From birth to early adulthood, your child's teeth, gums and jaws develop at a rapid pace. And, for the most part, nature takes its course without our help.
But tooth decay can derail that development. The result of bacterial acid eroding enamel, tooth decay is the top cause for premature primary tooth loss in children. One particular form, early childhood caries (ECC), can rapidly spread from one tooth to another.
Many parents assume prematurely losing teeth that are destined to fall out soon anyway is inconsequential. But primary teeth play a critical role in the proper eruption of permanent teeth, serving as both placeholders and guides for those teeth developing just below them in the gums. A permanent tooth without this guidance can erupt out of alignment to create a poor bite that may require future orthodontics.
Being proactive about tooth decay lessens that risk—and the best time to start is when the first teeth begin to erupt. That's when you should begin their regular dental visits sometime around their first birthday.
Dental visits are an important defense against tooth decay. Besides routine dental cleanings, your child's dentist can offer various preventive treatments like sealants to stop decay from forming in the biting surfaces of back molars or topically applied fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel.
Daily home care is just as important in the fight against tooth decay. Oral hygiene should be a part of your child's daily life even before teeth: It's a good habit to wipe an infant's gums with a clean cloth after nursing. As teeth arrive, oral hygiene turns to brushing and flossing—perhaps the best defense of all against dental disease.
It's also important to watch their intake of sugar, a prime food source for bacteria that produce harmful acid. Instead, encourage a "tooth-friendly" diet of whole foods to keep teeth and gums healthy.
Even if they do develop tooth decay, there are effective treatments to minimize any damage and preserve affected primary teeth until they've served their purpose. By adopting these prevention strategies and prompt treatment, you can stay ahead of this destructive disease.
If you think brushing and flossing and regular dental visits are all you need to do to avoid dental disease, you're missing a key component in your prevention plan. What you eat could also help close the door on tooth decay or gum disease—or open it even wider if you're eating nutritionally deficient foods.
Let's look first at the latter scenario. Like us, the oral bacteria most responsible for dental disease also have to eat to survive and thrive. And, often like us, they have a favorite food—provide them ample amounts of that and they'll continue to multiply and raise your risk of disease.
That favorite bacterial food is simple carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar. A diet heavy in added sugar can increase oral bacteria, which in turn elevates your chances of a gum infection. Bacteria's main by-product, acid, may also increase. That's bad news for your teeth. At high levels, acid contact softens and erodes enamel, the precursor to tooth decay.
Obviously, then, a "tooth-friendly" diet should be low on sugar and other simple carbohydrates like refined breads, pasta or pastries. Soda, energy and sports drinks high in both sugar and acid should also be avoided or restricted to mealtimes. You should also be careful with how much fruit you're eating as their natural sugars can also feed bacteria.
A well-rounded diet, however, isn't simply about avoiding foods—you'll also want to include foods that help you build and maintain healthy teeth and gums. That includes:
- Fiber-rich plant foods: Their fiber reduces the effects of any carbohydrates and they're packed with nutrients;
- Whole grains: Whole grains don't promote decay as refined products do, and chewing them stimulates saliva flow for neutralizing acid;
- Fresh fruits: Eaten in moderation, fruits can provide a bevy of vitamins and minerals. But avoid dried fruits as their sugars are more concentrated;
- Dairy: Milk-based products, particularly cheese, contain nutrients like Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus, which strengthen teeth against dental disease.
For the most part, a diet that promotes overall well-being will also provide optimum benefits for your dental health. Along with your dental hygiene efforts, eating the right foods can help protect your teeth and gums from both tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on how better nutrition can boost your 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations?”
There are plenty of hilarious videos of groggy patients coming out of wisdom teeth surgery to keep you occupied for hours. While many of these have turned everyday people into viral video stars, every now and then it really is someone famous. Recently, that someone was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
The NFL star underwent oral surgery to remove all four of his third molars (aka wisdom teeth). His wife, performer and supermodel, Ciara, caught him on video as he was wheeled to recovery and later uploaded the clip to Instagram. As post-wisdom teeth videos go, Wilson didn't say anything too embarrassing other than, "My lips hurt."
Funny videos aside, though, removing wisdom teeth is a serious matter. Typically, the third molars are the last permanent teeth to erupt, and commonly arrive late onto a jaw already crowded with other teeth. This increases their chances of erupting out of alignment or not erupting at all, remaining completely or partially submerged within the gums.
This latter condition, impaction, can put pressure on the roots of adjacent teeth, can cause abnormal tooth movement resulting in a poor bite, or can increase the risk of dental disease. For that reason, it has been a common practice to remove wisdom teeth preemptively, even if they aren't showing any obvious signs of disease.
In recent years, though, dentists have become increasingly nuanced in making that decision. Many will now leave wisdom teeth be if they have erupted fully and are in proper alignment, and they don't appear to be diseased or causing problems for other teeth.
The best way to make the right decision is to closely monitor the development of wisdom teeth throughout childhood and adolescence. If signs of any problems begin to emerge, it may become prudent to remove them, usually between the ages of 16 and 25. Because of their location and root system, wisdom teeth are usually removed by an oral surgeon through one of the most common surgeries performed each year.
This underscores the need for children to see a dentist regularly, beginning no later than their first birthday. It's also a good idea for a child to undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. Both of these types of exams can prove helpful in deciding on what to do about the wisdom teeth, depending on the individual case.
After careful monitoring throughout childhood and adolescence, the best decision might be to remove them. If so, take it from Russell Wilson: It's worth becoming the star of a funny video to protect both current and future dental health.
Dental plaque, that gritty bacterial film coating your teeth, is the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. You can see and feel a lot of it—but not all of it. Some deposits can lodge snugly between your teeth, and can cause dental disease just as much as what's out in the open.
The problem with between-teeth plaque is that even a solid brushing habit might not effectively remove it. That's why you flossing should also be part of your daily oral hygiene.
If the thought of flossing, however, causes you to let out an audible sigh, we understand. Flossing typically engenders less enthusiasm than brushing, mainly because many find flossing time consuming and difficult to do.
If traditional flossing isn't your bag, we may have a reasonable alternative. Oral irrigation is a hygiene method for removing plaque between teeth using a pressurized water spray. You direct the water spray between your teeth using a handheld wand (which somewhat resembles a power toothbrush) and small hose attached to a countertop pump appliance.
A mainstay in dental offices, oral irrigators (or water flossers) have been available for home use since the 1960s. They're ideal for people who have problems with manual dexterity or who may not want to contend with flossing thread. They also make it easier for patients wearing braces to clean between their teeth, a monumental task using regular floss.
As to effectiveness, oral irrigation appears to match that of regular flossing, especially for orthodontic patients. Clinical studies in the early 2000s compared patients with braces using oral irrigation with those who were brushing only. Those using irrigation were able to remove five times as much plaque as the other group.
There are a number of comparable oral irrigation brands on the market from which to choose, and your dentist can advise you on features to look for when purchasing one. Just be sure you're using some method, oral irrigation or traditional flossing, to remove disease-causing plaque from between your teeth—either will go a long way in keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on flossing methods, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
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