Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air, but is the end result of bacteria feeding on sugar, multiplying and producing acid. High acidity erodes tooth enamel and creates an environment for cavity development.
Modern dentistry can effectively treat cavities and often save the tooth from further damage. But you don't have to wait: You can reduce your chances of cavities by managing risk factors that contribute to decay.
Here are 4 top risk factors for tooth decay and what you can do about them.
Poor saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acid and helps restore minerals to enamel after acid contact. But your enamel may not have full protection against acid if you have diminished saliva flow, often due to certain medications. You can help increase your saliva by consulting with your doctor about drug alternatives, drinking more water or using a saliva boosting product. Smoking can also inhibit saliva, so consider quitting if you smoke.
Eating habits. High sugar content in your diet can increase bacterial growth and acid production. Reducing your overall sugar consumption, therefore, can reduce your risk of decay. Continuous snacking can also increase your decay risk, preventing saliva from bringing your mouth back to its normal neutral pH. Instead, limit your snack periods to just a few times a day, or reserve all your eating for mealtimes.
Dental plaque. Daily eating creates a filmy buildup on the teeth called dental plaque. If not removed, plaque can then harden into a calcified form called calculus, an ideal haven for bacteria. You can help curtail this accumulation by thoroughly brushing and flossing daily, followed by dental cleanings at least every six months. These combined hygiene practices can drastically reduce your cavity risk.
Your genetics. Researchers have identified up to 50 specific genes that can influence the risk for cavities. As a result, individuals with similar dietary and hygiene practices can have vastly different experiences with tooth decay. Besides continuing good lifestyle habits, the best way to manage a genetic disposition for dental disease is not to neglect ongoing professional dental care.
If you would like more information on managing your tooth decay risk factors, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
Your teeth face a hostile environment populated by disease-causing bacteria. But your teeth also have some “armor” against these microscopic foes: enamel. This hard outer tooth layer forms a barrier between harmful bacteria and the tooth’s more vulnerable layers of dentin and the inner pulp.
But although it’s tough stuff, enamel can erode when it comes into contact with high concentrations of mouth acid. Losing substantial amounts of enamel could leave your teeth exposed to disease.
So, here are 3 things you can do to help protect your enamel so it can keep on protecting you.
Careful on the brushing. Brushing removes dental plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. But be careful not to brush too often, too hard and too quickly after eating. Brushing more than twice a day can cause gum recession and enamel wear; likewise, brushing too aggressively. You should also wait at least 30 minutes after eating to brush to give your saliva sufficient time to neutralize any acid. You could lose tiny bits of softened enamel brushing too soon.
Cut back on acidic foods and beverages. Spicy foods, sodas and, yes, sports and energy drinks all contain high amounts of acid that can increase your mouth’s acidity. It’s a good idea, then, to reduce acidic foods and beverages in your diet. Instead, eat less spicy foods and drink primarily water or milk. Also, look for foods and beverages with calcium, which helps increase your enamel’s ability to remineralize after acid contact.
Don’t eat right before bedtime. There are a lot of reasons not to eat just before you hit the hay—and one of them is for protecting your tooth enamel. Saliva normally neutralizes acid within a half hour to an hour after eating. While you’re sleeping, though, saliva production decreases significantly. This in turn slows its neutralizing effect, giving acid more contact time with enamel. So, end your eating a few hours before you turn in to avoid too much acid remaining on your teeth.
The fast-paced world of sports and entertainment isn’t all glitz and glamour. These high-profile industries create a unique kind of emotional and mental stress on celebrities. For many of them, a way to “let off steam” is an oral habit known as teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is an involuntary habit in which a person bites and grinds their teeth outside of normal activities like eating or speaking. It’s common among young children, who usually grow out of it, but it can also affect adults, especially those who deal with chronic stress. If not addressed, teeth grinding can eventually wear down teeth, damage gum attachments or fracture weaker teeth. It can even contribute to tooth loss.
A number of well-known personalities in the spotlight struggle with teeth grinding, including actress Vivica Fox, model and TV host Chrissy Teigen, and star athletes Tara Lipinski and Milos Raonic of ice skating and tennis fame, respectively. The habit represents not only a threat to their dental health, but also to one of their most important career assets: an attractive and inviting smile. Fortunately, though, they each use a similar device to manage their teeth grinding.
Besides seeking ways to better manage life stress, individuals with a teeth-grinding habit can protect their teeth with a custom mouthguard from their dentist. Made of slick plastic, this device is worn over the teeth, usually while sleeping, to minimize dental damage. During a grinding episode, the teeth can’t make contact with each other due to the guard’s glossy surface—they simply slide away from each other. This reduces the biting forces and eliminates the potential for wear, the main sources of dental damage.
