Posts for: August, 2014
Think of a contagious disease and you may picture one of the great outbreaks of the past: the terrible flu epidemic of 1918, the ever-present threat of polio in the early 20th Century, and the ancient (and still widespread) danger of cholera in overcrowded urban areas. Or you may think of the common cold, a familiar contagious malady that’s still very much with us. Yet there’s one contagious disease you may not think of, but probably should: tooth decay.
Many people don’t realize that tooth decay is contagious. But the fact is, decay bacteria can be passed between people like a bad cold — and it happens all the time.
Sugar usually gets the blame for tooth decay; a recent survey found that 81 percent of Americans say it’s responsible for cavities. But sugar alone isn’t the culprit. Cavities are actually caused by certain types of bacteria that cling to the teeth in the absence of proper oral hygiene. These bacteria process sugar from the foods we eat, and then secrete acidic byproducts that erode the hard enamel of the teeth. This causes the formation of the tiny holes we call cavities.
Children aren’t born with S. Mutans. But studies show that most of them “catch” it from their caregivers — often, their parents. By the time they are two years old, over 80 percent of kids will have detectable levels of the bacteria. Whether or not they pick up harmful microorganisms — and how much they have — depends on the infectiousness of the strain, and on the caregiver’s attention to oral hygiene.
How can you prevent the spread of decay-causing bacteria? Essentially, by limiting its transfer from your mouth to your baby’s mouth. So don’t “clean” a baby’s pacifier by putting it in your mouth, and don’t share utensils — for example, by tasting baby’s food with his or her spoon. While it’s ever so tempting, avoid kissing baby’s lips, especially if there is a chance of transferring saliva. And don’t even think of “pre-chewing” baby’s food — no matter what some self-appointed health gurus may say.
There’s still another way to limit the spread of decay-causing microorganisms: Make sure your own practice of oral hygiene is top-notch! Oral bacteria can spread not only from parents to babies, but also between adults. Maintaining good oral health means brushing and flossing every day, and getting regular check-ups: It’s important for you, and for everyone you care about.
If you have questions about tooth decay prevention or oral hygiene care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Decay” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
When it comes to our overall health, many of us think we’re pretty well-informed. But a recent survey quiz given by the American Dental Association (ADA) revealed something surprising: When it comes to dental health, most people could use plenty of “brushing up.” In fact, the average score on the true/false test was a barely passing D! Among the questions most people answered incorrectly were:
- How often should you brush your teeth? (91 percent got it wrong)
- At what age should you take your child to the dentist for the first time? (75 percent wrong)
- How often should you replace your toothbrush? (65 percent wrong)
- Can cavity-causing germs be passed from person to person? (59 percent wrong), and
- Does sugar cause cavities?
We’ll come back to the last question in a moment — but first, let’s recap some basic dental health information.
While you might think it’s best to brush after every meal, the ADA recommends brushing just twice a day. That’s because excessive brushing can erode tooth enamel (especially if it has already been softened by acidic food or drinks), and can also expose and irritate the root of the tooth. But when you do brush, you should keep at it for at least two minutes each time!
Bring your child in to the dental office within six months after the first tooth appears — but no later than his or her first birthday! The age-one dental visit starts your child off right with proper preventive care and screenings, and sets the stage for a lifetime of good oral health.
Most people think it’s OK to change your toothbrush twice a year — but the ADA recommends that you get a new one every three months; that’s because stiff, frayed bristles just don’t clean your teeth and gums as well as they should. Likewise, most people don’t realize that the bacteria that cause cavities can be passed from one person’s mouth to another — by putting a child’s pacifier in your mouth or sharing a toothbrush, for example.
And speaking of cavities: Technically, they aren’t caused by sugar, as 81 percent of people thought. Tooth decay occurs when certain types of oral bacteria release an acidic byproduct that attacks the tooth enamel and creates small holes (cavities). This occurs after the bacteria have metabolized sugar in your diet. So while sugar doesn’t directly cause cavities, it does lead to tooth decay by feeding harmful bacteria. How about partial credit for that one?
If you have additional questions about your dental health, please call our office to schedule a consultation. For more information, see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
A crown is an effective way to save a tooth and restore its form and function. These life-like “caps” that fit over and are permanently attached to teeth have been used for decades with good results.
For this type of restoration to be effective, though, there must be enough of the natural tooth remaining above the gum line for the crown to “grab on to.” This poses a problem if the tooth has broken or decayed too close to the gum tissue.
Fortunately, there is a way to expose more of the remaining tooth for applying a crown. Known as crown lengthening, this surgical procedure is also used for “gummy” smiles, where normal tooth length is obscured by excess gum tissue that makes the teeth appear shorter.
We begin the procedure by first numbing the tooth and gum area with a local anesthetic. We then make tiny incisions inside the gum line on both the tongue and cheek side of the tooth to create a small flap. With this area below the gum line now open to view, we then determine whether we need to remove excess gum tissue or a small amount of bone around the tooth to expose more of the tooth itself. We then position the opened gum tissue against the bone and tooth at the appropriate height to create an aesthetic result.
