Posts for tag: tooth decay
Other than the common cold, tooth decay is the most prevalent disease in the world. And while a cavity or two may seem like a minor matter, tooth decay’s full destructive potential is anything but trivial. Without proper prevention and treatment, tooth decay can cause pain, tooth loss and, in rare cases, even death.
This common disease begins with bacteria in the mouth. Though these microscopic organisms’ presence is completely normal and at times beneficial, certain strains cause problems: they consume left over carbohydrates in the mouth like sugar and produce acid as a byproduct. The higher the levels of bacteria the higher the amount of acid, which disrupts the mouth’s normal neutral pH.
This is a problem because acid is the primary enemy of enamel, the teeth’s hard protective outer shell. Acid causes enamel to lose its mineral content (de-mineralization), eventually producing cavities. Saliva neutralizes acid that arises normally after we eat, but if the levels are too high for too long this process can be overwhelmed. The longer the enamel is exposed to acid, the more it softens and dissolves.
While tooth decay is a global epidemic, dental advances of the last century have made it highly preventable. The foundation for prevention is fluoride in toothpaste and effective oral hygiene — daily brushing and flossing to removing plaque, a thin film of food remnant on teeth that’s a feeding ground for bacteria, along with regular dental visits for more thorough cleaning and examination. This regular regimen should begin in infancy when teeth first appear in the mouth. For children especially, further prevention measures in the form of sealants or topical fluoride applications performed in the dentist office can provide added protection for those at higher risk.
You can also help your preventive measures by limiting sugar or other carbohydrates in your family’s diet, and eating more fresh vegetables, fruit and dairy products, especially as snacks. Doing so reduces food sources for bacteria, which will lower their multiplication and subsequently the amount of acid produced.
In this day and age, tooth decay isn’t a given. Keeping it at bay, though, requires a personal commitment to effective hygiene, lifestyle choices and regular dental care. Doing these things will help ensure you and your family’s teeth remain free from this all too common disease.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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.”
For over a century dentists treated tooth decay by removing both diseased portions of the tooth and healthy structure deemed at risk for future decay. In the 1970s, though, a new approach emerged, known as Minimally Invasive Dentistry (MID). This practice protocol attempts to preserve as much of the healthy structure as possible.
Before MID, dentists followed a decay treatment protocol developed in the 19th Century. A part of this became known as extension for prevention calling for dentists to remove healthy structure considered vulnerable to decay. Besides reducing the tooth's volume, this practice also resulted in, by today's standards, larger than necessary fillings.
It was thought that removing this additional material would make it easier to clean bacterial plaque, the source of decay, but later, research showed the practice couldn't guarantee the teeth wouldn't be reinfected.
Since then we've learned a lot more about teeth and have developed new ways to detect decay at earlier stages. X-ray imaging, for example, has transitioned largely from film to digital technology, providing more detailed images at greater magnification. This, along with laser fluorescence and infrared cameras, has made it easier to detect the first tiny stages of decay.
We can also limit tooth decay damage by boosting enamel strength with fluoride applications and sealants or reducing decay-causing bacteria with anti-bacterial rinses. We've also seen advancement in techniques like air abrasion that remove decayed tooth material while leaving more healthy structure intact better than using a traditional dental drill.
Restoring teeth after treatment has also improved. While dental metal amalgam is still used for some fillings, the main choice is now composite resin. These new tooth-colored dental materials require less tooth preparation (and thus less material loss) and bond well to the remaining structure, resulting in a stronger tooth.
Following a MID protocol leads to less intervention and less time in the dentist's chair. It also means preserving more of a natural tooth, an important aim in promoting long-lasting dental health.
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into caviÂties. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods.Â Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Tooth decay (also known as caries by professionals and as cavities by consumers) is an infectious disease process that damages tooth structure. Cavities, hollowed-out holes in the teeth, are the most common result of untreated caries. It affects millions of Americans, young and old alike.
How does this destructive process happen? It begins when acid-producing bacteria multiply beyond normal levels in the mouth. Dental plaque, a film of remnant food particles and bacteria, cover the teeth due to poor oral hygiene. The bacteria break down sugars and carbohydrates present in the mouth, which in turn produces acid. Too many “bad bacteria” can raise the acidic level in the mouth.
The normal pH level of the mouth is neutral — 7 on the pH scale. But when the acidic level increases, dropping the pH to 5.5, the calcium and phosphate minerals in the hard, protective layer of tooth enamel begin to dissolve in a process known as de-mineralization. A healthy flow of saliva, however, acts as a buffering agent to return the pH level of the mouth back to neutral. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate that can replace those lost from the enamel and is referred to as re-mineralization.
So, a constant battle rages within the mouth. On one side acid-producing bacteria, the possible absence of saliva, and poor diet and hygiene habits create the conditions where teeth enamel loses its mineral strength, allowing decay to eventually invade the fragile inner dentin of the tooth; on the other side is an adequate flow of saliva, a good diet and hygiene, boosted by treatment options like sealant application, antimicrobials and the topical application of fluoride.
The key, of course, is prevention. We add protection to the teeth by strengthening them; applying fluoride topically is the best approach, along with sealants that can be applied in our office. We reduce the level of acid-producing bacteria, usually with an anti-bacterial mouth rinse. You can also adopt a healthier diet that limits sugars and carbohydrates and reduces snacking between meals.
These preventive measures, along with early treatment of known tooth decay, can help you avoid the full impact of this destructive disease.
If you would like more information on tooth decay and how to prevent it, 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.”
Sports drinks have grown in popularity since University of Florida football trainers developed Gatorade® in the 1960s. They're widely viewed as a convenient fluid and nutrient replacement after strenuous workouts. Recently, another beverage has become wildly popular — the energy drink, whose high caffeine promises heightened concentration and physical ability.
While energy drinks have raised health concerns, sports drinks are widely regarded as safe. Both kinds of drinks, however, may be a cause for concern when it comes to your dental health.
While both are substantively different, they do have one thing in common — both beverages contain high levels of citric and other acids to improve taste and shelf life. This high acidity can have a detrimental effect on tooth enamel.
When the mouth becomes too acidic after eating or drinking (4 or lower on the pH scale), the tooth's outer protective enamel begins to erode, a process known as demineralization. Saliva with its neutral pH of 7 can neutralize this over-acidity in about thirty minutes to an hour after eating and the enamel will actually begin to remineralize. But when there's an overabundance of acid, as with these beverages, saliva's neutralizing ability becomes inhibited. The mouth remains too acidic for a longer period, resulting in greater erosion of the enamel.
Generally speaking, we don't recommend energy drinks at all. If, however, you occasionally take in a sports drink, add the following precautions, if possible: combine the drink with a mealtime and rinse your mouth with pH-neutral water to wash away residual acid from the sports drink; and wait an hour before brushing your teeth — since some demineralization occurs before saliva neutralizes the acid, you could brush away some of the softened enamel before it can remineralize.
Finally, consider this: pure, clean water is still the best hydrator in the world. Replenishing your fluids with it after exercise might also be the better choice for your dental health.
If you would like more information on the effects of sports and energy drinks on oral 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 “Think Before you Drink.”