Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air, but is the end result of bacteria feeding on sugar, multiplying and producing acid. High acidity erodes tooth enamel and creates an environment for cavity development.
Modern dentistry can effectively treat cavities and often save the tooth from further damage. But you don't have to wait: You can reduce your chances of cavities by managing risk factors that contribute to decay.
Here are 4 top risk factors for tooth decay and what you can do about them.
Poor saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acid and helps restore minerals to enamel after acid contact. But your enamel may not have full protection against acid if you have diminished saliva flow, often due to certain medications. You can help increase your saliva by consulting with your doctor about drug alternatives, drinking more water or using a saliva boosting product. Smoking can also inhibit saliva, so consider quitting if you smoke.
Eating habits. High sugar content in your diet can increase bacterial growth and acid production. Reducing your overall sugar consumption, therefore, can reduce your risk of decay. Continuous snacking can also increase your decay risk, preventing saliva from bringing your mouth back to its normal neutral pH. Instead, limit your snack periods to just a few times a day, or reserve all your eating for mealtimes.
Dental plaque. Daily eating creates a filmy buildup on the teeth called dental plaque. If not removed, plaque can then harden into a calcified form called calculus, an ideal haven for bacteria. You can help curtail this accumulation by thoroughly brushing and flossing daily, followed by dental cleanings at least every six months. These combined hygiene practices can drastically reduce your cavity risk.
Your genetics. Researchers have identified up to 50 specific genes that can influence the risk for cavities. As a result, individuals with similar dietary and hygiene practices can have vastly different experiences with tooth decay. Besides continuing good lifestyle habits, the best way to manage a genetic disposition for dental disease is not to neglect ongoing professional dental care.
If you would like more information on managing your tooth decay risk factors, 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.”
Even though teeth are resilient, they're not indestructible. An accidental collision involving the face could damage teeth, even knocking a tooth completely out of its socket.
At first, it might seem like the end of the line for that particular tooth. But it doesn't have to be—if you know what to do. But you'll have to act quickly: The longer the tooth is out of its socket, the less chance it will survive long-term.
Here are the steps you should take to save a knocked-out tooth.
Find the tooth. It's important that you locate the missing tooth quickly. When you do, don't handle it by the root end: It still contains delicate periodontal cells that are essential if the tooth is going to rejoin with the ligaments and bone. Use clean water to rinse off any dirt or debris.
Reinsert the tooth. Holding it by the crown and not the root, reinsert the tooth into its empty socket, hopefully within an hour (the faster the better). You want to make sure it's good and snug, so apply a little force when you do this. Place some clean gauze or cloth between the tooth and its opposite on the other jaw, then have the person bite down and hold it in place.
Get immediate dental care. It's preferable to find a dentist as soon as possible (if not, then the nearest emergency medical facility). The dentist will x-ray the tooth to make sure it's positioned properly, and may adjust it further if necessary. They may also splint the tooth to adjacent teeth to help stabilize it until it fully reattaches with the jaw.
Again, time is of the essence—the quicker you can perform the above steps, the better the tooth's chances. Any delay could jeopardize the tooth's ability to reattach, or it could shorten its lifespan.
You can also get guidance on treating a knocked-out tooth and other dental emergencies with a free mobile app developed by the International Association of Dental Traumatology (IADT). Just look in your Android or IOS app store for ToothSOS.
If you would like more information on what to do during a dental emergency, 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 “When a Tooth is Knocked Out.”
If while watching a Seattle Seahawks game you thought you saw wide receiver D. K. Metcalf sucking on a “binky,” your eyes weren’t deceiving you. Well, sort of not—he’s actually been known to wear a mouth and lip guard shaped like a child’s pacifier.
Metcalf isn’t the only pro football player customizing this essential piece of safety equipment. Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has been seen sporting “vampire fangs.” And Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns, has a series of interchangeable guards with various designs and colors.
You may say, “That’s the NFL, so of course players have the money and fame to dress up their mouthguards with a little flair.” But custom mouthguards aren’t out of reach for the average athlete—in fact, it’s actually a sound idea. Not so much for expressing personality, but for the comfort and protective advantages that a custom mouthguard may have over retail varieties.
Usually made of high-resistant plastic, an athletic mouthguard absorbs blows to the face and mouth during hard contacts in sports like football, basketball and hockey. Mandated by many organized sports associations, mouthguards can prevent dental and facial injuries like chipped or knocked out teeth, gum abrasions or jaw fractures. There’s even some evidence they reduce the risk of concussion.
