Posts for: December, 2013
As life spans have increased over the last century so has the importance of maintaining good oral health. Teeth are such a critical component in good nutrition and disease protection, it’s important we do all we can to preserve them for a lifetime.
Through advances in dentistry and oral hygiene, two of teeth’s greatest enemies, dental caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease, are not only quite treatable but even preventable. The fact remains, though, that like the rest of our body, our teeth are still subject to aging. The irreplaceable outer layer known as enamel is especially susceptible to wear over time.
The normal wearing down of teeth occurs because of occlusal (bite) activity. As our upper and lower teeth interact with each other through constant biting and chewing activities, some of the enamel surface naturally wears away as we age. Our biggest concern shouldn’t be the wear itself but the rate of wear — whether it’s exceeded the normal range.
Habits that increase the frequency and rate of biting forces are the most common reason for excessive enamel erosion. Such habits include excessive tooth-to-tooth contact as when we clench or grind our teeth and tooth-to-foreign object, the chronic habit of holding hard objects (nails, pencils, pins, etc.) tightly between the teeth. Many of these habits are a response to psychological stress that can even carry over into our sleep.
The key is to minimize these effects on the normal process of wear, and to protect teeth for as long as possible. How to accomplish that goal depends on your individual circumstance: treatments could include such things as orthodontics to correct bite problems that contribute to abnormal wear, considering restoring worn teeth with new crowns or fillings, or reducing grinding or clenching with nocturnal mouth guards or some form of stress-relief therapy.
In cases where abnormal wear has passed the point where it doesn’t make sense to repair your natural teeth, all is not lost — restorations such as dental implants can help restore lost function and inhibit further erosion. Advances over the last thirty years in restoration techniques can, in effect, extend a new lease on life for your teeth. What’s more, we can also restore form — to bring back that smile from your younger years.
If you would like more information on tooth erosion and aging, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
There’s more to tooth loss than you might think. Because teeth are part of a larger system that facilitates speaking, eating and digestion, a lost tooth could eventually affect your overall health.
Tooth loss is actually about bone loss. As living tissue, bone continually reforms in response to stimuli it receives from the body. The alveolar bone (which surrounds and supports the teeth) receives such stimuli as the teeth chew and bite, as well as when they contact each other. All these stresses — hundreds a day — transmit through the periodontal ligament to the bone, stimulating it to grow and remodel.
A lost tooth reduces this stimulation and causes the alveolar bone to resorb (dissolve) — as much as 25% of its width the first year alone. Unless the process is stopped, the underlying basal bone and the periodontal (gum) tissue will begin to resorb too. Without this structural support the facial height shrinks and the front teeth begin to push forward, making chewing and speaking more difficult. These teeth begin performing functions outside their normal range, leading to damage and possible loss.
The primary goal of oral hygiene and dental care is to prevent tooth loss. When tooth loss does occur, however, it’s then important to restore the lost tooth with an artificial replacement if at all possible — not only to regain form and function, but to also stop further bone loss.
While the fixed partial denture (FPD), also known as a fixed bridge, has been the restoration of choice for many decades, dental implants may be the better long-term option. Although more expensive initially, implants can achieve a life-like restoration without involving or altering adjacent teeth as with FPDs. Plaque retention and tartar accumulations are much less likely with an implant, and the bone-loving quality of titanium, the metal used for implants, actually encourages bone growth. As a result, implants have a much higher longevity rate than FPDs.
Taking care of your teeth through effective hygiene practices and regular checkups may help you avoid tooth loss altogether. But if it can’t be avoided, restoring lost teeth is the single most important thing you can do to prevent even greater problems down the road.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
Your toothbrush serves the invaluable purpose of minimizing bacterial buildup (plaque) that can irritate gums and lead to periodontal disease, infection of the bone and tissues supporting your teeth. Brushing also helps dislodge food particles that certain oral bacteria would otherwise feed on, producing acids in the process that can eat through protective tooth enamel and the vulnerable dentin below. Given its importance to your oral health, you can maximize your toothbrush’s effectiveness by using and storing it properly, and replacing it (or the brush head if you have a powered model) regularly.
Using and Storing Your Brush
All that’s needed to dislodge plaque from oral surfaces is a relaxed grip and a gentle jiggling motion. Too much pressure can wear away tooth enamel, cause gum tissue to recede, and shorten the life of your brush head.
When you’re done using your brush:
- Thoroughly rinse it to remove any remaining tooth paste, food particles, etc.
- If you’re super-vigilant, you also can disinfect your brush by soaking it in mouthwash, brush-sanitizing rinse, or a half water/half hydrogen peroxide solution, or dipping it in boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Air dry in an upright position and do not routinely cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container. A dark, moist environment is more conducive to the growth of microorganisms.
Replacing and Recycling Your Toothbrush
Even with the best of care, toothbrush bristles become frayed and worn and their cleaning effectiveness diminishes after 3 or 4 months, according to the American Dental Association, though it could be sooner depending on factors unique to each patient. Besides checking the bristles regularly, a good way of keeping track is to write the date you start using your toothbrush in permanent pen on a big-enough spot on the handle (or doing it on masking tape applied to the base of a power brush).
Once your brush has passed its useful life for oral hygiene, you can still get plenty of mileage out of it. You’ll find plenty of ideas on the internet for cleaning grout between tiles and grime-filled spots around taps and toilet lid hinges; removing mud from boot treads; scrubbing off corrosion from around car battery terminals and more!
If you would like more information about oral hygiene, 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 “Toothbrush Lifespan” and “Manual vs Powered Toothbrushes.”
Metal amalgam fillings for dental caries have been used since the mid 19th Century. Although newer, “natural color” filling materials have become available, amalgam remains a standard choice among dentists.
Dental amalgam is a metal alloy created by carefully combining exact proportions of mercury, silver, tin and copper. Though quite pliable when first mixed, the alloy eventually sets into a very hard substance that stands up well against the forces produced by the mouth’s natural chewing function. The presence of mercury, however, has raised concerns for some that the metal’s toxic properties pose a risk to the patient’s health.
But after decades of research, the American Dental Association and other health organizations have concluded that dental amalgam “is a safe, reliable and effective restorative material.” Studies have determined that any free molecules of mercury that could potentially enter the bloodstream are trapped in the set amalgam. And although the amalgam can release mercury vapor during chewing, the amounts are well below the levels considered harmful.
Dental amalgam has proven to be versatile, effective and economical. It doesn’t create an allergic reaction, is quite durable, and doesn’t interfere with normal chewing function. It does, however, have its drawbacks. Its use can require more tooth material to be removed to keep the fillings in place, and they can increase temperature sensitivity during the initial four to six weeks. And, of course, their metallic appearance, especially when used in more visible front teeth, reduces their aesthetic appeal.
Other, more cosmetically appealing types of filling material have been developed over the years. These include composite resin fillings, a mixture of glass or quartz in a resin medium; glass ionomers, made of acrylic acids and fine glass powders and best used in areas not subject to heavy chewing; and resin ionomers, similar to glass ionomers but with the addition of acrylic resin. Each of these has their advantages and disadvantages (as well as cost considerations), but they’re main advantage over amalgam is their mimicry of natural tooth color.
The choice of either dental amalgam filling or one of the tooth-color alternatives depends on what you may need and can afford. Rest assured, though, that if the choice is dental amalgam, this restoration workhorse can provide you years of safe and effective service.
If you would like more information on your options for tooth fillings, 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 “Silver Fillings.”