Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
Dentists and oral surgeons remove millions of teeth every year, most without any adverse aftereffects. But about 2% of patients experience a dry socket, a condition that, although not dangerous to health, can be quite painful.
Also known as alveolar osteitis, a dry socket occurs when the blood clot that normally forms right after extraction doesn't form or becomes lost later. The clot serves as a barrier for the underlying bone and nerves during the healing process; without it these tissues can become irritated from contact with air, food or fluids.
Dry sockets (which usually occur in the back, lower molars) are fortunately rare, mainly in patients over 25, smokers or women using oral contraceptives. Patients also have a higher risk of developing a dry socket if they attempt certain activities too soon after tooth extraction like vigorous chewing or brushing that may dislodge the protective clot.
You can reduce your chances of a dry socket after a tooth extraction with a few simple guidelines. Unless advised otherwise by your dentist, avoid brushing the day after extraction and gently rinse the mouth instead. It also helps to avoid hot liquids and eat softer foods for a few days. If you smoke, you should avoid smoking during this time and use a nicotine patch if necessary.
Over the next few days, you should remain alert for any signs of a dry socket, often a dull, throbbing pain that radiates outward toward the ears, and a bad taste or mouth odor. A prompt visit to the dentist will help alleviate these symptoms, often in just a few minutes.
To treat it, a dentist will typically irrigate the socket and apply a medicated dressing, which you would need to change every other day for up to a week. After that, you'll leave the dressing in place for a while as you heal.
A dry socket doesn't interfere with the healing process: Your extraction site will heal whether or not you have one. But prevention and treatment for a dry socket will help ensure your healing after an extracted tooth is much less uncomfortable.
If you would like more information on dry socket after tooth extraction, 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 “Dry Socket.”
Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
Kids get pretty inventive pulling a loose primary (baby) tooth. After all, there's a profit motive involved (aka the Tooth Fairy). But a young Kansas City Chiefs fan may have topped his peers with his method, revealed in a recent Twitter video that went viral.
Inspired by all-star KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes (and sporting his #15 jersey), 7-year-old Jensen Palmer tied his loose tooth to a football with a line of string. Then, announcing “This is how an MVP gets their tooth out,” the next-gen QB sent the ball flying, with the tooth tailing close behind.
It appears young Palmer was no worse for wear with his tooth removal technique. But if you're thinking there might be a less risky, and less dramatic, way to remove a loose tooth, you're right. The first thing you should know, though: Primary teeth come out when they're good and ready, and that's important. Primary teeth play an important role in a child's current dental and speech function and their future dental development. For the latter, they serve as placeholders for permanent teeth developing within the gums. If one is lost prematurely, the corresponding permanent tooth might erupt out of position and cause bite problems.
In normal development, though, a primary tooth coming out coincides closely with the linked permanent tooth coming in. When it's time, the primary tooth lets you know by becoming quite loose in the socket.
If you think one of your children's primary teeth is ready, clean your hands first with soap and water. Then using a clean tissue, you should be able to easily wiggle the tooth with little tension. Grasp the tooth with the tissue and give it a little horizontal twist to pop it out. If that doesn't work, wait a day or two before trying again. If it does come out, be sure you have some clean gauze handy in case of bleeding from the empty socket.
Normally, nature takes its course from this point. But be on the lookout for abnormal signs like fragments of the tooth left behind in the socket (not to be mistaken for the top of the permanent tooth coming in). You should also look for redness, swelling or complaints of pain the following day—signs of possible infection. If you see anything like this, make a prompt appointment so we can take a look. Losing a primary tooth is a signpost pointing the way from childhood to adulthood (not to mention a windfall for kids under their pillows). You can help make it a smooth transition—no forward pass required.
If you would like more information about caring for primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
After years battling disease, your troubled tooth reached its useful life's end. It's been extracted, and we've replaced it with a life-like dental implant. So now, as far as the implant goes, disease is no longer an issue…right?
Sorry, no—though not to the same degree as a natural tooth, an implant could be endangered by gum disease. Although the implant's materials can't be infected, the supporting gums and bone can.
In fact, there's a particular type of gum disease associated with implants known as peri-implantitis (“peri” around an implant; “itis” inflammation) that first affects the gums surrounding an implant. Although peri-implantitis can arise from an excess of dental cement used to affix the crown to the implant, it most commonly starts like other forms of gum disease with dental plaque.
Dental plaque, and its hardened form calculus (tartar), is a thin, bacterial biofilm that builds up on teeth surfaces. It can quickly accumulate if you don't remove it every day with proper brushing and flossing. The bacteria living in plaque can infect the outer gum tissues and trigger inflammation.
Gum disease around natural teeth can spread quickly, but even more so with implants. That's because the natural attachment of the gums helps supply antibodies that impede infection. Implants, relying solely on their connection with the bone, don't have those gum attachments. As a result, peri-implantitis can move rapidly into the supporting bone, weakening the implant to the point of failure.
The good news, though, is that peri-implantitis can be treated successfully through aggressive plaque removal and antibiotics. But the key to success is to catch it early before it progresses too far—which is why you should see your dentist at the first sign of gum swelling, redness or bleeding.
You can also prevent peri-implantitis by practicing daily brushing and flossing, including around your dental implant. You should also see your dentist twice a year (or more, if they advise) for cleanings and checkups.
Dental implants overall have a greater than 95% success rate, better than any other tooth restoration system. But they still need daily care and regular cleanings to ensure your implants are on the positive side of those statistics.
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