Although we've advanced leaps and bounds over the years treating dental disease, our strategy for preventing them hasn't changed much. That's because these prevention basics are quite effective—and as the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The core of an effective dental disease prevention strategy is mind-numbingly simple—brush and floss every day. These twin cleaning tasks remove accumulated dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film on tooth surfaces that's the primary oral disease driver.
True, there have been innovations concerning the "tools of the trade," i.e., toothbrushes, toothpastes and flossing devices. But what really makes this prevention strategy work is a consistent daily habit of oral hygiene.
In a way, simply "showing up" for daily oral hygiene goes a long way. But you can go even farther if you perform these tasks with greater proficiency—becoming a hygiene "ninja," of sorts.
Here, then, are 4 tips to improve your brushing and flossing prowess.
Be thorough when you brush. Try to cover all of your tooth surfaces when you brush, being sure to work the bristles into all the nooks and crannies and around the gum lines. A thorough brushing should take about 2 minutes.
Easy does it. Hard scrubbing may work on floors, but not your teeth—aggressive brushing can damage your enamel and gums. Brush gently and let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the heavy work of plaque removal.
Don't forget to floss. Although you may not like this "other hygiene task," flossing is necessary to remove plaque between teeth that your brush can't reach. Be sure, then, that you floss at least once a day.
Take the "tongue test." Wondering how well you're doing with your oral hygiene? A quick way to find out is by swiping your tongue across your teeth: If they feel gritty rather than smooth, you may have left some plaque behind.
Be sure to also ask your dentist for additional tips on better brushing and flossing. Improving your technique can help you put even more distance between you and dental disease.
If you would like more information on daily care for teeth and gums, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
You might have a few questions should you find out you need a root canal for a tooth infected with advanced decay. Most will be about what you should expect before, during and after a procedure.
But first, let's deal with a couple of your obvious concerns right upfront:
- No, contrary to your Uncle Bill, it won't be painful (if the infected tooth is throbbing, though, the procedure will relieve your pain);
- Yes, based on outcomes for millions of treated teeth over several decades, the odds are high the procedure will save your tooth.
As to other questions you might have, here's a basic 411 concerning your upcoming root canal procedure.
The "Why." Many consider tooth decay to be mainly a cavity forming in the outer enamel and dentin layers of a tooth. But tooth decay can destroy tooth structure as it advances through to the pulp, the heart of a tooth. The resulting infection will also spread into the root canals to eventually infect the roots and supporting bone. A root canal treatment removes the decay and stops the advancing infection in its tracks.
The "How." There are a number of variations on the procedure, but they all follow this basic process: After thoroughly numbing the tooth and surrounding tissues, we drill a hole into the tooth to access the pulp chamber and the root canals. We then remove all infected tissue through this access and disinfect the tooth's interior spaces. We then fill these spaces with a rubber-like filling to prevent future infection.
The "After." Once we've completed filling, we seal the access hole. Sometime later, we'll crown the tooth to provide further protection against infection and add support to the tooth. In the meantime, you may have a few days of discomfort, which is usually manageable with mild pain-killers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
A lot of root canals can be performed by a general dentist, but more complicated cases may require an endodontist. In either scenario, a root canal could give your infected tooth another chance at life that it wouldn't otherwise have.
If you would like more information on root canal therapy, 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 “Root Canal Treatment.”
Until recently, the standard treatment for tooth decay remained essentially the same for nearly a century: Remove any decayed structure, then prepare and fill the cavity. But that singular protocol has begun to change recently.
Although "drilling and filling" saves teeth, it doesn't fully address the causes of decay. In response, dentists have broadened their approach to the disease—the focus now is on an individual patient's particular set of risk factors for decay and how to reduce those.
At the heart of this new approach is a better understanding of oral bacteria, the true cause of decay. Bacteria produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and create a gateway into the tooth for decay to advance. We therefore want to lower those risk factors that may lead to bacterial growth and elevated acidity.
One of our major objectives in this newer approach is to reduce plaque, a thin film of food particles used by bacteria for food and habitation. Removing plaque, principally through better oral hygiene, in turn reduces decay-causing bacteria.
Plaque isn't the only mechanism for bacterial growth and acidity. Appliances like dentures or retainers accumulate bacteria if not regularly cleaned. Reduced saliva flow, often due to certain medications or smoking, limits this fluid's ability to buffer acid and acid reflux or acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks can disrupt the mouth's normal pH and increase the risk for enamel erosion.
