More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.
You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.
This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.
There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.
In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.
Many recent high school graduates will soon begin their first year in college, and for many it will be their first time living away from home. But with the excitement of new freedom, there’s also the opportunity to make poor choices that could impact long-term health, especially teeth and gums.
Here, then, are 5 tips for keeping your teeth and gums healthy during the college years.
Watch what you eat and drink. At any stage of life, a nutritious, balanced diet low in sugar and high in fiber is vital to a healthy mouth. Snack moderately on fresh fruit, nuts or dairy foods, not sugary, processed products. Be sure also to drink plenty of water for hydration, not sodas or sports drinks whose high acid content can soften enamel and open the door to tooth decay.
Don’t abuse alcohol or use tobacco. Consuming too much alcohol can do more than leave you momentarily impaired — it can cause dry mouth, which contributes to tooth decay and increases your risk of oral cancer. Any form of tobacco can raise your risk for disease, especially oral cancer; high levels of nicotine may also inhibit your gum’s ability to fight infection, which increases your risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Avoid oral piercings. Those tiny pieces of hardware attached to lips, tongue, gums or even through teeth may be all the rage, but they’re a recipe for immediate and future mouth problems. Oral piercings can lead to chipped teeth, gum recession and a higher chance of dental disease.
Practice safe sex. Certain sexual behaviors can raise your risk of contracting human papilloma virus (HPV16) that in turn increases your risk of oral cancer. You can also develop genital herpes in the mouth, which although manageable won’t go away.
Keep up your oral hygiene care. Taking care of your teeth and gums is a permanent, daily concern. Whatever your college schedule, be sure you’re brushing once or twice a day and flossing once. And don’t forget to visit us at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning (to get plaque you can’t reach with daily hygiene) and a checkup to keep dental disease under control.
Most of us think of insurance as a means to protect us and our families from unforeseen loss. While that’s the general definition, some insurance plans — like dental — don’t quite work that way.
The typical dental plan actually works more like a discount coupon for dental services. Most are part of an employer-based benefit package and usually “fee-for-service”: the insurance company pays for part or sometimes the entire bill after your dental visit based on a fee schedule laid out in the policy.
A plan’s benefits depend on what the insurer offers to cover and what level of coverage your employer (or you) are willing to pay for. Typically, the more items covered under the policy, the higher the premium. Any deductibles (the amount you must pay out of pocket before receiving any plan benefits) can also affect the premium — the lower the deductible, the higher the premium.
The benefits may also be limited due to what a patient’s dentist charges for services. Most insurers pay benefits based on what they determine to be the “usual, customary and reasonable” (UCR) fee for a particular service. The dentist’s fees are most often higher, however, resulting in the patient paying a higher percentage of the bill.
Still, a dental plan can work to your financial advantage, especially if it’s employer-based with premiums paid by your employer. It may not be advantageous, however, if you’re paying the premiums. For example, a person without insurance might spend on average $200 a year for basic dental care (mostly preventative — checkups and cleanings), while a person with insurance may have those expenses covered, but are paying yearly premiums of $500 or more for the plan.
You should also consider one other factor: our first priority as dentists is to pursue the best course of treatment for your particular dental needs, which may not always align with what your policy covers. At the same time, we understand the limitations you may be under with your plan — we work in this world every day. We’ll certainly assist you in navigating the insurance waters to achieve the best care for what you can afford.
If you would like more information on dental insurance and other financial arrangements, 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 “Dental Insurance 101.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
Most of us wouldn't think of buying a new car without a “test drive.” It's a serious investment, so you want to make sure you're comfortable with your new ride.
Like an auto purchase, the plan you and your dentist agree on to cosmetically enhance your teeth and gums — a “smile makeover” — is a significant investment. Wouldn't it be nice to “test drive” your future smile before you undergo any procedures?
Actually, you can — two ways, in fact. For one, your dentist could use computer imaging software that alters a photo of your face to show how your smile will appear after dental work. These computer enhancements are a great planning tool for making decisions on the look you want to achieve.
But even the best computer images only provide a static, two-dimensional representation of your new smile. It can't capture all the angles and movement dynamics of any proposed changes. That's where the other way, a trial smile, is a true test drive — you can see your future smile in action.
With a trial smile, your dentist temporarily places tooth-colored material called composite resin on your teeth to simulate the proposed changes. The resin can be shaped and sculpted to create a life-like replica that you'll be able to view in all three spatial dimensions. What's more it will give you a chance not only to see what your new smile will look like, but to actually experience how it feels in your mouth.
Creating a trial smile is an added expense and it's only available during your consultation visit — the dentist will need to remove the resin before you leave. But you'll still be able to get a good impression of what your final smile will be like. You'll also be able to take photos you can show to family and friends to get their impressions of your proposed new look.
A trial smile allows you to know beforehand what your dental work investment will provide you, and even fine-tune your makeover plan before work begins. With this particular kind of “test drive” you'll have greater assurance that you'll be happy and satisfied with the end results.
If you would like more information on trial smiles, 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 “Testing Your Smile Makeover.”
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