Posts for: January, 2018
Protecting a child's primary (“baby”) teeth from tooth decay should be a top priority. If one is lost prematurely due to decay, it could cause the permanent tooth to misalign when it comes in.
The basic prevention strategy for every child is daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. But children at higher risk for decay may need more: Â additional fluoride applied to teeth enamel during office visits.
This natural mineral has been shown to strengthen enamel, teeth's protective layer against decay, especially during its early development. Enamel is composed of calcium and phosphate minerals interwoven to form a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite. Fluoride joins with this structure and changes it to fluorapatite, which is more resistant to mouth acid than the original structure.
We mostly receive fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and dental care products like toothpaste. Topical fluoride takes it a step further with a stronger dose than found in either of these sources. It can be applied with a foam, varnish or gel using an isolation tray (foam or gel) or painted onto the enamel (varnish or gel).
But does topical fluoride effectively reduce the occurrence of decay? Research indicates yes: a recent review of 28 studies involving over 9,000 children found an average 28% reduction in decayed teeth in children who underwent topical fluoride treatments.
There is, though, one potential side effect: children who swallow the fluoride substance can become sick and experience headache, stomach pain or vomiting. This can be avoided with proper precautions when applying it; the American Dental Association also recommends using only varnish for children younger than 6 years. It's also recommended that children receiving gel or foam not eat or drink at least thirty minutes after the treatment (those who receive the varnish aren't restricted in this way).
Topical fluoride is most effective as part of an overall prevention strategy. Besides daily hygiene and regular dental visits, you can also help reduce your child's decay risk by limiting the amount of sugar in their diet. Sealants, which are applied to the nooks and grooves of teeth where plaque can build up, may also help.
As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”