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.
A woman as gorgeous and funny as Sofia Vergara surely planned to be a model and actress from the get-go, right? Wrong! Sofia’s first career choice actually was to be… a dentist! That’s right, the sexy star of TV’s Modern Family actually was only two semesters shy of finishing a dental degree in her native Columbia when she traded dental school for the small screen. Still, dental health remains a top priority for the actress and her son, Manolo.
“I’m obsessed,” she recently told People magazine. “My son thinks I’m crazy because I make him do a cleaning every three months. I try to bribe the dentist to make him to do it sooner!”
That’s what we call a healthy obsession (teeth-cleaning, not bribery). And while coming in for a professional cleaning every three months may not be necessary for everyone, some people — especially those who are particularly susceptible to gum disease — may benefit from professional cleanings on a three-month schedule. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to having professional teeth cleanings — but everyone needs this beneficial procedure on a regular basis.
Even if you are meticulous about your daily oral hygiene routine at home, there are plenty of reasons for regular checkups. They include:
So take a tip from Sofia Vergara, and don’t skimp on professional cleanings and checkups. If you want to know how often you should come in for routine dental checkups, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor articles “Dental Hygiene Visit” and “Dental Cleanings Using Ultrasonic Scalers.”
After months of treatment we’ve removed your braces and your new smile emerges. Upon closer view, however, you notice a number of chalky white spots on your teeth.
These pale areas are white spot lesions (WSLs), the result of mineral breakdown from the long-term contact of acid with the enamel surface. The underlying cause is built-up bacterial plaque due to inadequate oral hygiene, and as such WSLs are the beginning stages of tooth decay.
While anyone can develop WSLs, brace wearers are highly susceptible because of the extra care required to clean around orthodontic hardware. Poor dietary habits such as frequent snacking on sugary or acidic foods and beverages also increase the risk of WSLs.
To reduce the risk of developing this condition, brace wearers must give extra attention and effort to daily oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing. The extra effort required in brushing can be aided by specialized toothbrushes designed to clean around brackets and wires, along with prescription-level fluoride toothpastes for added enamel strength. Floss threaders or a water flosser, a device that uses pulsating water under high pressure, may help you maneuver around hardware to remove plaque between teeth. It's also important to maintain a healthy mouth environment by limiting intake of sugary or acidic snacks and beverages, avoiding tobacco or excessive alcohol or caffeine, and drinking plenty of water to keep your mouth from drying out.
If you’ve already developed lesions, it’s important to stop the decay process before it causes more damage. One way is to assist your body’s natural mechanism for re-mineralizing tooth enamel with fluoride pastes or gels or re-mineralizing agents, or undergoing micro-abrasion to repair a tooth’s surface.
To improve a tooth’s appearance a procedure known as “caries infiltration” involves injecting a liquid tooth-colored resin into the lesion, which is then hardened with a curing light. The spot becomes less noticeable and appears more like normal enamel. For extensive defects, conventional bonding with composite resins or porcelain veneers can be used to cosmetically cover the tooth.
Getting ahead of the problem with effective oral hygiene and good dietary and lifestyle practices will keep WSLs at bay while you undergo orthodontic treatment. If they do develop, however, there are ways to minimize their effect and restore the look of your teeth.
After months of wearing braces it's time for the big reveal: your new and improved smile! Your once crooked teeth are now straight and uniform.
But a look in the mirror at your straighter teeth might still reveal something out of place: small chalky-white spots dotting the enamel. These are most likely white spot lesions (WSLs), points on the enamel that have incurred mineral loss. It happens because mouth acid shielded by your braces contacted the teeth at those points for too long.
Most mouth acid is the waste product of bacteria that thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up on tooth surfaces. High levels of acid are a definite sign that plaque hasn't been removed effectively through brushing and flossing.
But normal hygiene can be difficult while wearing braces: it's not easy to maneuver around brackets and wires to reach every area of tooth surface. Specialized tooth brushes can help, as well as floss threaders that help maneuver floss more easily through the wires. A water irrigator that uses pulsating water to remove plaque between teeth is another option.
However, if in spite of stepped-up hygiene efforts WSLs still develop, we can treat them when we've removed your braces. One way is to help re-mineralize the affected tooth surfaces through over-the-counter or prescription fluoride pastes or gels. It's also possible re-mineralization will occur naturally without external help.
While your teeth are sound, their appearance might be diminished by WSLs. We can improve this by injecting a liquid tooth-colored resin below the enamel surface. After hardening with a curing light, the spot will appear less opaque and more like a normal translucent tooth surface. In extreme cases we may need to consider porcelain veneers to cosmetically improve the tooth appearance.
In the meantime while wearing braces, practice thorough dental hygiene and keep up your regular cleaning visits with your general dentist. If you do notice any unusual white spots around your braces, be sure to see your dentist or orthodontist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care during orthodontic treatment, 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 “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
Can you have healthy teeth and still have gum disease? Absolutely! And if you don’t believe us, just ask actor David Ramsey. The cast member of TV hits such as Dexter and Arrow said in a recent interview that up to the present day, he has never had a single cavity. Yet at a routine dental visit during his college years, Ramsey’s dentist pointed out how easily his gums bled during the exam. This was an early sign of periodontal (gum) disease, the dentist told him.
“I learned that just because you don’t have cavities, doesn’t mean you don’t have periodontal disease,” Ramsey said.
Apparently, Ramsey had always been very conscientious about brushing his teeth but he never flossed them.
“This isn’t just some strange phenomenon that exists just in my house — a lot of people who brush don’t really floss,” he noted.
Unfortunately, that’s true — and we’d certainly like to change it. So why is flossing so important?
Oral diseases such as tooth decay and periodontal disease often start when dental plaque, a bacteria-laden film that collects on teeth, is allowed to build up. These sticky deposits can harden into a substance called tartar or calculus, which is irritating to the gums and must be removed during a professional teeth cleaning.
Brushing teeth is one way to remove soft plaque, but it is not effective at reaching bacteria or food debris between teeth. That’s where flossing comes in. Floss can fit into spaces that your toothbrush never reaches. In fact, if you don’t floss, you’re leaving about a thirdÂ to half of your tooth surfaces unclean — and, as David Ramsey found out, that’s a path to periodontal disease.
Since then, however, Ramsey has become a meticulous flosser, and he proudly notes that the long-ago dental appointment “was the last we heard of any type of gum disease.”
Let that be the same for you! Just remember to brush and floss, eat a good diet low in sugar, and come in to the dental office for regular professional cleanings.
If you would like more information on flossing or periodontal disease, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Understanding Gum (Periodontal) Disease.”