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.
If you like conundrums like "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?", then you may enjoy this one: "Which should you do first, brush or floss?"
Both of these oral hygiene tasks are equally important for removing dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that forms on teeth after eating. Removing plaque on a daily basis minimizes your risk for developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the top causes for tooth loss. Brushing removes plaque from broad tooth surfaces, while flossing removes it from between teeth where brushing can't reach.
There is wide consensus that you need both brushing and flossing to thoroughly remove plaque. But there is a debate over which of these two tasks you should do first for the most effective outcome. Those debates are more or less good-natured, but there are proponents on both sides on which task should come first.
Those on the "Brush First" side say brushing initially gets the bulk of accumulated plaque out of the way. If you floss first, you may be plowing through a lot of soft plaque, which can quickly turn your floss into a gunky mess. More importantly, you may only be moving plaque around with the floss, not actually removing it. By brushing first, there's less plaque to deal with when flossing.
"Floss First" folks, though, say flossing before you brush loosens plaque stuck between teeth that can be more easily brushed away. But perhaps a more important reason is psychological: People don't really like flossing as much as brushing. Because of this, putting it off to the end may mean it doesn't happen; doing it first will help ensure it actually gets done.
In the end, though, the order you perform these tasks comes down to personal preference. You can try both ways to see which one suits you best. The important thing, however, is that you do both tasks—if you do, you can greatly lower your risk of dental disease that could rob you of your teeth.
If you would like more information on effective oral hygiene, 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 “Brushing and flossing: Which Should Be Done First?”
During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
You've just finished your daily brushing and flossing. How did you do? Swiping your tongue across your teeth can generally tell you: It's a good sign if it glides smoothly; but if it feels rough and gritty, you better take another run at it.
This "tongue test," however, only gives you a rough idea of how well you're removing plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. Plaque, though, can be sneaky, "hiding" in the nooks and crannies on the biting surfaces of teeth, around the gum line and in between teeth.
So, how do you know if you're clearing out any plaque holdouts? An effective way is to use a plaque disclosing agent. This over-the-counter dental product consists of a swab, tablet or solution, which contains a dye that's reactive to plaque.
After brushing and flossing as usual, you apply the solution to your teeth for about 30 seconds. You then take a look in the mirror: Any remaining plaque will be stained a bright color that makes it stand out. There are also agents with two colors of dye, one that stains older plaque and one for newer plaque.
The plaque staining not only helps you see how well you've been brushing and flossing, it can also show you areas in need of improved hygiene. For example, if you notice a scalloped pattern around the gum line, that may mean your brush isn't getting into that area effectively. In this way, you can use a disclosing agent to fine-tune your hygiene.
Repeated use of a disclosing agent is safe, but just remember the dye color can be vivid. It does wear off in a few hours, though, so perhaps schedule it for a day off around the house. You should also avoid swallowing any solution or getting any of it on clothing.
The ultimate test, though, is a thorough dental cleaning with your dentist at least every six months. They can verify whether you've been fairly successful with your brushing and flossing, or if you have room for improvement. If you do use a disclosing agent, you can also discuss that with them in working out better strategies to protect your teeth from tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
While your dentist plays an important role in keeping things inside your mouth healthy, what you do every day often makes the biggest difference. Here are 5 routine things you can do for better oral health.
Brush and floss every day. The most important thing you can do for your teeth and gums is adhere to a daily schedule of brushing and flossing. These twin tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a thin bacterial biofilm most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
Check your hygiene. There's brushing and flossing—and then there's brushing and flossing effectively. To make sure you're getting the job done, run the tip of your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss. If it feels smooth, mission accomplished! If it feels rough and gritty, though, try again. You can also use plaque disclosure products occasionally to highlight any missed plaque still on your teeth.
Say no to sugar. Chances are you love sugar—and so do the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. As they feed on sugar, they multiply and produce acid, which in high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. Limiting sugar in your diet reduces oral bacteria and the acid they produce, and thus lowers your risk for disease.
Drink plenty of water. Saliva plays an important role in oral health: It helps fight off bacteria, neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes tooth enamel. But it can't do those things if there's not enough of it. So, if your mouth consistently feels dry, drink more water to give your body what it needs to make saliva. Drinking water also washes away food particles that could become plaque and lowers your mouth's acidity.
Maintain your dental appliances. You can extend the life of dentures, retainers or other types of dental appliances by cleaning and maintaining them. You should clean your appliance regularly using regular hand soap or a designated cleaner (not toothpaste, which can be too abrasive). Unless otherwise directed by your dentist, take them out at night and be sure to store them where kids or pets can't get to them.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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