Humanity has been waging war against tooth decay for millennia — with this relentless opponent often getting the better of us.
Over the last century, however, significant treatment advances have turned the tide of battle in our favor. Perhaps the greatest of these advancements is our deeper grasp of the disease process — new understandings that have altered our treatment strategy. Rather than wait for cavities to occur and then repair the damage, we now focus on stopping the damage from occurring in the first place.
Prevention starts by reducing factors that contribute to tooth decay. We can signify these detrimental factors with the acronym BAD:
Bad Bacteria. Millions of bacteria inhabit our mouths at any one time, but only a few strains produce the acid that causes decay. We want to reduce their population by removing dental plaque (where they feed and grow) through daily brushing and flossing, and, at a minimum, semi-annual office cleanings.
Absence of Saliva. This important fluid neutralizes acid and strengthens tooth enamel. Some people, however, suffer from reduced saliva flow. We want to find the cause (for example, a side effect of certain prescription drugs) and then improve saliva flow.
Dietary Habits. A diet heavy in sugar and acid (particularly sodas and soft drinks) gives bacteria a ready food source and increases the mouth’s acidic level. Chronic high acid levels in particular are often too great for normal saliva flow to overcome and neutralize. Reducing the amount and frequency of these food items creates a healthier oral environment.
Reducing BAD factors is only half of our prevention focus. We also want to promote SAFE factors that enhance tooth health and strength: Sealants, especially for children, that shield tooth surfaces from decay; Antimicrobial rinses that target and rid the mouth of acid-producing bacteria and give healthy bacteria room to develop; Fluoride, a proven enamel-strengthening chemical available in dental products, many drinking water systems and as a topical application in dental offices; and an Effective diet that’s rich in nutrients and low in sugar and acid as already mentioned.
Keeping the focus on reducing BAD factors and promoting SAFE factors will greatly increase your chances of personally winning the war against tooth decay.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
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.
We've all done it — suddenly bit the inside of our mouth while chewing food. All too often our cheek, lip or tongue finds itself in the way of our teeth.
The small wound caused by these types of bites usually heals quickly. But it's also common for the natural swelling of these wounds to cause the skin to become prominent and thus more in the way when we eat. As a result we bite it again — and again. If bit a number of times, the old wound can form a bump made of tougher tissue.
Also known as a traumatic fibroma, this growth is made up of a protein called collagen that forms into strands of fibers, similar to scar tissue or a callous. As you continue to bite it, the fibers form a knot of tissue that becomes larger with each subsequent bite and re-healing.
Unlike malignant lesions that form relatively quickly, these types of lumps and bumps usually take time to form.Â They're not injurious to health, but they can be irritating and painful when you re-bite them. We can alleviate this aggravation, though, by simply removing them.
The procedure, requiring the skills of an oral surgeon, periodontist or a general dentist with surgical training, begins with numbing the area with a local anesthetic. The fibroma is then removed and the area closed with two or three small stitches. With the fibroma gone, the tissue surface once again becomes flat and smooth; it should only take a few days to a week to completely heal with mild pain medication like ibuprofen to control any discomfort.
Once removed, we would have the excised tissue biopsied for any malignant cells. This is nothing to cause concern: while the fibroma is more than likely harmless, it's standard procedure to biopsy any excised tissue.
The big benefit is that the aggravating lump or bump that's been causing all the trouble is no more. You'll be able to carry on normal mouth function without worrying about biting it again.
If you would like more information on minor mouth sores and wounds, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
If you have tooth pain, we want to know about it. No, really—we want to know all about it. Is the pain sharp or dull? Is it emanating from one tooth or more generally? Is it constant, intermittent or only when you bite down?
Dentists ask questions like these because there are multiple causes for tooth pain with different treatment requirements. The more accurate the diagnosis, the quicker and more successful your treatment will be.
Here are 3 different examples of tooth pain, along with their possible causes and treatments.
Tooth sensitivity. If you feel a quick jolt of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold, it may mean your gums have drawn back (receded) from your teeth to leave more sensitive areas exposed. Gum recession is most often caused by gum disease, which we can treat by removing dental plaque, the main cause for the infection. In mild cases the gums may recover after treatment, but more advanced recession may require grafting surgery.
Dull ache around upper teeth. This type of pain might actually be a sinus problem, not a dental one. The upper back teeth share some of the same nerves as the sinus cavity just above them. See your dentist first to rule out deep decay or a tooth grinding habit putting too much pressure on the teeth. If your dentist rules out an oral cause, you may need to see your family physician to check for a sinus infection.
Constant sharp pain. A throbbing pain seeming to come from one tooth may be a sign the tooth's central pulp layer has become decayed. The resulting infection is attacking the pulp's nerves, which is causing the excruciating pain. Advanced decay of this sort requires a root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. See your dentist even if the pain stops—the infection may have only killed the nerves, but is still present and advancing.
Pain is the body's warning system—so heed the tooth pain alert and see your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner the problem is identified and treated, the better your chances of returning to full dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it means, 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 Pain? Don't Wait!”
Pain is the body’s warning system: It tells us something is wrong. And depending on the location and intensity of the pain, it can give us vital clues about the problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s not so clear and direct—the pain could arise from any number of sources. Toothaches often fall into this category: Although it’s likely indicating a tooth or gum problem, it could be something else — or even somewhere else.
This is known as referred pain, in which you may feel pain in one location, like your mouth, but the actual source of the problem is somewhere else, like an infected and congested sinus passage. If we’re able to identify the true source and location of the pain, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Besides sinus infections, there are other conditions like trigeminal neuralgia that can refer pain to the mouth. This painful condition involves the trigeminal nerve, a large nerve running on either side of the face that can become inflamed. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, you might feel the pain at various points along the jaw, feeling much like a toothache.
There’s also the case of an earache mimicking a toothache, and vice-versa. Because of the proximity of the ears to the jaws, there is some nerve interconnectedness between them. For example, an infected or abscessed back tooth could feel a lot like an earache.
These and other possible problems (including jaw joint disorders or teeth grinding) can generate pain as if it were coming from the mouth or a single tooth. To be sure you’ll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If your dentist doesn’t find anything wrong with your mouth, he or she may refer you to a medical doctor to explore other possible causes.
Getting to the root cause of pain can help determine which treatment strategy to pursue to relieve it. Finding the actual source is the most efficient way to understand what a pain sensation is trying to tell us.
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