Tooth decay is a highly destructive dental disease, responsible along with periodontal (gum) disease for most adult tooth loss. And we become even more susceptible to it as we get older.
One form of decay that’s especially prominent among senior adults is a root cavity. Similar to a cavity in the crown (visible tooth), this form instead occurs at or below the gum line in the roots. They happen mainly because the roots have become exposed due to gum recession, a common consequence of periodontal (gum) disease and/or brushing too hard.
Exposed roots are extremely vulnerable to disease because they don’t have the benefit of protective enamel like the tooth crown, covered instead with a thin and less protective mineral-like material called cementum. Normally, that’s not a problem because the gums that would normally cover them offer the bulk of the protection. But with the gums receded, the roots must depend on the less-effective cementum for protection against disease.
Although we treat root cavities in a similar way to those in the crown by removing decayed structure and then filling them, there’s often an added difficulty in accessing them below the gum line. Because of its location we may need to surgically enter through the gums to reach the cavity. This can increase the effort and expense to treat them.
It’s best then to prevent them if at all possible. This means practicing daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the thin, built-up biofilm on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and advanced prevention methods like topical fluoride to strengthen any at-risk teeth.
You should also seek immediate treatment at the first sign of gum disease to help prevent gum recession. Even if it has occurred, treating the overall disease could help renew gum attachment. We may also need to support tissue regeneration with grafting surgery.
Root cavities are a serious matter that could lead to tooth loss. But by practicing prevention and getting prompt treatment for any dental disease, you can stop them from destroying your smile.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root cavities, 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: Tooth Decay near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
One of the top concerns in public health today is exposure to the metallic element mercury within the environment. At abnormal levels, mercury can have a toxic effect on our nervous systems and cause other health problems.
These concerns over mercury have also increased attention on one material in dentistry that has included the metal in its makeup for over a century — dental amalgam for filling teeth. Amalgam is a metal alloy that can include, in addition to mercury, silver, tin, and copper. When first mixed dental amalgam is a moldable material used for fillings in prepared teeth. It then hardens into a durable restoration that can withstand biting forces.
While the use of amalgam has declined with the introduction of life-like colored fillings, it's still used for teeth like molars subject to high biting forces. With what we now know about the ill effects of mercury (which can make up to half of an amalgam mixture) is it safe to continue its use?
The American Dental Association has performed extensive research into amalgam safety. They've found that mercury is stabilized by the other metals in the amalgam. This prevents "free" molecules of mercury, the real source of harm to health, from escaping into the blood stream in the form of vapor. Although trace amounts of mercury vapor from the amalgam are released as a person chews, those levels are well below the threshold that could cause harm.
From a patient standpoint, the biggest drawback to dental amalgam isn't safety — it's the appearance of teeth it's used on. Silver fillings aren't considered attractive. And now there are viable filling alternatives that not only look like natural teeth but can withstand biting forces almost as well as amalgam. These materials include composite resins, mixtures of glass or quartz within resin, or glass and resin ionomers. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages depending on how and where they're applied.
After a thorough dental examination, we'll be able to advise you on what filling material will work best to produce the best result. And if we do suggest dental amalgam you can rest assured it will be a safe choice.
If you would like more information on the safety of dental amalgam, 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 — Safe or Unsafe?”
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be top of mind.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
Energy drink makers would have you believe their products are a healthy rehydration choice for athletes while also giving them keener focus and renewed vitality. But before adding them to your sports regimen, you should also consider what effect these beverages could have on your teeth.
Energy drinks are similar in ingredients to sports drinks like Gatorade® and PowerAde®, which mostly consist of water, salts, vitamins, sugars and acids. In addition, energy drinks like Red Bull® and Monster Energy® add caffeine to boost energy.
Besides their sugar content, the main threat from a dental health perspective for both of these drinks is their acidity, which can severely erode tooth enamel. The irreplaceable loss of enamel significantly increases your risk of tooth decay and eventually tooth loss.
The threat of enamel erosion is especially pronounced whenever the mouth’s pH level falls below 5.5. The acidity of both sports and energy drinks falls well below this mark. In one experimental study samples of enamel exposed to a number of sports drinks lost an average of 1.5% of mineral content over five days; energy drinks more than doubled that loss at 3.1%.
Given the potential harm these beverages, especially energy drinks, can cause your teeth, you should exercise caution when consuming them. In fact, our best advice is for you to avoid energy drinks altogether, for your overall health as well as your teeth’s sake.
Unless you’re participating in a physically intense sport, water is your best source for hydration after exertion. Â If you do drink sports beverages, try to limit them to meal times when your saliva is most active to neutralize mouth acid. You can also rinse out your mouth with water after drinking to help further reduce mouth acidity.
As an athlete, you’ve trained your body to be at its optimum physical peak. Don’t let energy or sports drinks take the edge off your health, especially your teeth.
If you would like more information on the effects of sports or energy drinks on 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 “Sports and Energy Beverages Bathe Teeth in Erosive Acids.”
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