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.
In the early 1900s, a Colorado dentist noticed his patients had fewer cavities than the norm. He soon found the cause: naturally occurring fluoride in their drinking water. That discovery led to what is now heralded as one of the most important public health measures of the last century — the use of fluoride to prevent tooth decay.
While you're most likely familiar with fluoride toothpaste and other fluoridated hygiene products, there are other sources of this chemical you should know about — especially if you're trying to manage your family's fluoride intake. Here are 3 of these common sources for fluoride.
Fluoridated drinking water. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. water utilities add fluoride to their drinking water supply under regulations governed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal government currently recommends 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water as the optimum balance of maximum protection from tooth decay and minimal risk of a type of tooth staining called dental fluorosis. You can contact your local water service to find out if they add fluoride and how much.
Processed and natural foods. Many processed food manufacturers use fluoridated water in their processes. Although not always indicated on the packaging, there are often traces of fluoride in cereals, canned soups, fruit juices or soda. Many varieties of seafood naturally contain high levels of fluoride and infant formula reconstituted with fluoridated water can exceed the level of fluoride in breast or cow's milk. Beer and wine drinkers may also consume significant levels of fluoride with their favorite adult beverage, particularly Zinfandel, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Clinical prevention measures. As part of a child's regular dental treatment, dentists may apply topical fluoride to developing teeth, especially for children deemed at high risk for tooth decay. This additional fluoride can be applied in various forms including rinses, gels or varnishes. The additional fluoride helps strengthen a child's developing enamel and tooth roots.
How much fluoride your family ingests depends on a number of factors like your drinking water, food purchases and dental hygiene products and procedures. If you have any concerns about how much fluoride you're encountering in your daily life, please be sure and discuss them with your dentist.
If you would like more information on fluoride's benefits for dental health, 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
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.”
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.”
Not long ago the dental bridge was the alternative treatment of choice to partial dentures for restoring lost teeth. Over the last few decades, however, dental implants have nudged bridgework out of this premier spot.
That doesn’t mean, though, that bridgework has gone the way of the horse and buggy. In fact, it may still be a solid restorative alternative to partial dentures for certain people.
A traditional bridge consists of a series of porcelain crowns affixed to each other like pickets in a fence. The end crowns are fitted onto the teeth on either side of the empty tooth space; known as abutment teeth, they support the bridge. The crowns in the middle, known as pontics (from the French for “bridge”), replace the teeth that have been lost.
Bridges have been an effective and cosmetically pleasing method for tooth replacement for nearly a century. To achieve those results, though, a good portion of the abutment teeth’s structure must be removed to accommodate the crowns. This permanently alters these teeth, so they’ll require a restoration from that point on.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can be installed in the missing space without impacting any neighboring teeth. What’s more, implants provide greater support to the underlying bone than can be achieved with bridgework.
But not everyone is a viable candidate for implants, and ironically the reason most often has to do with the bone. If a patient has suffered significant bone volume loss, either because of disease or the long-term absence of the natural teeth, there may not be enough bone to properly support an implant. Unless we can adequately restore this lost bone volume through grafting, we’ll need to consider another type of restoration.
That’s where bridgework could be a viable option for patients in this or similar situations. With continuing advances in materials and new applications, the traditional bridge still remains an effective and important means to restore a smile marred by missing teeth.
If you would like more information on dental restoration options, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
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