Dental caries (tooth decay) is a leading cause of tooth loss. But with prompt diagnosis and care we can often stop it before it causes too much damage.
The traditional treatment approach is simple: remove all diseased tooth structure and then restore the tooth with a filling. But this otherwise effective treatment has one drawback: you may lose significant healthy structure to accommodate a suitable filling or to make vulnerable areas easier to clean from bacterial plaque.
That's why a new treatment approach called minimally invasive dentistry (MID) is becoming more common. The goal of MID is to remove as little of a tooth's natural enamel and dentin as possible. This leaves the treated tooth stronger and healthier, and could reduce long-term dental costs too.
Here's how MID could change your future dental care.
Better risk assessment. MID includes a treatment protocol called caries management by risk assessment (CAMBRA). With CAMBRA, we evaluate your individual tooth decay risk, including oral bacteria levels, the quality of saliva flow to neutralize mouth acid, and sugar consumption. We then use our findings to customize a treatment plan that targets your areas of highest risk.
New detection methods. The real key to fighting tooth decay is to find it before it can destroy tooth structure with the help of new diagnostic technology. Besides advances in x-ray imaging that provide better views with less radiation exposure, we're also using powerful dental microscopes, lasers and infrared photography to show us more about your teeth than we can see with the naked eye.
"Less is More" treatments. In contrast to the dental drill, many dentists are now using air abrasion rather than a dental drill to remove decayed tooth material. Air abrasion emits tiny material particles within a pressurized air stream that leaves more healthy tooth structure intact than with drilling. We're also using new filling materials like composite resin that not only resemble natural tooth color, but require less structural removal than other types of fillings.
Using MID, we can treat tooth decay while preserving more of your natural teeth. This promises better long-term outcomes for future dental health.
If you would like more information on new treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
In the battle against tooth decay, fluoride is an important weapon. Since the discovery of its dental health benefits a century ago, fluoride has been credited with saving countless teeth.
But over its history in dental care, this natural-occurring chemical has also had its share of controversy with concerns raised from time to time on potential health dangers. These run the gamut from “conspiracy theory” speculations to credible research like a 2006 National Research Council study that suggested a possible increased risk of bone fracture or cancer from over-consumption of fluoride.
Even so, there is actually little evidence or even record of incidence for such dire consequences. The only definitive health effect from fluoride found after decades of copious research is a condition called fluorosis, a permanent staining effect on the teeth. Fluorosis poses a cosmetic problem but does not harm the health of the teeth.
Moderation in fluoride use seems to be the key to gaining its health benefits while avoiding fluorosis. One influential fluoride researcher, Dr. Steven Levy, estimates 0.05-0.07 milligrams of fluoride per one kilogram of body weight (about a tenth the weight of a grain of salt for every two pounds) is sufficient to gain the optimum dental benefit from fluoride.
The real question then is whether your family’s current consumption of fluoride is within this range. That will depend on a number of factors, including whether your local water utility adds fluoride to your drinking water supply and how much. You may also be ingesting fluoride through processed foods, juices and even some bottled waters. And you can encounter fluoride in dental care including toothpastes and clinical treatments.
One way to moderate your family’s fluoride intake is to be sure all your family members are using the correct amount of fluoride toothpaste for their age while brushing. Infants need only a slight smear on the end of the brush, while older children can brush adequately with just a pea-sized amount. For other tips and advice, talk to your dentist about your family’s fluoride intake and how you might adjust it.
Even with the possibility of fluorosis, fluoride still provides an incredible benefit in preventing tooth decay. By understanding fluoride and keeping your intake within normal ranges you can maximize its benefit for healthier teeth and minimize the fluorosis risk.
If you would like more information on the role of fluoride in dental health, 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
While tooth decay is a potential problem at any age, the risk increases as you grow older. Not only are senior adults more susceptible, decay is often more difficult to treat. That’s because cavities can occur at or below the gum line, often due to gum recession.
If that’s the case, we won’t be able to fill the cavity in the usual way because the gum tissue is in the way. To make it possible to treat, we may need to perform a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening.
As the name implies, the procedure helps expose more of the crown, the tooth’s visible part, from the surrounding gum tissue. In basic terms, we’re repositioning the gum tissue away from the biting surface of a tooth to make room for a filling. It’s also useful for improving a tooth’s appearance by making it look longer, or creating room for a crown or other dental restoration.
After applying a local anesthesia, the dentist (or periodontist, a specialist in the gums) creates a tiny flap of gum tissue with a series of incisions. This allows the dentist to move the affected gums out of the way to access the underlying bone. The dentist then reshapes the bone to adequately support the gum tissue when it’s finally repositioned to expose the crown. In its new and improved position, the dentist sutures the gum tissue in place.
For a few days afterward, the patient will need to restrict their diet to soft foods, avoid strenuous activities and apply an ice pack to help reduce swelling the day of surgery. They will also prescribe a pain reliever and possibly an antibiotic to reduce the chances of infection.
While most people return to normal activities a few days later, you’ll usually have to wait a few weeks for the gums to heal before undergoing any further treatments for the affected teeth. But even with the wait, crown lengthening could make it possible to not only save your tooth but improve your smile as well.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
If there’s one essential tool for protecting your dental health, it’s the humble toothbrush. The basic manual brush with a long, slender handle and short-bristled head is still effective when used skillfully. The market, though, is full of choices, all of them touting their brand as the best.
So how do you choose? You can cut through any marketing hype with a few simple guidelines.
First, understand what you’re trying to accomplish with brushing: removing dental plaque, that thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces that’s the main cause of dental disease. Brushing also stimulates gum tissue and helps reduce inflammation.
With that in mind, you’ll first want to consider the texture of a toothbrush’s bristles, whether they’re stiff (hard) or more pliable (soft). You might think the firmer the better for removing plaque, but actually a soft-bristled brush is just as effective in this regard. Stiffer bristles could also damage the gums over the long term.
Speaking of bristles, look for those that have rounded tips. In a 2016 study, less rounded tips increased gum recession in the study’s participants by 30%. You should also look for toothbrushes with different bristle heights: longer bristles at the end can be more effective cleaning back teeth.
As far as size and shape, choose a brush that seems right and comfortable for you when you hold it. For children or people with dexterity problems, a handle with a large grip area can make the toothbrush easier to hold and use.
And look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, something you may have seen on some toothpaste brands. It means the toothbrush in question has undergone independent testing and meets the ADA’s standards for effectiveness. That doesn’t mean a particular brush without the seal is sub-standard—when in doubt ask your dentist on their recommendation.
Even a quality toothbrush is only as effective as your skill in using it. Your dental provider can help, giving you tips and training for getting the most out of your brush. With practice, you and your toothbrush can effectively remove disease-causing plaque and help keep your smile beautiful and healthy.
If you would like more information on what to look for in a toothbrush, 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 “Sizing up Toothbrushes.”
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