Tooth decay doesn’t suddenly appear out of the blue. Cavities and other damage are the result of a long process that begins with bacteria living in a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces known as plaque. These bacteria thrive on sugars from leftover food in your mouth and then produce acid as a waste product. Chronic high levels of acid cause your enamel, the protective layer of your teeth, to soften and erode.
While there are treatment options at each stage of decay — including crowning or even tooth replacement — the best approach is to try to prevent plaque buildup that supports disease-causing bacteria. Here are 3 of the best ways you can do that.
Brush and floss daily. It usually takes 12-24 hours for enough plaque buildup to support bacteria. By brushing and flossing at least once a day, you can remove most of this buildup, with twice a year dental cleanings to remove hard to reach plaque you may have missed. Be sure to use fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen enamel against high acid. And wait a half hour to an hour after eating before brushing to give saliva time to reduce the acid level in your mouth.
Cut back on sweets. You’re not the only one who loves sugary snack foods — so do oral bacteria. The more sugar and other carbohydrates they feast on, the more they produce acid. The best approach is to cut out sugar-rich snacks altogether and instead snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables or dairy products. Limit sweet treats to meal times.
Use decay-fighting supplements. Your mouth and hygiene efforts may need a little assistance, especially if you have low saliva flow. You can boost this with an artificial saliva supplement as well as with products containing xylitol, an alcohol-based sugar. Xylitol also has an added benefit in the fight against decay because it inhibits bacterial growth. And be sure to talk with us first before taking any dental supplement.
If you would like more information on dental hygiene and care, 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 “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
Although toothaches are common, not all tooth pain originates from the same source. But regardless of its cause, you need to take prompt action to find out and begin treatment.
Sensitive teeth, for example, usually cause a quick stab of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold or when you bite down. If the pain lasts only a second or two, you may have a small area of decay in a tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root. The latter often occurs either because of over-aggressive brushing or periodontal (gum) disease. In both cases, the gums may have shrunk back or receded to expose the root surface.
A sharp pain when biting down may be a sign of decay or a loose filling; it could also mean you have a fractured or cracked tooth. For any of those causes, you'll need treatment to repair the problem and relieve the pain.
You may also experience a lingering tooth pain ranging from dull to sharp, or localized to one tooth or seeming to radiate from a general area, such as above the upper jaw. There are a number of possible causes, but two prominent ones are an abscess (a localized area of infection that's become inflamed) or deep decay within the pulp, the heart of a tooth.
This usually calls for a root canal treatment for the affected tooth. In this procedure we drill an access hole into the pulp and clear it of infected and dead tissue. We then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole. Later, we bond a permanent artificial crown to the tooth to further protect it from re-infection.
Whether your pain is momentary or lingering, dull or sharp, you should see us as soon as possible to determine its cause. You should still see us even if sharp, lingering pain goes away — this could simply mean the infected nerves in the pulp have died but not the infection. The sooner you have the cause of your pain treated, the better your chances of a happy and less costly outcome.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what to do about it, 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 Pain? Don't Wait!”
Enamel — that tough, outermost tooth layer — protects your teeth from all sorts of hazards, from bacterial attack to temperature extremes. But although the hardest substance in the human body, enamel has a mortal enemy — acid. High acid levels can cause the minerals in enamel to dissolve, a process called de-mineralization. And although saliva can neutralize these levels in approximately 45-60 minutes and restore some of the enamel’s lost minerals, a constant acidic environment can overwhelm this natural mechanism.
That’s why you should be careful with the amount and frequency of acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits or coffee. You should be especially concerned about your intake of sodas, energy drinks or sports drinks. The latter in particular are designed to replace fluids and nutrients during intense exercise or sports events, but are often consumed as a regular beverage. And all these drinks mentioned are often sipped on throughout the day, resulting in a constant wash of acid in your mouth that can interrupt the protective response of saliva.
There’s one other source for high mouth acidity that comes not from outside the body but from within. GERD — Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease — is a condition in which digestive acid refluxes (flows back) into the esophagus. While chronic acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus and lead to ulcers or even cancer, it may also pose a danger to teeth if the acid regularly rises into the mouth. Individuals encountering this will know it by the awful, acrid taste of vomit in their mouth.
To reduce the chances of high mouth acid due to food intake, limit the consumption of acidic foods and beverages to meal times and sports drink consumption to strenuous exercise or sporting events. Better yet, consider the greatest hydrator of all, water — with a neutral pH of 7.
If you’re experiencing chronic heartburn or other GERD symptoms, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist as soon as possible. Many treatments are effective and will not only improve your general health but may also help preserve your tooth enamel.
If you would like more information on the effect of acid in the mouth and how to reduce it, 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 “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “GERD — Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
Among the “to-do” items on your pre-dive checklist like “Pack wetsuit” or “Fill scuba tanks,” be sure to add one other: “Check my dental health status.”
While that may seem like an odd concern, the changes in atmospheric pressure you encounter while diving (or flying, for that matter) could amplify oral sensitivity and intensify pain if you have pre-existing teeth or jaw problems.
The reason for this is the effect of basic physics on the body. All anatomical structures, including organs, bones and muscles, equalize external pressures the body encounters. We don’t notice this at normal atmospheric pressure, but when we encounter an extreme — either lower pressure during air flight or higher pressure during a scuba dive — we may feel the effects of the pressure on any structure with a rigid-walled surface filled with either air or fluid. These structures can’t equalize the pressure as fast as other areas, resulting in pain or discomfort. This is known medically as “barotrauma,” or more commonly as a “squeeze.”
One structure in particular could have an effect on your upper teeth and jaws: the sinus cavities of the skull, particularly the maxillary sinuses just below the eyes. Their lower walls are right next to the back teeth of the upper jaw and, more importantly, share the same nerve pathways. It’s quite possible, then, for pain from one area to be felt in the other, commonly known as “referred pain.” A toothache could then be felt in the sinus region, and vice-versa.
During a squeeze, then, pain levels from existing problems in the teeth and jaws that were previously tolerable (or even unnoticed) may well become amplified as the pressure from the sinus cavity impinges upon the jaw. That dull toothache you’ve been having may suddenly become excruciating at 30,000 feet — or 30 meters under the surface.
That’s why it’s important to see us if you’ve experienced any signs of tooth decay, gum disease or TMD, including pain, before your next dive or air flight. And, if you encounter any significant pain while flying or diving, be sure you consult with us as soon as possible when you return. Taking action now could help you avoid a miserable, and potentially dangerous, flying or diving experience in the future.
If you would like more information on pressure changes and 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 “Pressure Changes can Cause Tooth and Sinus Pain.”
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