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.
Along with tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease is a primary enemy of oral health. If not caught and treated, a gum infection could spread and eventually cause tooth loss.
But although prevalent among the general population, one demographic in particular is highly susceptible to gum disease—smokers and tobacco users in general. It's estimated over 60 percent of all smokers will contend with a gum infection at some point during their lifetimes. Smokers are also twice as likely as non-smokers to develop advanced gum disease that could lead to serious dental damage.
The high rate of gum disease among smokers (and to some extent, all tobacco users) is connected to the effect that tobacco has on oral health in general. Studies show that nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, which in turn reduces their delivery of antibodies to fight disease-causing bacteria. As a result, smokers have more harmful bacteria in their mouths than non-smokers, which increases their risk of dental disease.
Smokers are also less likely than non-smokers to display inflammation or redness, the initial signs of a burgeoning gum infection. This too has to do with the constricted blood vessels in the gums that can't deliver adequate oxygen and nutrients to these tissues. As a result, the gums can appear pink and healthy, yet still be infected. This could delay diagnosis of gum disease, allowing the infection to become more advanced.
Finally, smoking can interfere with the treatment of gum disease. Because of nicotine, a tobacco users' infections and wounds are often slower to heal. Combined with late diagnoses of gum disease, this slower healing creates an environment where smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to lose teeth from gum disease.
If you do smoke, it's important to let your dentist know how much and for how long you've smoked, which could be relevant to any dental care or treatment. Better yet, quitting the habit could improve your oral health and lower your risk for teeth-destroying gum disease.
If you would like more information on the effects of smoking on oral 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Around one in ten U.S. adults have diabetes, a metabolic disease that can disrupt other aspects of a person's health like wound healing and vision. It could also cause complications with dental implants, the premier replacement choice for missing teeth.
There are two basic types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone needed to regulate the amount of sugar glucose in the bloodstream. With the more prevalent type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't respond efficiently to the insulin produced.
Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to several dangerous health conditions. In addition to vision impairment and poor wound healing, diabetics are at higher risk for other problems like kidney disease or nerve damage. Drastic swings in blood glucose levels can also cause coma or death.
Many diabetics, though, are able to manage their condition through diet, exercise, medications and regular medical care. Even so, they may still encounter problems with wound healing, which could complicate getting a dental implant.
An implant is composed of a titanium metal post imbedded into the jawbone. Because of its affinity with titanium, bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the implant's metal surface. Several weeks after implant surgery, enough bone growth occurs to fully secure the implant within the jaw.
But this integration process may be slower for diabetics because of sluggish wound healing. It's possible for integration to not fully occur in diabetic patients after implant surgery, increasing the risk of eventually losing the implant.
Fortunately, though, evidence indicates this not to be as great a concern as once thought. A number of recent group studies comparing diabetic and non-diabetic implant patients found little difference in outcomes—both groups had similar success rates (more than 95 percent).
The only exception, though, were diabetic patients with poor glucose control, who had much slower bone integration that posed a threat to a successful implant outcome. If you're in this situation, it's better if you're first able to better control your blood glucose levels before you undergo surgery.
So, while diabetes is something to factor into your implant decision, your chances remain good for a successful outcome. Just be sure you're doing everything you can to effectively manage your diabetes.
If you would like more information on diabetes and 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 “Dental Implants & Diabetes.”
In a little over a century, antibiotics have changed the face of healthcare. We no longer fear cholera, strep throat or even a small cut as our forebears did a hundred years ago. Antibiotics are also an essential weapon against infection in dental situations.
But evidence is mounting that we're overusing these miracle drugs. Besides continued growth in antibiotic prescriptions, sometimes to preempt a possible infection rather than treat an existing one, food producers are increasingly adding them to animal feed and other products as a preventive measure.
The problem with expanding our uses of antibiotics is the ability of targeted microorganisms to develop defenses against our most common drugs. Some may even mutate into a kind of "super bug" like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which no longer responds to a particular antibiotic.
As older antibiotics become less effective, we must develop newer drugs to overcome the strengthened defenses of targeted microorganisms. But this takes time—meanwhile, as antibiotic options dwindle, more than 2 million people each year encounter an antibiotic-resistant infection that results in around 20,000 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
But there are hopeful signs that the world is now rising to meet the threat of antibiotic resistance. For example, support is growing within the U.S., Canada and the EU to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed except for treating actual infections.
Many healthcare organizations are also exploring ways to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. One way is to make better use of testing, especially to identify the precise bacteria causing an infection so that it can be targeted with a specific antibiotic that will best respond to it.
We're also seeing modifications in the use of antibiotics as a preventive measure. For example, people with certain conditions like congenital heart problems or joint prosthetics have routinely received antibiotics before dental procedures to preempt infection. In recent years that list of conditions has been trimmed substantially.
The move toward a more conservative use of antibiotics will have an impact on healthcare, including dentistry. But whatever the changes, dentists and other health professionals will continue to place their patient's health at the forefront.
If you would like more information on the use of antibiotics in dentistry, 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 “Antibiotics: Use and Abuse.”
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