Tooth decay is one of two dental diseases most responsible for tooth loss (gum disease being the other). In the absence of treatment, what starts as a hole or cavity in a tooth's outer layers can steadily advance toward its interior.
Most people associate cavities with the crown, the part of a tooth you can see. But cavities can also occur in a tooth's roots, especially with older adults. Root cavities pose two distinct difficulties: They can lead to more rapid decay spread than crown cavities within a tooth; and they're harder to detect.
Tooth roots are ordinarily covered by the gums, which protects them from bacterial plaque, the main cause for decay. But roots can become exposed due to receding gums, a common problem with seniors who are more susceptible to gum disease.
Unlike the enamel-covered crowns, tooth roots depend on gum coverage for protection against bacteria and the acid they produce. Without this coverage, the only thing standing between tooth decay and the roots is a thin material called cementum.
If decay does enter a tooth's interior, saving it often requires a root canal treatment to remove decayed tissue in the inner pulp and root canals, and then replacing it with a filling. But if we're able to discover a root cavity in its early stages, we may be able to fill it like a crown cavity.
The best strategy, though, is to prevent root cavities from forming. This starts with a dedicated daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. If you're at high risk for root cavities, we may also recommend antibacterial mouthrinses and other aids.
Regular dental visits are also a must: a minimum of twice-a-year dental cleanings to remove stubborn plaque and calculus (hardened plaque) deposits. For added protection against root cavities, we can also apply fluoride varnish to strengthen teeth. And regular visits are the best way to detect any cavity in its early stages when treatment is less invasive.
A heightened risk of dental problems like root cavities are a part of the aging process. But partnering together, we can lower that risk and increase the longevity of your teeth.
If you would like more information on root cavities, 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 “Root Cavities.”
It's National Dairy Month and time to pay tribute to the aurochs, those shaggy creatures who once roamed the Fertile Crescent until people began domesticating them about 8,000 years ago. Today we call them cows, the source of nutritious dairy that can help us, among other things, maintain a healthier mouth.
Since the first auroch roundup, we humans have been drinking milk and eating cheese with abandon—excepting those who suffer from lactose intolerance or who avoid dairy for other reasons, such as the high saturated fat content of some dairy products. However, dairy confers many health benefits, so if you haven't quite made up your mind about this particular food group, you should consider that milk, cheese and other forms of dairy are chock-full of nutrients. And, it just so happens, some of these nutrients are especially beneficial for your teeth.
Calcium. You can get this important mineral from different foods, but dairy is loaded with it. Similar to our bones, tooth enamel absorbs calcium, which in turn strengthens it against decay.
Phosphorus. Phosphorus, another mineral found in dairy, is highly beneficial for overall health. In regard to teeth, phosphorus helps calcium maximize its strengthening ability in enamel.
Vitamin D. This nutrient helps your enamel absorb calcium, whereas a vitamin D deficiency increases your susceptibility to both tooth decay and gum disease.
Casein. This dairy protein can form a protective film over teeth. Coupled with other nutrients, this further reduces your risk of tooth decay.
Eating dairy is definitely beneficial for your dental health. If needed, you can select lactose-free dairy products. And to cut down on saturated fat, you can choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. You can, for example, drink non-fat or low-fat milk, or indulge in some non-fat Greek yogurt with granola or in a fruit smoothie. Cheese is also an excellent type of dairy for teeth because it reduces decay-causing acidity during and after meals. So try eating a bite of cheese by itself, or experiment by adding it to vegetable dishes or salads.
As in most things, incorporate dairy into your diet in moderation. A little of this popular food group can go a long way toward keeping your teeth healthy.
If you would like more information about nutrition and your dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “Nutrition: Its Role in General & Oral Health.”
Half of all children will injure at least one tooth before adulthood. That's why we're joining with other health professionals this June to promote National Safety Month. As dentists, we want to call particular attention to potential dental injuries and what parents and caregivers can do to help their child avoid them.
The source for a dental injury usually depends on a child's age and development level. Younger children learning to walk and run are more apt to fall, and may hit their mouth on hard or sharp surfaces. Later on, most dental injuries tend to come from contact during sports play or other physical activities.
Your prevention strategy should therefore adjust to your child's age and activity level. If you have an infant starting to walk, for example, don't allow them to move around carrying a bottle, cup or other hard object that could be a source of injury if they fall. Also, keep an eye out for hard furniture or sharp-edged surfaces as they toddle around.
If you have a highly mobile toddler, discourage them from climbing and jumping on furniture, tables or other hard surfaces. If feasible, pad these surfaces and sharp edges to minimize the force of impact from a collision.
To prevent sports-related mouth injuries in older children and teens, your primary defense is an athletic mouthguard. Mouthguards cushion and absorb much of the force generated during hard sports contact. They should be worn for any physical activity with a potential risk for mouth injury, including practice sessions and informal play like a pick-up basketball game.
A type of athletic mouthguard known as “boil and bite” is readily available in retail sporting goods stores. After purchase, it is softened in very hot water; the wearer then places it in their mouth and bites down to form a permanent impression. Boil and bite mouthguards offer protection, but they can be bulky and uncomfortable to wear.
For a higher level of protection along with a more accurate and comfortable fit, a custom mouthguard created by a dentist is a more desirable option. These are based on a detailed impression of the wearer's bite, so the fit can't be beat. Both types of mouthguard need upgrading periodically in young wearers to accommodate dental development as they age.
Accidents can happen, but there's much you can do to reduce the likelihood of injury to your child's teeth. Protective measures and equipment—as well as a watchful eye—can go far to help them emerge from these active, early years dentally unscathed.
If you would like more information about dental safety, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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.
Dental veneers—thin, life-like layers of porcelain bonded to teeth—can turn a so-so smile into a beautiful one. But most veneers have a distinct drawback: To make them look as natural as possible, the teeth they're bonded with must have some of their surface enamel removed.
Even though they're 1 millimeter or less in thickness, veneers on an unprepared tooth can look bulky. Removing some of the surface enamel remedies this, but doing so permanently alters the tooth. The tooth will need a veneer or some other protective restoration from then on.
Now, though, there's an alternative veneer available for many dental patients. Known as No-Prep or Minimal-Prep, these new veneers are often as thin as a contact lens.
These new types of veneers can often be placed directly on the teeth just above the gum line without any enamel removal and look natural. At the most, the enamel beneath them may need reshaping with an abrasive tool. And, unlike traditional veneers with tooth alteration, these low-prep veneers can often be applied without anesthesia, and in as few as two appointments.
No- or Minimal-Preps are better suited for certain kinds of patients: those with small teeth or teeth that appear small due to larger mouth features; worn teeth from aging or teeth grinding or with small gaps; narrow smiles where the side teeth aren't as visible; and teeth that are slightly misshapen or with minor staining.
On the other hand, patients with oversized teeth or front teeth that jut forward may still encounter problems with an unnatural, bulky appearance even with ultra-thin veneers. The latter situation can often be corrected with orthodontic treatment first to realign the teeth to their proper positions. Once the bite is corrected, no-prep veneers may then become a viable option.
If you'd like to consider these minimal preparation veneers, see your dentist for an examination. The exam results will help determine what type of veneer solution is right for you. And whether you go with traditional or No-Prep veneers, the change in your smile can be amazing.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers without enamel removal, 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
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