Posts for tag: tooth decay
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
The classic movie Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, still brings back sweet memories of childhood to people everywhere. Recently, the news broke that a remake of the beloved 1971 film is in now development in Hollywood. But at a reunion of the original cast members a few years ago, child star Denise Nickerson revealed that her role as gum-chewing Violet Beauregard caused a problem: she ended up with 13 cavities as a result of having to chew gum constantly during the filming!
It should come as no surprise that indulging in sugary treats can lead to cavities: The sugar in your diet feeds harmful bacteria that can cause tooth decay and other dental problems. Yet lots of kids (not to mention the child inside many adults) still crave the satisfaction that gum, candy and other sweets can bring. Is there any way to enjoy sweet treats and minimize the consequences to your oral health?
First, let’s point out that there are lots of healthy alternatives to sugary snacks. Fresh vegetables, fruits and cheeses are delicious options that are far healthier for you and your kids. Presenting a variety of appealing choices—like colorful cut-up carrots, bite-sized cheese bits and luscious-looking fruits and berries can make it easier (and more fun) to eat healthy foods. And getting kids off the sugar habit is a great way to help them avoid many health problems in the future.
For those who enjoy chewing gum, sugarless gum is a good option. In fact, chewing sugarless gum increases the flow of healthful saliva in the mouth, which can help neutralize the bacteria-produced acids that cause cavities. Gums that have the ADA (American Dental Association) Seal of Acceptance have passed clinical tests for safety and effectiveness.
But if you do allow sugary snacks, there are still a few ways to minimize the potential damage. Restrict the consumption of sweets to around mealtimes, so the mouth isn’t constantly inundated with sugar. Drink plenty of water to encourage saliva flow, and avoid sugary and acidic beverages like soda (even diet soda) and “sports” or “energy” drinks. Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day. And don’t forget to visit our office regularly for routine checkups and cleanings. It’s the best way to get a “golden ticket” to good oral health.
If you would like more information about sugar, cavities and oral health, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
“Less is more” is a truism for much of life. It’s also an important feature of an emerging approach to treating tooth decay known as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
MID updates another revolution in dental care that occurred in the early 1900s. Treating decay took a quantum leap thanks to techniques developed by Dr. G. V. Black, considered the father of modern dentistry. Dr. Black’s approach (known as “extension for prevention”) involved not only removing decayed tooth structure, but also adjacent areas deemed vulnerable to decay, which made them easier to clean. On the downside, though, it also created larger than normal fillings.
As the practice prevailed through much of the Twentieth Century another weakness became apparent—the approach could not guarantee a treated tooth would not experience decay again. This became the real impetus toward MID—to find more comprehensive ways to treat decay with as little impact on the tooth structure as possible.
These efforts received a real boost from emerging technology. This was especially true in diagnostics with the rise of new devices like intraoral cameras and techniques like laser fluorescence that can enable dentists to detect decay much earlier. It’s now possible to catch the disease at an earlier stage before substantial damage to the tooth occurs.
MID has also led to new treatments that preserve more of the tooth structure. Traditional drilling is increasingly giving way to air abrasion, the use of a fine particle stream of aluminum oxide, glass beads or baking soda directed precisely at decayed structure and minimizing damage to healthy structure. We’re also using new filling materials like composite resin for restorations after treatment that are strong yet still life-like and attractive.
We also can’t forget the role of the twin daily hygiene practices brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the main source of dental disease. And regular dental cleanings and checkups round out the MID approach, helping to ensure that decay doesn’t get too far. The end result of this revolutionary approach: your teeth can experience less impact from treatment and remain healthier and more attractive in the long-run.
If you would like more information on minimally invasive dental care, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is more.”
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.
What you eat (and how often you eat it) is a major factor in the ongoing battle to prevent tooth decay. High levels of sugar or similar carbohydrates in your diet could encourage the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. Constantly sipping on acidic beverages like sodas or sports drinks can lead to enamel erosion.
You may be well aware of the kinds of foods that contribute to tooth decay. But did you know some foods can actually protect us from this damaging disease? Here are 4 kinds of foods believed to inhibit tooth decay.
Cheese. This food formed from milk is rich in calcium and has a stimulating effect on saliva. By eating a little cheese after a sugary snack, the increase in saliva can help neutralize the acid produced by the bacteria feeding on the sugar; the added calcium will also strengthen tooth enamel.
Fibrous plant foods. Beans, peanuts and leafy vegetables are rich in fiber and many require vigorous chewing. This in turn stimulates saliva flow, which as previously noted helps to neutralize high levels of acid.
Black and green teas. Beverages brewed from these plants are rich in polyphenols and flavonoids, providing an antioxidant effect on cells. Black tea also contains fluoride, which helps strengthen tooth enamel.
Chocolate. There’s some evidence that cocoa (from which chocolate is derived) may have some properties that inhibit tooth decay. But there is a catch — this evidence is based on unrefined cocoa, without the addition of any sugar. The high levels of sugar in processed chocolate negate this effect. Sorry chocolate lovers!
Of course, any of these and similar foods (like cow’s milk) should be considered complements to a comprehensive prevention approach that includes daily oral hygiene, limits on sugar and acidic food consumption and regular dental cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on preventing 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”