’Tis the season for holiday joy with sweet treats at every turn. Don’t let it be the season for dental woes as well. You've heard that sugar causes cavities. That’s because bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid as a by-product. The acid eats away at tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay if not checked. To protect your smile during the December onslaught of cookies, candies and other goodies, follow these tips:
Seek balance. Foods that stick to your teeth like candy canes, chewy candies or potato chips provide more opportunity for cavities to develop. To help keep your smile sparkling for the New Year, mix it up with healthy options. Chances are you will come across tooth-healthy offerings like raw vegetables, a cheese plate or mixed nuts. Vegetables scrub your teeth while you chew and stimulate the production of saliva, which helps neutralize acid and rebuild tooth enamel. Cheese also neutralizes acid in the mouth and has minerals that strengthen teeth, while nuts stimulate saliva production and provide vitamins and minerals that keep teeth strong and healthy.
Consider your timing. There’s a higher risk of developing tooth decay when sweets are consumed as standalone snacks, so when you do eat sugary treats, try to have them at mealtime. Repeated snacking between meals exposes teeth to food particles throughout the day, and the acids produced can continue to act on your teeth for 20 minutes after a treat is consumed. During meals, however, other foods present help balance out the sugar and stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid and wash away food particles, sugar and acid from your teeth.
Watch what you drink. Sipping sweet drinks over time can have ill effects on your teeth because of prolonged contact with sugar. If you consume sugary beverages, try to do so in moderation and preferably along with a meal. Sipping your drink through a straw can help keep the beverage away from direct contact with your teeth. Consider opting for water—there are plenty of other opportunities for extra sugar and calories! Besides, water washes away food bits and dilutes acidity. After eating the sweet stuff, it’s a good idea to drink water or at the very least swish a little water around in your mouth.
Keep up good oral hygiene. With all the holiday busyness—shopping, gatherings with friends and family, school functions—you may find yourself exhausted at the end of the day. Still, this is an especially important time to keep up your oral hygiene routine. Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste morning and night and flossing every day are key to keeping your teeth for the long haul.
Finally, if you are due for a dental checkup or cleaning, give us a call to make sure you start the New Year with a healthy smile. If you have a flexible spending account that will expire with the calendar year, make it a priority to fit in an end-of-year dental appointment. Please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation if you would like more information about keeping in the best oral health. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
Many people learn they have periodontal (gum) disease after noticing gum swelling, soreness or bleeding. But what you can see or feel may be only the tip of the iceberg — the damage may extend much deeper.
Gum disease is caused mainly by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth due to ineffective brushing and flossing. Infection of the visible gums is only the beginning — left untreated, it can advance well below the gum line and even infect supporting bone.
One critical concern in this regard is the areas where the roots of a tooth separate from each other, known as furcations. Here an infection known as a furcation invasion can cause the bone to weaken and dissolve.
This usually occurs in stages (or classes) we can detect through manual probing and/or with x-rays. In the earliest stage, Class I, we might only notice a slight pocket in the gums with no significant bone loss. In Class II, though, the pocket between the roots has become a horizontal opening of two or more millimeters, indicating definite bone loss with increased pocket depth getting “under” the crown of the tooth. Class III, the last and most serious stage, describes an opening we can probe under the crown all the way to the other side of the tooth; the bone loss now extends “through and through” the furcation.
The basic goal of gum disease treatment is to remove plaque and calculus (tartar) from all tooth and gum surfaces. But removing plaque below the gum line, especially “into” the furcations, can be challenging. We will need instruments called scalers to clean root surfaces, assisted sometimes by ultrasonic equipment to vibrate plaque loose. With furcations we may also need to employ surgery to aid gum or bone tissue regeneration or to make the area easier to access for future cleaning.
Of course, the best way to protect against furcation invasions is to prevent gum disease in the first place. Be sure to brush and floss daily and visit us for thorough dental cleanings and checkups at least every six months.
And don’t delay contacting us if you see any signs of teeth or gum problems. The sooner we can identify gum disease, the more likely we’ll be able to prevent it from doing serious damage to your gums, bone and teeth.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “What are Furcations?”
What does November make you think of? Pumpkins? Turkeys? Dry leaves and frosty mornings? How about cigarette butts?
If you’re wondering about the last item, remember that November 15 is the date of the Great American Smokeout—a day set aside for those who want to take the first steps toward quitting the tobacco habit. While the percentage of smokers in the U.S. has dropped to less than 16% in recent years, according to the American Cancer Society there are still some 38 million Americans who smoke cigarettes. Smoking causes over 480,000 deaths every year, and is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Even if it doesn’t kill you, the effects of tobacco use can be devastating to your entire body—including your mouth. Whether you smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco, your risk of oral cancer is greatly increased, as is your chance of developing periodontal (gum) disease. What’s more, smoking can mask the symptoms of gum disease, so your condition is actually worse than it appears. Severe gum disease is one reason why smokers tend to lose more teeth than non-smokers.
In addition, because smoking interferes with the natural healing process, smokers have a much greater chance of dental implant failure. Tobacco use also can lead to increased amounts of plaque, which results in tooth decay and other oral health problems. It also stains your teeth, reduces your senses of smell and taste, and gives you bad breath.
Ready to quit yet? If so, there are lots of resources to help you on the road to a healthier life. The American Cancer Society, sponsor of the Smokeout, can help you make a plan to quit tobacco—and stay off it. It’s not easy, but over a million Americans do it every year. See their website for more information, plans and tips on quitting. Your health care professionals are also a great source of information and help when it’s time to get off the tobacco habit. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have.
And here’s the good news: The moment you quit, your body begins to recover from the effects of tobacco use. In just one year, you’ll have cut your risk of heart attack and stroke in half. After 5 to 15 years, your risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and several other conditions is the same as someone who has never smoked.
If you have questions about smoking and oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Dental Implants and Smoking.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Every year dentists place over 5 million dental implants for lost teeth, often removing the problem tooth and installing the implant at the same time. But getting a “tooth in a day” depends on a number of health factors, especially whether or not there’s adequate bone available for the implant. Otherwise, the implant’s placement accuracy and success could be compromised.
Bone loss can be a similar problem when a tooth has been missing for a long period of time. If this describes your situation, you may have already lost substantial bone in your jaw. To understand why, we need to know a little about bone’s growth cycle.
When bone cells reach the end of their useful life, they’re absorbed into the body by a process called resorption. New cells then form to take the older cells’ place in a continuous cycle that keeps the bone healthy and strong. Forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this growth. But when a tooth is missing, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus. As a result, the bone may not replace itself at a healthy rate and diminish over time.
In extreme cases, we may need to consider some other dental restoration other than an implant. But if the bone loss isn’t too severe, we may be able to help increase it through bone grafting. We insert safe bone grafting material prepared in a lab directly into the jaw through a minor surgical procedure. The graft then acts like a scaffold for bone cells to form and grow upon. In a few months enough new bone may have formed to support an implant.
Bone grafting can also be used if you’re having a tooth removed to preserve the bone even if you’re not yet ready to obtain an implant. By placing a bone graft immediately after extraction, it’s possible to retain the bone for up to ten years—enough time to decide on your options for permanent restoration.
Whatever your situation, it’s important that you visit us as soon as possible for a complete examination. Afterward we can assess your options and hopefully come up with a treatment strategy that will eventually include smile-transforming dental implants.
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