You shouldn’t experience any discomfort during the procedure, which usually takes about sixty minutes for a single tooth area (which needs to involve at least three teeth for proper blending of the tissues). The pressures and vibrations from equipment, as well as any post-procedure discomfort, are similar to what you would encounter with a tooth filling. After the gum tissue has healed (about six to eight weeks), we are then able to fit and attach a crown onto the extended area.
Crown lengthening a small area may result in an uneven appearance if you’re dealing within the aesthetic zone. One option in this case is to consider undergoing orthodontic treatment first to correct the potential discrepancy that may result from surgery. After orthodontics, we can perform crown lengthening on just the affected tooth and still achieve an even smile.
Crown lengthening is just one of many tools we have to achieve tooth restorations for difficult situations. Using this technique, we can increase your chances of achieving both renewed tooth function and a more beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on crown lengthening, 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 “Saving Broken Teeth.”
In a recent study, 92% of dental implants were found to have survived the twenty-year mark — an impressive track record for any dental restoration.
Still, implants do fail, although rarely. Of those failures, tobacco smokers experience them twice as often as non-smokers. The incidence of early failure (within the first few months after implantation) is even higher for smokers.
Early implant failure typically happens because the titanium implant and the surrounding bone fail to integrate properly. Titanium has a natural affinity with bone — the surrounding bone will attach and grow to the titanium in the weeks after surgery, forming a strong bond. An infection around the implant site, however, can inhibit this integration and result in a weaker attachment between bone and implant. This weakness increases the chance the implant will be lost once it encounters the normal biting forces in the mouth.
Smokers have a higher risk of this kind of infection because of the way tobacco smoke alters the environment of the mouth. Inhaled smoke burns the mouth’s top skin layers and creates a thick layer of skin called keratosis in its place. Smoke also damages salivary glands so that they don’t produce enough saliva to neutralize the acid from food that’s left in the mouth after eating. This creates an environment conducive to the growth of infection-causing bacteria. At the same time, the nicotine in tobacco can constrict the mouth’s blood vessels inhibiting blood flow. The body’s abilities to heal and fight infection are adversely affected by this reduced blood flow.
The best way for a smoker to reduce this early failure risk is to quit smoking altogether a few weeks before you undergo implant surgery. If you’re unable to quit, then you should stop smoking a week before your implant surgery and continue to abstain from smoking for two weeks after. It’s also important for you to maintain good brushing and flossing habits, and semi-annual dental cleanings and checkups.
Although smoking only slightly raises the chances of implant failure, the habit should be factored into your decision to undergo implant surgery. Quitting smoking, on the other hand, can improve your chances of a successful outcome with your implants — and benefit your life and health as well.
Q: What exactly is cosmetic tooth bonding?
A: Cosmetic bonding is a process in which your dentist uses specially formulated tooth-colored material to repair minor defects on the surface of your teeth. The bonding material itself is a type of composite resin — a tough, translucent mixture of plastic and glass components that mimics the pearly-white appearance of your teeth to a high degree. The material also bonds (links up) so well with the natural tooth structure that this relatively simple and inexpensive treatment can last for a number of years.
Q: What types of defects can tooth bonding repair?
A: Bonding can be used to remedy several different kinds of flaws in your smile. Small chips, cracks and areas of discoloration can be easily treated via cosmetic bonding. It can even be used to fix minor spacing irregularities. Best of all, because composite resin is available in various shades to match the natural color of your teeth, it’s almost impossible to tell which tooth has been treated.
Q: What are the pluses and minuses of cosmetic bonding?
A: Bonding is a procedure that can be done right in the dental office, without involving a laboratory — that’s why it is typically an easy, cost-effective treatment that can be accomplished in a single visit. It’s a great solution for restoring minor flaws that don’t extend very far into the tooth’s structure. It’s also ideal for teenagers, who may have to wait until they stop growing before getting a more permanent restoration. But bonding normally isn’t as long-lasting as some other restoration techniques, such as veneers or crowns. However, with proper care, a bonded tooth can keep looking good for years.
Q: What is the bonding procedure like?
A: Bonding is a minimally invasive, reversible treatment that normally causes little or no discomfort. The tooth being treated is first thoroughly cleaned, and then “etched” with a gel that microscopically roughens its surface. Next, the gel is rinsed off, and liquid composite resin (in a shade chosen to match the tooth) is painted on with a brush. Then, the bonding material is cured (hardened) using a special light. After it has cured, another layer may be applied; this process can be repeated several times to build up a thicker coating. Finally, a dental instrument is used to shape the built-up material into its final, pleasing form.
Q: Do bonded teeth require special care?
A: Not really… but like all teeth, they should be brushed and flossed daily, and professionally cleaned at the dental office twice a year. Bonded teeth can also become stained from tobacco use, red wine and coffee — but unlike regular teeth, bonded teeth can’t be lightened. So if you’re considering tooth-whitening treatments, have them done before your teeth are bonded.
If you have questions about whether cosmetic bonding could help your smile look its best, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”