Many amateur players use what is known as a “boil and bite” mouthguard, available in retail sporting goods stores. They’re softened first, usually in hot water, and then placed in the mouth and clenched between the jaws to obtain a somewhat individualized fit.
Although they do provide some level of protection, a boil and bite mouthguard can’t match the accuracy of a custom mouthguard produced by a dentist based on impressions and measurements of an individual player’s mouth. As a result, custom mouthguards can be made thinner than many boil and bite guards, increasing their comfort while being worn. More importantly, their accurate fit enhances their protective capabilities.
As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive than their retail counterparts, and with younger athletes whose mouth structures are still growing, it may be necessary to upgrade a custom guard after a few seasons. Still, the cost of a custom mouthguard may be well worth the superior protection it provides for your own little star athlete. And although it may not necessarily look like a binky or vampire fangs, a custom mouthguard could make their playing experience safer and more comfortable.
Just like adults, teenagers experience chipped, stained or disfigured teeth. And during a life stage where issues with appearance can be acutely painful, these defects call out for a solution.
And, there is one: porcelain veneers. These thin wafers of custom-made porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to cover dental flaws. They’re one of the least invasive—and most affordable—methods for smile enhancement.
There is one caveat, though: The affected teeth will most likely need alteration. Veneers can look bulky when bonded directly to teeth, so we compensate for this by removing some of the surface enamel. This changes the tooth permanently, to the point that it will always require a veneer or some other form of restoration.
But although this may be a minor issue for an adult, it could pose a problem for a teenager. That’s because the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth containing nerves and blood vessels, is larger in a younger adolescent tooth than in an older adult tooth. Because of its size, it’s closer to the tooth’s surface. During enamel reduction for veneers on a young tooth, this could lead to inadvertent nerve damage. If that happens, the tooth may need a root canal treatment to preserve it.
If the adolescent tooth needing a “facelift” has already been root canaled or sustained significant structural damage, then altering it for veneers may not be too concerning. Likewise, if the teeth are smaller than normal, the bulkiness of a veneer may actually improve appearance and not require alteration. We’ll need to examine a young patient first before making any recommendations.
There are also alternatives to veneers for improving smile appearance. Enamel staining could be enhanced temporarily with teeth whitening. Small chips can be repaired with bonded dental material, or in skilled hands be used to “build” a veneer one layer at a time with no enamel reduction. Although not as durable as regular veneers, these bonding techniques could buy time until the tooth is more mature for veneers.
Whichever path we take, there are effective ways to transform a teenager’s flawed tooth. And that can make for an even better smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
When you’re expecting a new baby, there’s a lot to prepare: outfitting the nursery, stocking up on diapers or choosing a pediatrician. It’s also not too early to consider how to protect your new child’s dental development.
From birth through adolescence, a child’s mouth goes through a whirlwind of growth. Hopefully, it all follows a normal track, but detours can arise like tooth decay or bite problems.
Here are 4 things you can do to keep your child’s dental development on track.
Start oral hygiene before teeth. Daily oral hygiene is essential toward helping your child avoid tooth decay. And don’t wait for teeth to come in—begin wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth right after nursing. When teeth do appear, switch to brushing with just a smear of toothpaste and then add flossing as more teeth come in.
Begin regular dental visits. The American Dental Association recommends pediatric dental visits around the first birthday. The possibility of tooth decay becomes a concern around this time as the primary teeth are steadily erupting. Starting earlier rather than later may also help your child adjust to the routine of dental visits that they’ll most likely carry on as they get older.
Control their sugar consumption. Because sugar is a prime food source for disease-causing bacteria, you should keep your child’s sugar consumption as controlled as possible. For example, don’t put a baby to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including juice and breast milk)—the constant presence of the liquid during nap time encourages bacterial growth and acid production.
Get an orthodontic evaluation. While we often associate orthodontic treatment with the teen years, it may be possible to head off bite problems earlier. So, see an orthodontist for a bite evaluation when your child is around age 6. If there are signs of a developing problem, certain techniques could help stop or slow them from getting worse, helping you avoid extensive and expensive treatment later.
With a newborn coming, you and your family have a lot on your plate. Be sure, though, not to forget making plans for keeping their teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Age One Dental Visit.”
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