During his exploration of the Americas, Christopher Columbus encountered a native in a canoe loaded with water, food and a strange bunching of leaves. This marked the first European encounter with tobacco, a discovery that still haunts us to the present day. Today, millions smoke tobacco—and many suffer serious health problems as a result, including dental diseases like tooth decay and gum disease.
The American Cancer Society is sponsoring its 44th annual Great American Smokeout this November 19 when health providers across the country encourage smokers to kick the tobacco habit. Dentists will certainly be among them: Studies show that smokers are five times more likely to lose teeth than non-smokers due to a higher incidence of dental disease. Here's why.
Increased plaque and tartar. The main cause for tooth decay and gum disease is dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, can keep plaque and its hardened form tartar from accumulating. But substances in tobacco restrict the flow of saliva needed to curb bacterial growth. This in turn can increase plaque accumulation and the risk for disease.
Hidden symptoms. Your gums often “tell” you when you have early gum disease by becoming swollen and red, and bleeding easily. But if you smoke, you might not get that early warning—the nicotine in tobacco interferes with your body's inflammatory response, so your gums, although infected, may look normal. By the time you find out, the infection may have already spread, increasing your chances of tooth loss.
Slow healing. Nicotine can also constrict the mouth's blood vessels, slowing the delivery of nutrients and infection-fighting antibodies to your teeth and gums. As a result, your body may have a harder time fighting tooth decay or gum disease, and diseased tissues can take longer to heal. Slower healing can also complicate the process of getting dental implants.
Increased oral cancer risk. Although it's not as prevalent as other cancers, oral cancer is still among the deadliest with a dismal 50% survival rate after five years. Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancer. But by quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco, you could reduce your oral cancer risk to that of a non-user in just a few years.
Kicking the smoking habit often takes a monumental effort, but it's worth it. Quitting not only improves your overall well-being, it could help you gain healthier teeth and gums. To learn how, see us for an up-to-date dental exam—we can show you how getting Columbus's most notorious discovery out of your life could do wonders for your smile and dental health.
If you would like more information about the effects of tobacco on your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Fluoride is an important part of your child's dental development. But if children take in too much of this important mineral, they could experience enamel fluorosis, a condition in which teeth become discolored with dark streaking or mottling.
That's why it's important to keep fluoride levels within safe bounds, especially for children under the age of 9. To do that, here's a look at the most common sources for fluoride your child may take in and how you can moderate them.
Toothpaste. Fluoridated toothpaste is an effective way for your child to receive the benefits of fluoride. But to make sure they're not getting too much, apply only a smear of toothpaste to the brush for infants. When they get a little older you can increase that to a pea-sized amount on the end of the brush. You should also train your child not to swallow toothpaste.
Drinking water. Most water systems add tiny amounts of fluoride to drinking water. To find out how much your water provider adds visit “My Water's Fluoride” (//nccd.cdc.gov/doh_mwf/Default/Default.aspx) online. If it's more than the government's recommendation of 0.70 parts of fluoride per million parts of water, you may want ask your dentist if you should limit your child's consumption of fluoridated drinking water.
Infant formula. Many parents choose bottle-feeding their baby with infant formula rather than breastfeed. If you use the powdered form and mix it with tap water that's fluoridated, your baby could be ingesting more of the mineral. If breastfeeding isn't an option, try using the premixed formula, which normally contains lower levels of fluoride. If you use powdered formula, mix it with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
It might seem like the better strategy for preventing fluorosis is to avoid fluoride altogether. But that can increase the risk of tooth decay, a far more destructive outcome for your child's teeth than the appearance problems caused by fluorosis. The better way is to consult with your dentist on keeping your child's intake within recognized limits to safely receive fluoride's benefits of stronger, healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on fluoride and your baby's 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Before implants, people often turned to a removable appliance to replace multiple missing teeth. Known as a removable partial denture (RPD), this appliance could restore both appearance and function at an affordable price.
But although implants may have diminished their use, RPDs haven't gone extinct. They're still a viable option for patients who can't afford implants or fixed bridgework, or who can't obtain implants due to the state of their dental health.
Although replacing only a few teeth rather than an entire arch, RPDs are similar in basic concept to full dentures. The prosthetic (artificial) teeth are anchored in a resin or plastic that's colored to resemble the gums, precisely placed to fit into the missing gaps. This assembly is further supported by a frame made of vitallium, a lightweight but strong metal alloy. The appliance fits upon the arch with the missing teeth, supported by vitallium clasps that grip adjacent natural teeth.
Each RPD must be custom designed for each patient to fit perfectly without excessive movement during chewing. Too much movement could warp the fit, reduce the RPD's durability or damage other teeth. To achieve this secure fit, dentists must take into account the number and location of missing teeth to be replaced, and then apply a specific construction pattern to balance the appliance.
There are RPDs that are meant to be used short-term, as with a teenager whose jaw isn't yet mature for dental implants. But the metal-framed RPDs we've described are designed for long-term use. There is, however, one primary downside: RPDs have a propensity to collect dental plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease that could further deteriorate your dental health.
To avoid this, you'll need to keep both the RPD and the rest of your teeth and gums as clean as possible with daily brushing and flossing, and appliance care. And like dentures, it's best to remove the RPD when you go to bed at night to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
To see if an RPD to replace your missing teeth is an option for you, visit us for a complete dental exam. From there, we can advise you further as to whether an RPD could affordably restore your missing teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on RPDs, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
As far as your appearance goes, the most important teeth you have are those in the “smile zone.” These are the teeth most visible when you smile—and the ones that awkwardly stand out if they're chipped, worn or otherwise flawed. More than any other teeth, they determine how inviting your smile is to others.
You might think you'll need extensive cosmetic dental work to fix these kinds of dental defects. But that may not be necessary: We may be able to use a dental material known as composite resin to repair the defects in your “smile zone” teeth in one office visit.
Composite resins are a combination of ceramics and plastics that have been around for some time. They've only recently come into wide use, though, with the development of new techniques to bond them to tooth surfaces. They're ideal for chips, cracks, or decayed areas where front teeth make contact with one another. They may also be used occasionally to reshape irregular or misaligned teeth.
You'll first need a complete dental examination to determine if composite resin bonding is an appropriate approach for your situation. If so, we'll begin by preparing the tooth surface to better accept the resin material. We'll then apply the liquid form of the material in layers, along with other agents to increase the material's strength. Each layer is cured (hardened) before applying the next layer.
As the layers build up, we shape the material to achieve a normal tooth appearance. We'll also incorporate your individual color shadings, so that the prepared tooth blends well with surrounding natural teeth. In effect, the procedure requires as much artistry as technical skill to create a natural look.
Though not as strong as porcelain veneers or crowns, composite resins are durable if not subjected to heavy biting forces. And for a few hours in the dentist's chair with minimal tooth preparation, a composite resin treatment can create a dramatic and exciting change in your appearance.
If you would like more information on composite resin bonding, 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
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