If you do the right things—keep your teeth clean, see the dentist regularly, and eat a "tooth-friendly" diet—you stand a good chance of having healthy teeth and gums later in life. Even so, after eating well over 75,000 meals by age 70, you can expect some wear from all that biting and chewing.
But there's normal wear—and then there's excessive wear, which can be caused by a variety of factors. When it occurs, accelerated wear can increase your risk of dental disease—and your shorter-toothed smile can make you look older than your actual age.
Here are 3 dental problems that can lead to accelerated tooth wear, and what you can do about them.
Tooth decay. This dental disease can severely weaken a tooth's protective enamel surface, which can in turn increase wear. You can minimize your chances of developing tooth decay by brushing and flossing your teeth daily and undergoing regular dental cleanings. And the sooner you receive treatment for any diagnosed decay, the less likely your enamel will suffer significant damage.
Poor bite. Properly aligned teeth mesh well together while biting and chewing, which minimizes wearing. But misalignments put undue stress on teeth that can lead to accelerated wear. By correcting a bite problem through orthodontics, we can properly align teeth so that they interact with each other normally for less wear.
Teeth grinding. This unconscious habit of gnashing or grinding teeth (often during sleep) can produce abnormally high biting forces. Among other adverse outcomes, this can also increase teeth wearing. If you grind your teeth, there are therapeutic methods that could reduce the habit. You can also obtain a custom night guard to reduce biting forces while you sleep.
If you've already experienced excessive dental wear, there are cosmetic options like porcelain veneers or dental bonding that can restore your smile to a more youthful appearance and help protect your teeth. But if you haven't reached that point, you can make sure you don't by taking care of your teeth and gums and seeking prompt dental treatment for problems leading to accelerated wear.
If you would like more information on teeth wear, 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.”
Vacationing abroad can be the trip of a lifetime — or a nightmare if you have a medical or dental emergency while traveling. Dental care in many locations around the world can be limited, expensive or even dangerous.
Here are 3 important things you should to do to prepare for a possible dental emergency during that dream vacation in a foreign country.
Have a complete checkup, cleaning and necessary dental work before you leave. Whoever said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” must have been a traveler. Better to take care of problems beforehand than have them erupt into an emergency far from home. Be sure especially to have decayed or cracked teeth repaired, as well as any planned dental work like root canal treatments before you go. This is especially important if you’re flying — high altitudes can increase pressure and pain for many dental problems.
Research your destination’s available dental and medical care ahead of time. Standards and practices in other countries can differ from those in the United States, sometimes drastically. Knowing what’s available and what’s expected in terms of service and price will help immensely if you do encounter a health emergency while traveling. A good starting place is A Traveler’s Guide to Safe Dental Care, available at www.osap.org.
Know who to contact if you have a dental emergency. While it may be frightening having a dental issue in a strange place, you’re not alone — there are most likely a number of fellow Americans in your location who can help. Have contact information ready for people you know or military personnel living in your locale, as well as contacts to the American Embassy in that country. And if you’re staying in a hotel, be sure to make friends with the local concierge!
It’s always unsettling to have a dental emergency, but especially so when you’re far from home. Doing a little preparation for the possibility will help lessen the stress if it happens and get you the help you need.
If you would like more information on preparing for dental emergencies while traveling, 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 “Traveling Abroad? Tips for Dealing with Dental Emergencies.”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of 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 “Root Cavities.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Every day the forces you generate when you bite or chew can exert enormous pressure on your teeth. And day after day your teeth remain stable and secure, thanks to an intricate system of periodontal ligaments, attaching gum tissue and bone. The latter element is especially important — healthy bone makes healthy teeth.
And vice-versa — the same biting forces are transmitted through the tooth root to the bone via the periodontal ligament to stimulate new bone growth to replace older bone that has dissolved (resorbed). If a tooth’s missing, however, the bone doesn’t receive that stimulation, and the resorbed bone isn’t replaced at a healthy rate. In fact, you can lose up to a quarter of bone width in the first year alone after tooth loss.
And this can cause a problem when you’re looking to replace that missing tooth with what’s considered the best restorative option available: dental implants. Known for their life-likeness and durability, implants nonetheless need sufficient bone to anchor properly for the best outcome. Without it, implants simply aren’t practical.
But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story: it’s quite possible to regenerate enough bone to support implants through bone grafting. Bone material from the patient (or another donor, human, animal or synthetic) is placed under the gum at the missing tooth site to serve as a scaffold for new growth. The new bone growth will eventually replace the graft material.
The size of the graft and extent of the procedure depends of course on the amount of bone loss at the site. Loss can be kept to a minimum, though, if the graft is placed immediately after a tooth extraction, a common practice now. After a few months, the bone created through the graft is sufficient for supporting an implant and gives you the best chance for a beautiful outcome.
If you’re considering an implant for a missing tooth, you should schedule a consultation appointment with us as soon as possible. After a thorough dental exam, we’ll be able to tell you if bone grafting to support implants is a good idea for you. It adds a little more time to the overall implant process, but the results — a new, more attractive smile — will be well worth it.
If you would like more information on bone regeneration, 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 “Can Dentists Rebuild Bone?”
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