If your dentist found tooth decay on your last visit, you might have been surprised. But tooth decay doesn't occur suddenly—it's a process that takes time to unfold.
It begins with bacteria—too many, that is. Bacteria naturally live in the mouth, but when their populations grow (often because of an abundance of leftover sugar to feed on) they produce high amounts of acid, a byproduct of their digestion. Too much acid contact over time softens and eventually erodes tooth enamel, making decay easier to advance into the tooth.
So, one important strategy for preventing tooth decay is to keep your mouth's bacterial population under control. To do that, here are 4 common-sense tactics you should perform between dental visits.
Practice daily hygiene. Bacteria thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. By both brushing and flossing you can reduce plaque buildup and in turn reduce disease-causing bacteria. In addition, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can also help strengthen tooth enamel against acid attacks.
Cut back on sugar. Reducing how much sugar you eat—and how often –deprives bacteria of a prime food source. Constant snacking throughout the day on sweets worsens the problem because it prevents saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer, from reducing high acid levels produced while eating. Constant snacking doesn't allow saliva to complete this process, which normally takes about thirty minutes to an hour. To avoid this scenario, limit any sweets you eat to mealtimes only.
Wait to brush after eating. Although this sounds counterintuitive, your tooth enamel is in a softened state until saliva completes the acid neutralizing process previously described. If you brush immediately after eating you could brush away tiny particles of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth out with water and wait an hour for saliva to do its work before brushing.
Boost your saliva. Inadequate saliva flow could inhibit the fluid's ability to adequately neutralize acid or provide other restorative benefits to tooth enamel. You can improve flow with supplements or medications, or by drinking more water during the day. Products with xylitol, a natural sugar alternative, could give you a double benefit: chewing gums and mints containing it could stimulate more saliva flow and the xylitol itself can inhibit bacterial growth.
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
The month of March brings the first day of spring, when nature seems to wake up after a restful winter slumber. It also brings Sleep Awareness Week, which leads us to ask: How's your sleep? For around one of every three people, the answer seems to be: Not so good! In fact, it's estimated that some 50-70 million people in the U.S. alone have sleep problems, including sleep-related breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
People who suffer from this condition seem to sleep fitfully and snore loudly—and they may actually wake up dozens of times every night without even knowing it. These "micro-arousals" make it impossible to get restful sleep, which can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, and behavioral issues. Children with sleep disorders like OSA are sometimes diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders because the symptoms are very similar.
If you suspect that you (or someone you care about) may have a serious sleep disorder, it's a good idea to get an examination from a medical professional who specializes in this area. If the diagnosis is OSA, there are a number of treatments that can be effective—one of which is an oral appliance that's available from the dental office.
Dentists are quite familiar with the anatomical structure of the mouth, which is sometimes the root cause of OSA. In many individuals, the soft tissue structures in the back of the oral cavity (including the tonsils, tongue and soft palate) can shift position when muscles relax during sleep and block the flow of air through the windpipe. The lack of sufficient air may cause a person to awaken briefly, gasp for breath, and then relax their muscles—over and over again, all night long.
After a complete exam, we can have an appliance custom-made for you that has proven successful in managing mild to moderate cases of OSA. Shaped a little like a retainer, it is worn in your mouth at night and taken out in the daytime. The appliance helps maintain an open airway by re-positioning the jaw and/or keeping the tongue out of the way.
Oral appliance therapy is one of the most conservative options available for treating OSA: It requires no major equipment or irreversible medical procedures. However, there are a number of other options, including machines that supply pressurized air through a face mask and even oral surgery. It's important to consult with a specialist in sleep disorders when you're facing this issue. If the diagnosis is OSA or a similar sleep problem, remember that help may be available here at the dental office.
If you have questions about sleep-related breathing disorders, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Appliances For Sleep Apnea” and “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”