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.”
Each year millions of people endure repeated episodes of congestion, coughing and headaches, all the miseries that come with a sinus infection. Although it seems like all the action is occurring around the nose and upper face, the actual cause could be emanating from somewhere else—your teeth.
It can all begin with decay forming a small cavity in one of the upper back teeth. If it isn't caught and treated early, the decay can spread into the tooth pulp and root canals, tiny passageways to the root and bone. This may or may not cause a severe toothache or sensitivity as the tooth's nerves respond to the infection. These nerves, though, most often eventually die and the pain, if present, will subside—but not the infection.
Left untreated, the infection may then advance into the bone around the root tip, breaking it down and giving bacteria an entryway into the floor of the maxillary sinus that rests just above the upper jaw. Here bacteria can take up residence, occasionally flaring into a sinus infection. This chronic infection could go on for years with allergies mistakenly taking the blame.
If you have frequent bouts of sinusitis, a possible dental connection may be worth investigating. And in the dental profession, there may be no better “detective” for this than an endodontist. Specializing in interior tooth problems and treatments, an endodontist has the diagnostic equipment like CT or 3-D cone beam scanning to accurately image the teeth and upper jaw. With their advanced diagnostics, they're in the best position to uncover hidden tooth decay contributing to sinus problems.
Endodontists are also skilled in treating advanced tooth decay. The main procedure is known as root canal treatment, in which the dentist drills into the tooth's interior to remove infected tissue from the pulp and root canals. They then fill these empty spaces, seal and then crown the tooth for added protection.
After treatment and following up with your physician, you may find your sinus infections are less frequent. And by promptly seeking treatment at the first sign of tooth pain or sensitivity, you might prevent chronic sinusitis from even developing.
If you would like more information on how dental disease can affect overall 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Although oral cancer isn't the most prevalent among metabolic diseases, it is one of the most deadly with only a 50% survival rate after five years. That's because it can be difficult to detect in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
That's why prevention to reduce your chances of oral cancer is so important. Many people know quitting tobacco products, including smokeless varieties, and moderating alcohol consumption are key to any prevention strategy. But there's one other factor you should also consider: your diet.
We've learned quite a bit in the last few decades about how certain foods we eat contribute to the cancer disease process. Cancer seems to originate when elements in the body or environment (known as carcinogens) damage DNA, our unique genetic code, on the cellular level. For example, a class of chemicals called nitrosamines is a known carcinogen: we often encounter it in the form of nitrites used to preserve meat (like bacon or ham) or as byproducts in beer, seafood or cheese.
Another form of carcinogen is the unstable molecules produced during normal cellular function called free radicals. But our bodies have a natural neutralizer for free radicals called antioxidants. We obtain these substances in our food in the form of vitamins and minerals. While you can also ingest these in the form of supplements, the best way to obtain them is through a diet rich in plant-based food, particularly fruits and vegetables.
So in addition to lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco or moderating alcohol consumption, make sure your diet is a healthy and nutritious one. Limit your intake of processed foods (especially meats) and increase your portions of fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
And don't neglect practicing effective brushing and flossing each day, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups. All of these healthy practices will greatly decrease your chances for life-threatening oral cancer.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
It's September—and that means football season is underway. Whether you're playing, spectating or managing a fantasy team, the action is about to ramp up. Unfortunately, increased “action” also includes injury risk, especially for a player's teeth, mouth and jaws.
Injury prevention is a top priority for all players, whether the pros or the little guys in Pee Wee league. For oral injuries, the single best way to avoid them is by wearing an athletic mouthguard. This soft but durable plastic appliance helps cushion the force of a direct blow to the face or mouth. Wearing one can help prevent tooth and gum damage, as well as lessen the risk for jaw or facial bone fractures.
Mouthguard use is fairly straightforward—a player should wear one anytime there's player-to-player contact. That's not only during game time, but also during practice and informal play. But what's not always straightforward is which type of mouthguard to purchase. That's right: You'll have to decide from among a variety of mouthguards on the market.
Actually, though, most fall into one of two categories: the “Boil and Bite” found in most retail stores with a sports gear department; or the custom mouthguard fashioned by a dentist.
The first are called Boil and Bite because the mouthguard must first be softened with hot water and then placed in the intended wearer's mouth to bite down on in its softened state. When the mouthguard cools and re-hardens, it will retain the bite impression to give it somewhat of an individual fit. These retail guards are relatively inexpensive and reasonably effective in cushioning hard contact, but they can also be on the bulky side and uncomfortable to wear.
In contrast, custom mouthguards are formed from an accurate impression of the wearer's bite taken in the dental office. Because of the individualized fit, we can create a guard with less bulk, greater comfort and, due to their precision, better effectiveness in preventing injury.
A custom guard is more expensive than a retail mouthguard, and younger players may need a new upgrade after a few seasons to accommodate fit changes due to jaw development. But even so, with its higher level of protection and comfort (making it more likely to be worn during play), a custom mouthguard is a worthwhile investment that costs far less than a devastating dental injury.
So, if you or a family member will be hitting the gridiron this fall (or, for that matter, the basketball court or baseball diamond later in the year), be sure you invest in a mouthguard. It's a wise way to ensure this football season will be a happy one.
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