Enamel — that tough, outermost tooth layer — protects your teeth from all sorts of hazards, from bacterial attack to temperature extremes. But although the hardest substance in the human body, enamel has a mortal enemy — acid. High acid levels can cause the minerals in enamel to dissolve, a process called de-mineralization. And although saliva can neutralize these levels in approximately 45-60 minutes and restore some of the enamel’s lost minerals, a constant acidic environment can overwhelm this natural mechanism.
That’s why you should be careful with the amount and frequency of acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits or coffee. You should be especially concerned about your intake of sodas, energy drinks or sports drinks. The latter in particular are designed to replace fluids and nutrients during intense exercise or sports events, but are often consumed as a regular beverage. And all these drinks mentioned are often sipped on throughout the day, resulting in a constant wash of acid in your mouth that can interrupt the protective response of saliva.
There’s one other source for high mouth acidity that comes not from outside the body but from within. GERD — Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease — is a condition in which digestive acid refluxes (flows back) into the esophagus. While chronic acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus and lead to ulcers or even cancer, it may also pose a danger to teeth if the acid regularly rises into the mouth. Individuals encountering this will know it by the awful, acrid taste of vomit in their mouth.
To reduce the chances of high mouth acid due to food intake, limit the consumption of acidic foods and beverages to meal times and sports drink consumption to strenuous exercise or sporting events. Better yet, consider the greatest hydrator of all, water — with a neutral pH of 7.
If you’re experiencing chronic heartburn or other GERD symptoms, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist as soon as possible. Many treatments are effective and will not only improve your general health but may also help preserve your tooth enamel.
If you would like more information on the effect of acid in the mouth and how to reduce it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “GERD — Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Even in the 21st Century, losing most or all of your teeth is still an unfortunate possibility. Many in this circumstance turn to dentures, as their great-grandparents did, to restore their teeth. But today's dentures are much different from those of past generations—and dental implants are a big reason why.
The basic denture is made of a gum-colored, acrylic base with artificial teeth attached. The base is precisely made to fit snugly and comfortably on the patient's individual gum and jaw structure, as the bony ridges of the gums provide the overall support for the denture.
Implants improve on this through two possible approaches. A removable denture can be fitted with a metal frame that firmly connects with implants embedded in the jaw. Alternatively, a denture can be permanently attached to implants with screws. Each way has its pros and cons, but both have two decided advantages over traditional dentures.
First, because implants rather than the gums provide their main support, implant-denture hybrids are often more secure and comfortable than traditional dentures. As a result, patients may enjoy greater confidence while eating or speaking wearing an implant-based denture.
They may also improve bone health rather than diminish it like standard dentures. This is because the forces generated when chewing and eating travel from the teeth to the jawbone and stimulate new bone cell growth to replace older cells. We lose this stimulation when we lose teeth, leading to slower bone cell replacement and eventually less overall bone volume.
Traditional dentures not only don't restore this stimulation, they can also accelerate bone loss as they rub against the bony ridges of the gums. Implants, on the other hand, can help slow or stop bone loss. The titanium in the imbedded post attracts bone cells, which then grow and adhere to the implant surface. Over time, this can increase the amount of bone attachment and help stymie any further loss.
An implant-supported denture is more expensive than a standard denture, but far less than replacing each individual tooth with an implant. If you want the affordability of dentures with the added benefits of implants, this option may be worth your consideration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
As we get older, we become more susceptible to chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. We can also begin to see more problems with our teeth and gums.
Whether it's ourselves or an older loved one, oral health deserves a heightened focus as we age on prevention and prompt treatment. Here's what you can do to protect you or a family member's teeth and gums during the aging process.
Make accommodations for oral hygiene. Keeping your mouth clean of disease-causing plaque is important at any age. But it may become harder for someone getting older: Manual dexterity can falter due to conditions like arthritis or Parkinson's Disease. Older adults with decreased physical ability may benefit from larger gripped toothbrushes or those modified with a bicycle handle. Electric power brushes are another option, as are water irrigators that can do as effective a job of flossing as threaded floss.
Watch out for “dry mouth.” Older adults often develop chronic dry mouth due to saliva-reducing medications they might be taking. It's not just an unpleasant feeling: Inadequate saliva deprives the mouth of acid neutralization. As a result, someone with chronic dry mouth has a higher risk for tooth decay. You can reduce dry mouth by talking with your doctor about prescriptions for you or a family member, drinking more water or using saliva boosting products.
Maintain regular dental visits. Regular trips to the dentist are especially important for older adults. Besides professional cleanings, dentists also check for problems that increase with aging, such as oral cancer. An older adult wearing dentures or other oral appliances also needs to have them checked periodically for any adverse changes to fit or wear.
Monitor self-care. As long as they're able, older adults should be encouraged to care daily for their own teeth. But they should also be monitored in these areas, especially if they begin to show signs of decreased mental or physical abilities. So, evaluate how they're doing with brushing and flossing, and look for signs of tooth decay or gum disease.
Aging brings its own set of challenges for maintaining optimum dental health. But taking proactive steps and acting quickly when problems arise will help meet those challenges as they come.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
Over the last few months, federal, state and local officials have taken extraordinary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, some of these measures are beginning to ease. But for many of us, lingering concerns about exposure to the virus will continue to affect our daily lives—including routine activities like dental visits.
We may be asking the question “Is it safe?” for our everyday activities for some time to come. But in regard to seeing your dentist, the answer to that question is an unequivocal “Yes.” That's due not only to enhanced precautions put in place because of COVID-19, but also to longstanding practices in the dental profession to minimize the chances of infection.
In recognition this June of National Safety Month, we'd like to put your mind at ease that resuming dental care won't put you at undue risk of COVID-19 or any other infectious disease. Here's how:
Protocols. Everything we do to protect patients and staff from infection is part of an overall plan. This isn't optional: Both governments and professional organizations require it of every dental practitioner. Our plan, based on best practices for infection control, details the procedures we'll use to keep everyone involved in dental treatment, including you, safe from infection.
Barriers. Wearing masks, gloves or other protective equipment isn't a new practice arising from the current crisis—barrier protection has been a critical part of infection control protocols for many years. Rest assured that even during the most routine dental procedures, our staff will wear appropriate barrier equipment to reduce the possibility of infection during treatment.
Disinfection. Viruses and other infectious agents can live for some time on surfaces. To close this possible route of infection, we clean all clinical surfaces between patient visits with approved disinfectants. Instruments and equipment are thoroughly sterilized after each use. And any waste generated during treatment is separated from common waste and disposed of carefully following hazardous waste removal protocols.
It may be a slow return to many aspects of life we once took for granted. Your dental care doesn't have to be one of them. We were prepared before this crisis, and we'll continue to be prepared when it's over to keep you safe from infection.
If you would like more information about dental office safety, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
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