Posts for tag: tooth decay
Although we've known for some time how tooth decay forms, it's still prevalent across the population—even more so than cancer or heart disease. Along with gum disease, it's a leading cause of tooth loss.
Fortunately, our knowledge about tooth decay has grown considerably, to the point that we now recognize a number of risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop this disease. By first identifying them in individual patients, we can take steps to address them specifically to reduce the chances of this destructive disease.
Genetics. Researchers have identified around 40 to 50 genes that can influence cavity development. The best way to assess your genetic risk is through family history—if numerous close family members contend with tooth decay, your risk may be high. If so, it's important to be extra vigilant with addressing other areas over which you have more control.
Saliva. Cavities are directly caused by oral acid, a byproduct of bacteria, that can erode tooth enamel over prolonged contact. This is minimized, though, through a normal saliva flow that neutralizes acid and helps remineralize enamel. But poor saliva production can slow acid neutralization. You can improve your saliva flow by drinking more water, changing medications or using saliva-boosting products.
Oral hygiene. You can reduce bacteria (and thus acid) by removing their "room and board"—dental plaque. This accumulating film of food particles harbors the bacteria that feed on it. Daily brushing and flossing, accompanied by regular dental cleanings, effectively removes dental plaque, which in turn lowers the levels of oral bacteria and acid.
Dental-friendly diet. Even if you diligently address the previous risk factors, your diet may fight against your efforts. Diets high in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, provide abundant food sources for bacteria. On the other hand, a diet primarily of whole foods rich in vitamins (especially D) and minerals like calcium and phosphorous strengthen teeth against decay.
Preventing tooth decay isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach. By identifying your own particular risk, we can craft a care strategy that can be your best defense against this destructive dental disease.
If you've ever had a run-in with cavities, you know the drill (no pun intended): After getting a local anesthetic for pain, the dentist removes any decayed dental tissue, as well as some healthy tissue, and then fills the cavity to restore the tooth. It's an effective treatment protocol we've been using for well over a century.
It does, however, have its drawbacks. For one, although necessary, removing healthy dental tissue can weaken the overall tooth structure. The dental drill used during the procedure is also unpleasant to many people: Although it doesn't cause any pain thanks to the anesthetic, the sounds and pressure sensations associated with it can be unsettling.
But advances in dental tools, technology and techniques are addressing these drawbacks in traditional tooth decay treatment. In other words, treating a tooth with cavities today is taking on a lighter touch. Here are 3 reasons why.
Earlier detection. The key to effective treatment is to find tooth decay in its earliest stages. By doing so, we can minimize the damage and reduce the extent of treatment needed. To do this, we're beginning to use advanced diagnostic tools including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras and laser fluorescence to spot decay, often before it's visible to the naked eye.
Re-mineralizing enamel. One of the advantages of early detection is to catch tooth enamel just as it's undergoing loss of its mineral content (demineralization) due to contact with acid. At this stage, a tooth is on the verge of developing a cavity. But we can use minimally invasive measures like topically applied fluoride and CPP-ACP (a milk-based product) that stimulates enamel re-mineralization to prevent cavity formation.
Less invasive treatment. If we do encounter cavities, we no longer need to turn automatically to the dental drill. Air abrasion, the use of fine substance particles under high pressure, can precisely remove decayed material with less loss of healthy tissue than a dental drill. We're also using newer filling materials like composite resins that don't require enlarging cavities as much to accommodate them.
These and other techniques—including laser technology—are providing superior treatment of tooth decay with less invasiveness. They can also make for a more pleasant experience when next you're in the dentist's chair.
If you would like more information on effectively treating dental 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
Tooth decay is one of two dental diseases most responsible for tooth loss (gum disease being the other). In the absence of treatment, what starts as a hole or cavity in a tooth's outer layers can steadily advance toward its interior.
Most people associate cavities with the crown, the part of a tooth you can see. But cavities can also occur in a tooth's roots, especially with older adults. Root cavities pose two distinct difficulties: They can lead to more rapid decay spread than crown cavities within a tooth; and they're harder to detect.
Tooth roots are ordinarily covered by the gums, which protects them from bacterial plaque, the main cause for decay. But roots can become exposed due to receding gums, a common problem with seniors who are more susceptible to gum disease.
Unlike the enamel-covered crowns, tooth roots depend on gum coverage for protection against bacteria and the acid they produce. Without this coverage, the only thing standing between tooth decay and the roots is a thin material called cementum.
If decay does enter a tooth's interior, saving it often requires a root canal treatment to remove decayed tissue in the inner pulp and root canals, and then replacing it with a filling. But if we're able to discover a root cavity in its early stages, we may be able to fill it like a crown cavity.
The best strategy, though, is to prevent root cavities from forming. This starts with a dedicated daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque. If you're at high risk for root cavities, we may also recommend antibacterial mouthrinses and other aids.
Regular dental visits are also a must: a minimum of twice-a-year dental cleanings to remove stubborn plaque and calculus (hardened plaque) deposits. For added protection against root cavities, we can also apply fluoride varnish to strengthen teeth. And regular visits are the best way to detect any cavity in its early stages when treatment is less invasive.
A heightened risk of dental problems like root cavities are a part of the aging process. But partnering together, we can lower that risk and increase the longevity of your teeth.
If you would like more information on root cavities, 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 “Root Cavities.”
You've heard it. Your parents heard it—maybe even your grandparents too. Dentists have been alerting people for more than half a century that high sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay.
That message hasn't changed because the facts behind it are the same in the 2020s as they were in the 1950s: The bacteria that cause tooth decay feast on sugar and other leftover carbohydrates in the mouth. This causes them to multiply and increase their production of acid, which softens and erodes tooth enamel.
What has changed though, especially over the last couple of decades, is a growing understanding of how sugar consumption may affect the rest of the body. Just like the evidence of sugar's relationship to tooth decay, current scientific studies are now showing there are strong links between sugar and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
What's startling about what researchers are finding is that cases of these diseases are growing, Especially in younger people. This is a parallel trend to our skyrocketing increases in per capita sugar consumption: the average American now eats the equivalent of 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Health experts generally agree we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day, and children 4.
This is vastly more than we consumed a generation ago. One reason is because processed food manufacturers have increased sugar in their products, hiding under technical, unfamiliar names in ingredient lists. But it's still sugar, and an estimated 74% of processed foods contain some form of it.
But the real surge in sugar has come from our increasing consumption of sodas, as well as energy and sports beverages. These beverages are high in sugar—you can meet your daily allowance with just one 12-oz can of soda. These beverages are now the leading source of sugar in our diets, and, according to experts, a highly dangerous way to consume it.
In effect, dentists of old were on to something: too much sugar is bad for your teeth. It now turns out that it may be bad for your overall health too. Strictly limiting it in your family's diet could help lower your risk of tooth decay and dangerous diseases like diabetes.
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”