Our aim, then, is to develop a long-term strategy based on the patient's individual set of oral disease risk factors. To determine those, we'll need to examine their medical history (including family), current health status and lifestyle habits. From there, we can create a specific plan targeting the identified risk factors for decay.
Some of the elements of such a strategy might include:
- Daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings;
- Fluoride dental products or treatments to strengthen enamel;
- Changes in diet and excess snacking, and ceasing from any tobacco use;
- Cleaning and maintaining appliances, as well as monitoring past dental work.
Improving the mouth environment by limiting the presence of oral bacteria and acid can reduce the occurrence of tooth decay and the extent of treatment that might be needed. It's a more nuanced approach that can improve dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention and treatment, 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
QB sensation Johnny Manziel has had a varied career in professional football. After playing two seasons for the NFL Cleveland Browns, he quarterbacked for a number of teams in the Canadian Football League. More recently, he joined the Zappers in the new Fan Controlled Football league (FCF). But then with only a few games under his belt, he was waylaid by an emergency dental situation.
It's unclear what the situation was, but it was serious enough to involve oral surgery. As a result, he was forced to miss the Zappers' final regular-season game. His experience is a reminder that some dental problems can't wait—you have to attend to them immediately or risk severe long-term consequences.
Manziel's recent dental problem also highlights a very important specialty of dentistry—oral surgery. Oral surgeons are uniquely trained and qualified to treat and correct a number of oral problems.
Tooth extraction. Although some teeth can be removed by a general dentist, some have complications like multiple roots or impaction that make regular extractions problematic. An oral surgeon may be needed to surgically remove these kinds of problem teeth.
Disease. Oral surgeons often intervene with diseases attacking areas involving the jaws or face. This includes serious infections that could become life-threatening if they're not promptly treated by surgical means.
Bite improvement. Some poor bites (malocclusions) arise from a mismatch in the sizes of the jaws. An oral surgeon may be able to correct this through orthognathic surgery to reposition the jaw to the skull. This may compensate for the difference in jaw sizes and reduce the bite problem.
Implants. Dental implants are one of the best ways to replace teeth, either as a standalone tooth or as support for a fixed dental bridge or a removable denture. In some cases, it may be better for an oral surgeon to place the implants into a patient's jawbone.
Reconstruction. Injuries or birth defects like a cleft lip or palate can alter the appearance and function of the face, jaws or mouth. An oral surgeon may be able to perform procedures that repair the damage and correct oral or facial deformities.
Sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is usually caused by the tongue relaxing against the back of the throat during sleep and blocking the airway. But other anatomical structures like tonsils or adenoids can do the same thing. An oral surgeon could address this situation by surgically altering obstructing tissues.
It's likely most of your dental care won't require the services of an oral surgeon. But when you do need surgical treatment, like Johnny Manziel, these dental specialists can make a big difference in your oral health.
If you would like more information about oral surgery, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
Preventing tooth decay from developing in your child's teeth requires a strong commitment to daily oral hygiene. But if you have a child with a chronic physical or behavioral condition, you might find it difficult to keep that commitment in the light of other pressing health needs.
But tooth decay is just as important a health issue as the others with which you may contend. Because primary teeth guide incoming permanent teeth to erupt properly, losing them prematurely can lead to a poor bite and other associated problems. This could further diminish their quality of life already compromised by their chronic condition.
Helping your special needs child avoid tooth decay isn't easy—but it can be done. Here's how!
Brush and floss for them. Normally, a parent's goal is to help their children learn to care for their teeth on their own. But depending on the nature of your child's chronic disease, that may not be possible. Instead, you may need to take an active role in their daily hygiene for the foreseeable future, even brushing and flossing for them if necessary.
Model proper dental care. Even so, it's still a good idea to guide them toward performing oral hygiene tasks without assistance, according to their abilities. This could be a long road, though, one that requires your active participation. You can ease this process by continuously modeling good dental care behavior for them through brushing and flossing together.
See an understanding dentist. Although caring for a special needs child can be isolating, you don't have to go at it alone. That includes taking care of their teeth and gums: A dentist who has both training and experience in treating children with chronic health conditions can become an important partner in your efforts to fight tooth decay.
Communicate between all care providers. Likewise, having everyone involved in your child's care on the same page can make decay prevention a much easier process. Be sure then to share your concerns about your child's needs, including dental care, with attending physicians, therapists and, of course, dentists.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs children, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”
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