Posts for category: Oral Health
If your dentist found tooth decay on your last visit, you might have been surprised. But tooth decay doesn't occur suddenly—it's a process that takes time to unfold.
It begins with bacteria—too many, that is. Bacteria naturally live in the mouth, but when their populations grow (often because of an abundance of leftover sugar to feed on) they produce high amounts of acid, a byproduct of their digestion. Too much acid contact over time softens and eventually erodes tooth enamel, making decay easier to advance into the tooth.
So, one important strategy for preventing tooth decay is to keep your mouth's bacterial population under control. To do that, here are 4 common-sense tactics you should perform between dental visits.
Practice daily hygiene. Bacteria thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. By both brushing and flossing you can reduce plaque buildup and in turn reduce disease-causing bacteria. In addition, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can also help strengthen tooth enamel against acid attacks.
Cut back on sugar. Reducing how much sugar you eat—and how often –deprives bacteria of a prime food source. Constant snacking throughout the day on sweets worsens the problem because it prevents saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer, from reducing high acid levels produced while eating. Constant snacking doesn't allow saliva to complete this process, which normally takes about thirty minutes to an hour. To avoid this scenario, limit any sweets you eat to mealtimes only.
Wait to brush after eating. Although this sounds counterintuitive, your tooth enamel is in a softened state until saliva completes the acid neutralizing process previously described. If you brush immediately after eating you could brush away tiny particles of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth out with water and wait an hour for saliva to do its work before brushing.
Boost your saliva. Inadequate saliva flow could inhibit the fluid's ability to adequately neutralize acid or provide other restorative benefits to tooth enamel. You can improve flow with supplements or medications, or by drinking more water during the day. Products with xylitol, a natural sugar alternative, could give you a double benefit: chewing gums and mints containing it could stimulate more saliva flow and the xylitol itself can inhibit bacterial growth.
Here’s a sobering statistic: you have a 50/50 chance over your lifetime for developing periodontal (gum) disease. And it’s much more serious than irritated gums: if not treated aggressively you could experience bone loss, which can not only lead to tooth loss but actually increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Initially, you may not notice any symptoms unless you know what to look for: mainly red and puffy gums that frequently bleed during brushing and flossing. As the infection advances into the underlying support structures that hold teeth in place you may also notice receding gums (moving away from your teeth causing them to look longer), pus around the gums or lingering bad breath or taste. And one or more loose teeth are a definite sign the supporting structures have weakened severely.
So, how does gum disease happen? It starts with bacteria. Your mouth contains millions of these and other microorganisms, most of which are friendly and even beneficial. Unfortunately, a fraction of them can infect and harm tissues like the gums and underlying bone. Your mouth’s defenses can normally handle them if their numbers remain low. But a bacterial population explosion can quickly overwhelm those defenses.
Bacteria are like any other life form: they need a secure environment and food. Disease-causing bacteria establish the former by utilizing proteins and other components of saliva to form a sticky biofilm on teeth known as plaque. Within the safe haven of dental plaque bacteria quickly multiply and form a complex and concentrated ecosystem feeding on remnant food particles, especially sugar and other carbohydrates.
The key to gum disease prevention (as well as treatment) is to deprive bacteria of their home and food source by removing plaque and its more hardened form calculus (tartar). You can manage plaque buildup by brushing and flossing daily, seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings to remove any remaining hard-to-reach plaque and calculus, and eating a nutritious diet with fewer sweets or other carbohydrate-rich snacks.
You can further lower your disease risk by avoiding smoking and other tobacco products and moderating your consumption of alcohol. And be sure to see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any signs of infection with your gums. Taking these steps can help you avoid gum disease’s destructiveness and help preserve a healthy and attractive smile.
As a cancer patient, you know how important radiation and chemotherapy are to overcoming the disease. But these treatments often come at a price to other aspects of your health, including your teeth and gums if the treatment target includes the head or neck regions.
Radiation and chemotherapy are effective because they target and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also kill non-cancerous, healthy cells; in the mouth, for example, they can damage the cells in the salivary glands and disrupt their ability to produce adequate saliva flow, leading to xerostomia (dry mouth).
This could seriously affect your teeth’s protective enamel shell. As we eat or drink, our mouth’s pH level can become too acidic. Acid is your enamel’s primary enemy because it causes the minerals in the enamel to soften and dissolve (de-mineralization). Saliva neutralizes acid and replaces much of the enamel’s minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, the enamel will tend to erode over time. You can further aggravate the situation if you routinely consume acidic foods and drinks, like sipping energy drinks or soda during the day. Once the enamel is gone it can’t be replaced naturally, and the teeth will be in serious danger of tooth decay and eventual loss of function and appearance.