Chrissy Teigen, co-host with LL Cool J on the game show Lip Sync Battle, wears her custom-made guard regularly at night. She even showed off her guard to her fans once during a selfie-video posted on Snapchat and Twitter. Vivica Fox, best known for her role in Independence Day, also wears her guard at night, and for an additional reason: The guard helps protect her porcelain veneers, which could be damaged if they encounter too much biting force.
Mouthguards are a prominent part of sports, usually to protect the teeth and gums from injury. Some athletes, though, wear them because of their teeth grinding habit. Tara Lipinski, world renowned figure skater and media personality, keeps hers on hand to wear at night even when she travels. And Milos Raonic, one of the world’s top professional tennis players, wears his during matches—the heat of competition tends to trigger his own teeth-grinding habit.
These kinds of mouthguards aren’t exclusive to celebrities. If you or a family member contends with this bothersome habit, we may be able to create a custom mouthguard for you. It won’t stop teeth grinding, but it could help protect your teeth—and your smile.
If you would like more information about protecting your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
While your teeth and gums can take a lot, they still face dangers like dental disease. Your teeth are also affected by aging-related wear and tear.
And, something else could put your teeth at risk: teeth grinding. This is an involuntary habit afflicting one in ten adults in which they grind or clench their teeth, often while they’re asleep. This generates higher than normal biting forces that can cause sore jaw joints, accelerated teeth wear and damage to the ligaments that hold teeth in place. In the worst case, you could eventually lose teeth.
So how do you know you’re grinding your teeth, especially if you’re asleep? You might notice your jaw being unusually sore after you wake up or your jaw muscles feel tired. Your dentist may also notice higher than normal tooth wear during a regular checkup. One of the best indicators, though, might be your sleeping partner or family: Teeth gnashing together can be loud enough to disturb others’ sleep.
In treating adult teeth grinding, it’s best to first determine the underlying cause. One of the most prominent reasons is chronic stress: If you’re under high pressure from situations at work or at home, pent-up stress can vent through physical outlets like teeth grinding. You can manage high stress through relaxation techniques, biofeedback or group therapy, which could in turn reduce teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding could also be related to a sleep disorder, such as problems with shifting between nightly sleep cycles. Certain psychoactive drugs are often associated with teeth grinding too. And, because of alterations in brain chemistry, tobacco users are twice as likely to grind their teeth as non-users. So, receiving treatment for a medical condition or making certain lifestyle changes could help lessen a grinding habit.
Many of these approaches take time to alleviate teeth grinding. For immediate relief, your dentist can create a custom mouthguard you wear while you sleep to reduce the effects of teeth grinding. The guard prevents the upper and lower teeth from making contact while biting down, which reduces the forces against them.
The damage from teeth grinding is often cumulative. If diagnosed early, though, we may be able to stop or minimize the damage before it goes too far.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding.”
While celebrating all that a new year brings, take a moment to remember the New Year's Day birthday of a true American patriot: the legendary Paul Revere. Ironically, he became a legend some 80 years after his midnight trek to warn colonists of approaching British troops, thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1861 poem “Paul Revere's Ride.” He was much better known to his fellow Bostonians as a prosperous silversmith, engraver—and “artificial teeth” maker.
That's right. Among his many business endeavors, Revere's résumé also included dental prosthetics, specifically custom dentures made of ivory. For the time, his work was state-of-the-art technology that far surpassed older tooth replacement methods.
But when we compare Revere's foray into the dental arts and today's restorations, his high quality 18th Century dentures were the proverbial “horse and buggy,” while modern denture technology seems like “supersonic transport.” Not only are today's dentures made of superior materials that are more “toothlike” in appearance, the means to create them using digital technology gives wearers a more secure and comfortable fit.
The modern denture—an appliance that replaces multiple or all lost teeth—is composed of a polymer base, usually acrylic that is colored to resemble gum tissue. Attached to this base are the prosthetic (“false”) teeth that replace those lost along the jaw. These new teeth are usually made of a durable dental material like porcelain that looks and functions like real teeth.
The basic design of today's denture hasn't changed much in the last century. What has changed is our ability to create dentures that follow an individual jaw contours much more precisely. Using the latest digital technology, we're able to obtain highly accurate impressions of the mouth to guide the manufacturing process. Fit is critically important for how dentures feel and function in the mouth. If they are too loose, they become uncomfortable and limit which foods you can eat.
If that weren't enough, recent advancements with dental implants have taken dentures to an entirely new level, beyond anything imaginable in Revere's day. We're now able to create dentures that connect or are permanently affixed to implants set within the jaw, which makes them more stable and secure. An implant-supported denture also helps prevent bone loss, a weakness of traditional dentures, causing them to loosen over time.
As amazing as they are, we wouldn't have the modern version of dentures without craftsmen like Paul Revere who helped advance the cause of dental restoration. So, lift a glass of holiday cheer this season to this hero of the American Revolution—and of American dentistry.
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