We often don't realize how important something is until it's gone. Like saliva: you're usually not aware that it's cleaning the mouth, neutralizing mouth acid or helping with digestion. But that could change if your saliva flow drops below normal: your health may soon suffer with your mouth taking the brunt.
In particular, reduced saliva flow increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Both diseases are linked to oral bacteria. While many of the myriad strains in the mouth are beneficial, a few bacteria can infect and inflame gum tissues. Bacteria also produce acid, which can soften and erode enamel and make the teeth more susceptible to decay.
Saliva inhibits bacteria in a number of ways. It first clears the mouth of leftover food so not as much stays behind to form bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. You still need to brush and floss daily to remove plaque, but it's less effective without saliva's cleansing action. Saliva also contains antibodies that destroy disease-causing bacteria and other organisms, which keeps their populations in the mouth low.
One of saliva's most important functions, though, is buffering acid. The mouth's ideal pH level is neutral, but many foods we eat can cause it to become more acidic.Â Even a slight acidic rise after eating can soften the minerals in enamel. But saliva goes to work immediately and usually restores normal pH within a half hour to an hour. It also aids in re-mineralizing the enamel.
For these reasons, it's important for you to find out the cause of chronic dry mouth and treat it. If it's a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor about an alternative, or drink more water before and after you take your dose. Certain products can also stimulate saliva flow, like chewing gum with xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener that has dental health-protecting properties too.
Although you often don't notice this unsung bodily fluid swishing in your mouth, it's important that you take care of it. Keeping your saliva flowing will help ensure better oral health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
Since the discovery a century ago of its beneficial effect on tooth enamel, fluoride has become an important part of tooth decay prevention. It's routinely added to toothpaste and other hygiene products, and many water utilities add minute amounts of it to their drinking water supplies. Although there have been questions about its safety, multiple studies over the last few decades have eased those concerns.
Children especially benefit from fluoride during their teeth's developing years. Some children are at high risk for decay, especially an aggressive form known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC). ECC can destroy primary (baby) teeth and cause children to lose them prematurely. This can have an adverse effect on incoming permanent teeth, causing them to erupt in the wrong positions creating a bad bite (malocclusion).
For children at high risk for decay, dentists often recommend applying topical fluoride directly to the teeth as added protection against disease. These concentrations of fluoride are much higher than in toothpaste and remain on the teeth for much longer. Topical applications have been shown not only to reduce the risk of new cavities, but to also stop and reverse early decay.
Children usually receive these applications during an office visit after their regular dental cleaning. There are three different ways to apply it: gel, foam or varnish. To prevent swallowing some of the solution (which could induce vomiting, headache or stomach pain) the dentist will often insert a tray similar to a mouth guard to catch any excess solution. Varnishes and a few gels are actually painted on the teeth.
The American Dental Association has intensely studied the use of topical fluoride and found its application can result in substantial decreases in cavities and lost teeth. They've concluded this benefit far outweighs the side effects from ingesting the solution in children six years and older. With proper precautions and waiting to eat for thirty minutes after an application, the possibility of ingestion can be reduced even further.
While topical fluoride can be effective, it's only one part of a good dental care strategy for your child. Consistent daily brushing and flossing, a nutritious diet low in added sugar, and regular dental visits still remain the backbone of preventive care.
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
The food we eat not only provides us energy, but it also supplies nutrients to help the body remain healthy. The most important of these nutrients are minerals and tiny organic compounds called vitamins.
While all of the thirteen known vitamins and eleven minerals play a role in overall health, a few are especially important for your mouth. For example, vitamins D and K and the minerals calcium and phosphorus are essential for strong teeth. Another mineral, fluoride, helps fortify enamel, which can deter tooth decay.
Other vitamins and minerals serve as antioxidants, protecting us against molecules called free radicals that can damage cellular DNA and increasing our risk of cancer (including oral). Vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium fall into this category, as well as zinc for DNA repair.
We acquire these nutrients primarily in the foods we eat. But for certain people like older adults or pregnant or nursing women a healthy diet may not be enough. Any person who can't get enough of a particular vitamin or mineral should take a supplement to round out their nutritional needs.
If you don't have a condition that results in a nutrient deficiency, you may not see that much benefit from taking a supplement. In fact, taking too much of a dietary supplement could harm your health. For example, some studies have shown ingesting too much supplemental Vitamin E could increase the risk of heart failure or gastrointestinal cancer. And some dietary supplements can interact poorly with drugs like blood thinners or ibuprofen.
The best way to get the vitamins and minerals your body — and mouth — needs is to eat a healthy diet. Dairy products like fortified milk are a good way to get vitamin D, as well as calcium and phosphorus. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of Vitamin C. And while you can take in fluoride from toothpaste or other oral hygiene products, you'll also find it in seafood and tea.
While good oral hygiene and regular dental visits are necessary for dental health, your diet can also make a difference. Be sure you're getting all the nutrients your teeth and gums need.
If you would like more information on the role of diet in oral 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 “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements.”
You may be able to slow the aging process with healthy habits but you can’t stop it. Every part of your body will change, including your teeth and gums. And even with great dental hygiene and care, there are at least two aging outcomes you may not be able to avoid: discoloration and tooth wear.
Fortunately though, we have ways to counteract these effects and help you enjoy a much younger-looking smile. These techniques range in complexity and cost, but when tailored to your individual situation they can make a world of difference and restore your confidence in your smile.
Brightening teeth that have yellowed with age can be as simple as undergoing teeth whitening. The bleaching solution in this procedure (performed in the office or at home with a prescribed kit) can minimize enamel staining built up over the years. It can even be performed with some control over the level of desired brightness. Although whitening isn’t permanent, with proper care and regular touch-ups you can keep your youthful, dazzling smile for some time.
Tooth whitening, however, may not be enough in some cases of discoloration. If so, you can gain a bright new smile with porcelain veneers or crowns. A veneer is a thin layer of tooth-colored material bonded to the front of a tooth; a porcelain crown completely covers a tooth and is usually cemented onto it.
Normal tooth wearing can also affect the appearance of older teeth, making them look shorter and with less rounded edges than younger teeth. Veneers and crowns can be utilized for this problem too, as well as enamel shaping with a dental drill to minimize those sharp edges and project a softer, younger appearance. In extreme cases, surgically reshaping the gums can give teeth a longer and a more natural look.
These are just a few of the ways we can address these two aging problems, as well as others like receding gums. Depending on your situation, it’s quite possible we can help you take years off your smile.
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.