To avoid these consequences you should take steps during cancer treatment to reduce your risk for xerostomia or other unhealthy mouth conditions: limit your consumption of acidic foods and beverages; use mouth rinses to counteract acidity and inhibit bacterial growth; and promote saliva flow through medication.
It may be, though, that enamel erosion and subsequent tooth damage is unavoidable. In this case, you may need to consider restorative options with artificial crowns or other cosmetic enhancements — not only to improve your appearance but also to protect your natural teeth from further damage.
Before considering the latter, you should undergo a complete dental examination to assess your condition and make sure you have adequate bone and gum support, and any dental disease under control. From here, we can go about restoring the attractive smile that may have faded during your battle with cancer.
If you have limited financial resources, learning what it will cost to restore your teeth and gums to good health could be a shock. Dental care can be expensive, especially for treating advanced dental disease.
Properly managing your ongoing dental care can greatly reduce the chances for higher expenses in the future. Here are 3 tips for staying ahead of problems that might cost you dearly tomorrow.
Practice prevention now. Dental disease doesn’t come out of nowhere — it’s the product of a bacteria-rich environment and neglect. You can help eliminate that environment by removing plaque — a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on tooth surfaces — with daily brushing and flossing. Twice-a-year dental cleanings remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) you can’t reach with daily brushing. Reducing sugar (which bacteria feed on) in your diet and treating low saliva flow (which can increase decay-causing acid in the mouth) will round out your prevention practices.
Take care of emerging problems as soon as possible. Dental disease typically doesn’t go away by itself: more likely, it will get worse — and more costly — with time. Don’t wait to see us if you encounter tooth pain or bleeding, tender or swollen gums. In some cases, we can take temporary measures like resin-based fillings in decayed areas that can buy a little time while you prepare for the expense of a more permanent restoration.
Adopt a long-term care strategy. Our goal is for you to have as healthy a mouth as possible.Â To that end, we’ll work with you on strategy and payment plans that address your individual needs. A good strategy puts a priority on treating emergencies or advanced disease first, followed by treating less affected teeth as you’re able to afford it. We may also be able to address your tooth and gum problems with fewer but longer sessions that can help ease pressure on your costs.
Adopting solid hygiene and dietary habits now, visiting us at least twice a year and following a plan to treat problems as they emerge is your best approach for keeping dental care from making a huge impact on your wallet.
If you would like more information on managing your 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 “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
As a regular part of your daily hygiene you may be using a mouthrinse — or “mouthwash” — mainly to keep your mouth feeling fresh and clean. Some mouthrinses, though, do more than give you fresher breath.
While there are countless mouthrinses available, we can place all of them into two broad categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. The first refresh your mouth and breath, usually with a mentholated or minty taste and smell that masks unpleasant odors. How well they work is mainly subjective: if you feel better after using them, they’ve done their job.
Therapeutic rinses have a different role, intended to improve oral health in some way. We can divide these into anti-cariogenic (decay prevention) or anti-bacterial rinses. You can find fluoride-based anti-cariogenic rinses over-the-counter in retail or drug stores, usually containing about .05% sodium fluoride per volume. Numerous studies have shown these rinses highly effective in preventing tooth decay when used with daily brushing and flossing.
Likewise, over-the-counter antibacterial rinses have proven somewhat effective in reducing bacteria that leads to dental disease. Formulated usually with triclosan, sanguinaria extract, zinc or essential oils, they can also help reduce the incidence of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), but only if used in conjunction with brushing and flossing.
Perhaps, though, the most widely studied and substantiated therapeutic mouthrinse is chlorhexidine, a prescription-only rinse. Chlorhexidine inhibits the formation of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces, the main trigger for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s often used as a post-surgery rinse when brushing and flossing may not be possible, but dentists will often prescribe it for patients who have a high propensity for dental disease.
Using a mouthrinse depends on your current oral health and personal preferences. Therapeutically, most people gain some added tooth strength protection from using a fluoride rinse in their daily hygiene. If fresh breath and the way your mouth feels are important to you, you should consider such a rinse that also has a pleasant taste and effect for you. We can further discuss with you whether a different type of rinse, or a prescription-strength formula, might be best for your particular needs.
If you would like more information on mouthrinses, 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 “Mouthrinses.”