffold on which to build new bone cells. If jawbone volume is insufficient for implants, it can often be restored to a viable point in a few months.
Better yet, when grafting material is placed in the tooth socket immediately after extraction, it can keep most of the bone loss from occurring in the first place, enabling an implant to be placed as soon as possible — even before the end of a movie’s shooting schedule.
Will Atomic Blonde prove to be an action-movie classic? Only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: When Charlize Theron walks down the red carpet, she won’t have to worry about a gap in her smile.
If you have questions about bone grafting or dental implants, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Immediate Dental Implant.”
Saliva is a true workhorse among bodily fluids — it breaks down food for digestion, keeps harmful bacteria in check and neutralizes acid that is destructive to tooth surfaces. So when saliva flow is chronically diminished, it’s more serious than the uncomfortable feeling of “dry mouth” — it can have a detrimental effect on your overall health.
It’s normal to experience temporary mouth dryness: in the morning (because saliva flow slows during sleep), when we’re under stress, or after smoking or consuming certain foods and beverages like onions or coffee. But chronic dry mouth (“xerostomia”) is different — the mouth remains dry for extended periods, leading to problems like tooth decay caused by inadequate acid neutralization.
Medications are one of the most common causes for xerostomia. According to the Surgeon General, there are over 500 medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — that can cause it, including antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. Radiation or chemotherapy used for cancer treatment may also cause dry mouth, sometimes permanently. There are also systemic conditions that affect saliva flow like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and many autoimmune diseases.
Treating chronic dry mouth will of course depend on the underlying cause. If drug-related the first approach should be to find a substitute medication that won’t as readily cause reduced saliva flow. If that’s not possible, then it’s helpful to drink more water when taking the medication (a few sips before and a full glass afterward). You can also cut back on caffeinated, acidic or sugary foods and drinks as well as alcohol, and refrain from tobacco use.
A saliva stimulant might also help. Besides prescription medication, there are other products like xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar found in chewing gum, toothpaste or rinses, that help increase saliva flow — and xylitol also inhibits the growth of decay-causing bacteria.
The most important thing for chronic dry mouth is maintaining consistent daily hygiene through brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Helping to increase your saliva flow and making every effort to prevent dental disease will help keep this condition from harming your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of dry 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 “Dry Mouth.”
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