Among our most common diseases, tooth decay can be a big problem at any age: in the U.S., one in four children 5 and under has some form of the disease, as well as ninety percent of those 60 and older — and a quarter of those have suffered complete tooth loss.
Fortunately, we now know what needs to be done on a regular basis to prevent tooth decay. Unfortunately, many are uninformed about all they need to do to lower their risk.
Here, then, are 5 questions to ask yourself to see if you’re on the right prevention path or not.
Do I brush and floss daily? If not, you’re aiding and abetting the “enemy” — bacteria that cause tooth decay. Bacteria that make up plaque feed on any food remnants that adhere to tooth surfaces. Brushing at least once daily (twice is better) removes plaque, while flossing removes plaque between teeth that can’t be reached with a brush. Removing plaque will lower your mouth’s acid levels that cause a loss of minerals to the enamel surface.
Do I use the proper techniques for brushing and flossing? While it’s important to establish daily hygiene habits, if you’re not performing them properly you won’t realize the full benefit from your efforts. But don’t dismay — we can train you in the proper techniques for brushing and flossing your teeth.
Do I use fluoride toothpaste? This naturally-occurring chemical strengthens tooth enamel and makes it more resistant to decay. You can increase fluoride’s absorption rate into enamel by using hygiene products that contain it.
Do I constantly snack between meals? Saliva neutralizes acid remaining in the mouth after eating in about 30 to 60 minutes. If you’re constantly snacking or sipping acidic beverages, however, saliva can’t do this effectively. It’s best to limit snacking to a few, specific times and restrict acidic beverages to meal time only.
Do I visit the dentist for cleanings and checkups? While brushing and flossing reduce plaque, it can’t remove it from hard-to-reach places below the gums or harder deposits (calculus) that have developed. A professional cleaning twice a year removes the plaque and calculus left from daily hygiene. We can also gauge the health of your teeth and determine if tooth decay or gum disease may be developing.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention, 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.”
Confused about which toothpaste to buy? You’re not alone — we’re all regularly confronted with multiple choices when we shop.
But you can simplify your decision-making process by first remembering that toothpaste has one main objective: helping to break down and remove dental plaque when you brush. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food particles that if you don’t remove through brushing and flossing could trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Toothpastes contain abrasives and detergents to help make this possible. Abrasives like hydrated silica are gritty substances that work with the mechanical brushing action to loosen plaque. Detergents (usually sodium lauryl sulfate) help loosen and break down particles on your teeth that won’t otherwise dissolve with water alone. The combination of these ingredients and daily brushing action enables you to remove a substantial portion of plaque from your teeth every day.
These ingredients (along with others to retain moisture and bind everything together) are the foundation of any toothpaste. There are other additives, however, that you may also want to consider. The most important is fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical proven to strengthen enamel against tooth decay. If you’re interested in a brighter smile, you can also look for bleaching agents that may help whiten some enamel staining. And, of course, there are various flavors to suit your taste.
You’ll also want to pay attention to ingredients if you have special concerns. If you have sensitive teeth, your dentist may recommend particular brands that help reduce discomfort. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for ingredients that you may be allergic to like the aforementioned sodium lauryl sulfate or flavors like cinnamon. Be sure to read the ingredients label if you have known issues with certain substances.
And while you’re reading the packaging look for one more thing — the American Dental Association Seal of Approval. This seal means any manufacturer claims for lower occurrences of cavities or other effects by that toothpaste have been independently verified.
It can be overwhelming amid all the product messaging to decide which toothpaste is right for you. But by knowing these basic facts about toothpaste, you can feel more confident choosing the right one to help keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products, 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 “Toothpaste: What’s in it?”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is mainly caused by bacterial plaque built up on tooth surfaces due to ineffective oral hygiene. For most cases, treatment that includes plaque and calculus (tartar or calcified plaque) removal and renewed daily hygiene is highly effective in stopping the disease and restoring health to affected gum tissues.
However, you might have additional health factors that may make it more difficult to bring the disease under control. If your case is extreme, even the most in-depth treatment may only buy time before some or all of your teeth are eventually lost.
Genetics. Because of your genetic makeup, you could have a low resistance to gum disease and are more susceptible to it than other people. Additionally, if you have thin gum tissues, also an inherited trait, you could be more prone to receding gums as a result of gum disease.
Certain bacteria. Our mouths are home to millions of bacteria derived from hundreds of strains, of which only a few are responsible for gum disease. It’s possible your body’s immune system may find it difficult to control a particular disease-causing strain, regardless of your diligence in oral care.
Stress. Chronic stress, brought on by difficult life situations or experiences, can have a harmful effect on your body’s immune system and cause you to be more susceptible to gum disease. Studies have shown that as stress levels increase the breakdown of gum tissues (along with their detachment from teeth) may also increase.
Disease advancement. Gum disease can be an aggressive infection that can gain a foothold well before diagnosis. It’s possible, then, that by the time we begin intervention the disease has already caused a great deal of damage. While we may be able to repair much of it, it’s possible some teeth may not be salvageable.
While you can’t change genetic makeup or bacterial sensitivity, you can slow the disease progression and extend the life of your teeth with consistent daily hygiene, regular cleanings and checkups, and watching for bleeding, swollen gums and other signs of disease. Although these additional risk factors may make it difficult to save your teeth in the long-run, you may be able to gain enough time to prepare emotionally and financially for dental implants or a similar restoration.
If you would like more information on the treatment of gum disease, 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 “Periodontal (Gum) Treatment & Expectations.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
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