Until recently, the standard treatment for tooth decay remained essentially the same for nearly a century: Remove any decayed structure, then prepare and fill the cavity. But that singular protocol has begun to change recently.
Although "drilling and filling" saves teeth, it doesn't fully address the causes of decay. In response, dentists have broadened their approach to the disease—the focus now is on an individual patient's particular set of risk factors for decay and how to reduce those.
At the heart of this new approach is a better understanding of oral bacteria, the true cause of decay. Bacteria produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and create a gateway into the tooth for decay to advance. We therefore want to lower those risk factors that may lead to bacterial growth and elevated acidity.
One of our major objectives in this newer approach is to reduce plaque, a thin film of food particles used by bacteria for food and habitation. Removing plaque, principally through better oral hygiene, in turn reduces decay-causing bacteria.
Plaque isn't the only mechanism for bacterial growth and acidity. Appliances like dentures or retainers accumulate bacteria if not regularly cleaned. Reduced saliva flow, often due to certain medications or smoking, limits this fluid's ability to buffer acid and acid reflux or acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks can disrupt the mouth's normal pH and increase the risk for enamel erosion.
Our aim, then, is to develop a long-term strategy based on the patient's individual set of oral disease risk factors. To determine those, we'll need to examine their medical history (including family), current health status and lifestyle habits. From there, we can create a specific plan targeting the identified risk factors for decay.
Some of the elements of such a strategy might include:
- Daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings;
- Fluoride dental products or treatments to strengthen enamel;
- Changes in diet and excess snacking, and ceasing from any tobacco use;
- Cleaning and maintaining appliances, as well as monitoring past dental work.
Improving the mouth environment by limiting the presence of oral bacteria and acid can reduce the occurrence of tooth decay and the extent of treatment that might be needed. It's a more nuanced approach that can improve dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention and treatment, 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.”
Since his breakout role as Dr. Doug Ross in the 90's TV drama ER, George Clooney has enjoyed a blockbuster career as an award-winning actor, director and producer. He's still going strong, as seen in the recent film The Midnight Sky, which Clooney directed and starred in. This sci-fi drama set a record as the most-watched movie on Netflix for the first five days after its late December release. And although now well into middle age, Clooney still possesses a winsome charm epitomized by his devil-may-care smile.
But he didn't always have his enigmatic grin. Early on, his struggles pursuing his burgeoning acting career triggered a stressful habit of grinding his teeth. This took a toll, as his teeth began to look worn and yellowed, giving his smile—and him—a prematurely aged appearance.
Clooney's not alone. For many of us, our fast-paced lives have created undue stress that we struggle to manage. This pent-up stress has to go somewhere, and for a number of individuals it's expressed through involuntary grinding or gritting of the teeth. This may not only lead to serious dental problems, but it can also diminish an otherwise attractive smile.
There are ways to minimize teeth grinding, the most important of which is to address the underlying stress fueling the habit. It's possible to get a handle on stress through professional counseling, biofeedback therapy, meditation or other relaxation techniques. You can also reduce the habit's effects with a custom-made oral device that prevents the teeth from making solid contact during a grinding episode.
But what if teeth grinding has already taken a toll on your teeth making them look worn down? Do what Clooney did—put a new “face” on your teeth with dental veneers. These thin layers of porcelain are bonded to teeth to mask all sorts of blemishes, including chips, heavy staining and, yes, teeth that appear shortened due to accelerated wearing. And they're custom-designed and fashioned to blend seamlessly with other teeth to transform your smile. Although they're not indestructible, they're quite durable and can last for years.
Veneers can correct many mild to moderate dental defects, but if your teeth are in worse shape, porcelain crowns may be the answer. A crown, which bonds to a prepared tooth to completely cover it, allows you the advantage of keeping your natural tooth while still enhancing its appearance.
Although different in degree, both veneers and crowns require permanently altering the teeth, such that they will require a dental restoration from then on. But if you're looking for an effective way to transform your worn or otherwise distressed teeth into a beautiful smile, it's a sound investment.
Just like George Clooney, your smile is an important part of who you are. We can help you make it as appealing as possible with veneers or other dental enhancements. Call us today to get started on the path to a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information about dental veneers and other smile enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers.”
When it comes to helping your child avoid tooth decay, it's all hands on deck. Tooth decay can not only harm their current set of primary teeth, but the loss of even one tooth could lead to bite problems later on.
And, even if you're doing all the right things—daily brushing and flossing, limiting sugar consumption and regular dental visits—your child might still develop cavities. If so, it may be necessary to add a boost of prevention with topical fluoride applied by your dentist.
With its enamel-strengthening properties, fluoride plays an important role in dental disease prevention. For decades, manufacturers have added fluoride to toothpaste. And, many water utilities now add tiny amounts of fluoride to their drinking supply.
According to a number of studies, these fluoride applications are effective weapons against tooth decay. But direct applications of fluoride to tooth surfaces can provide even greater benefit to children with a higher susceptibility for decay.
Topical fluoride is usually applied by means of a gel, foam or varnish. In varnish form, it's brushed on the teeth, while dentists apply the foam solution within a tray fitted around the teeth. The gel application can be administered by either method.
Although these topical applications use a higher concentration of fluoride than you find in toothpaste, it poses no serious danger to a child's health. But because high doses of fluoride can lead to staining, topical applications are only administered periodically during childhood.
The only short-term health concern is if the child accidentally swallows some of the mixture during application. This can cause symptoms like an upset stomach, vomiting or headache. Dentists, however, take a number of precautions to prevent accidental ingestion in order to avoid these unpleasant side effects.
The benefits, though, appear to well outweigh this minor risk. In a review of several scientific studies involving nearly 10,000 children, there was an average 28% reduction in decayed, missing or filled teeth in those children that underwent topical fluoride treatments.
If you want to know more about topical fluoride treatments and whether they can help your child avoid tooth decay, talk to your dentist. This fluoride booster could help further protect them from this destructive dental disease.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
There are many things to be concerned about with your infant. Thumb sucking shouldn't be one of them—at least not yet. Practically universal among young children, the habit normally fades by age four with no real harm.
If it persists beyond that age, however, it can lead to a poor bite (malocclusion). Late thumb sucking may also have a connection with another problem—the inability of a child to transition from an infantile swallowing pattern to an adult pattern.
A baby while swallowing thrusts their tongue forward to help create a seal around a breast or bottle nipple during nursing. This normally changes about age 4, though, to a positioning of the tongue against the roof of the mouth when swallowing. But if they don't transition and continue to thrust the tongue forward, it can place undue pressure on the front teeth and cause them to develop too far forward.
The result may be an open bite, in which a gap exists between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut. An open bite can also happen with late thumb sucking, but instead of the tongue, their thumb presses against the teeth.
As to thumb-sucking, parents should encourage their child to stop the habit beginning around age 3, if they haven't already begun to do so. The best approach is to use some form of positive reinforcement such as praise or treats. The sooner the habit ceases after age 4, the lower their risk for developing an open bite.
You may also need to be alert to continued tongue thrusting while swallowing, which may still continue even after they no longer suck their thumb. In that case, your child may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), a series of exercises directed by a trained therapist to retrain the muscles involved with swallowing. This therapy could further help a child properly transition to an adult swallowing pattern.
Open bites can be corrected orthodontically later in life. But by being alert to your child's oral habits, as well as the way they're swallowing, you and your dentist may be able to intervene and eliminate or at least lessen the development of this type of problem bite.
If you would like more information on how to manage thumb sucking, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.
Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.
Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.
It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:
- Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
- Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
- Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
- Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.
Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
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