While the prevention and treatment of tooth decay has improved dramatically over the last half century, it continues to be a major health issue, especially for children. One in four children 5 and younger will develop some form of the disease.
Although tooth decay in children stems from the same causes as in adults — the presence of decay-causing bacteria in plaque, unprotected teeth and the right mix of carbohydrates like sugar left in the mouth — the means by which it occurs may be different. We even define tooth decay differently in children as Early Childhood Caries (ECC), “caries” the dental profession’s term for tooth decay.
ECC highlights a number of cause factors specific to young children, such as: continuous use of a bottle or “sippy cup” filled with juice or other sweetened beverages; at-will breast-feeding throughout the night; use of a sweetened pacifier; or regular use of sugar-based oral medicine to treat chronic illness.
If you noticed sugar as a common denominator in these factors, you’re right. As a primary food source for bacteria, refined sugar is a major trigger for the disease especially if it constantly resides in the mouth from constant snacking or sipping. In fact, it’s the primary driver for a particular pattern of decay known as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (BBTD). This pattern is specifically linked to sleep-time bottles filled with juice, milk, formula or other sweetened beverages, given to an infant or toddler to help soothe them through the night or during naps.
All these factors cause a cycle of decay. To interrupt that cycle, there are some things you as a parent should do: perform daily hygiene with your child to reduce decay-causing bacteria; reduce the amount and frequency of carbohydrates in the diet, particularly sugar; and protect the teeth by having us apply fluoride or sealants directly to the teeth.
Early tooth decay could affect your child's oral health for years to come. With a little care and vigilance, you improve your chances of avoiding that encounter.
If you would like more information on preventing tooth decay in children, 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 “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Physical pain is never pleasant or welcomed. Nevertheless, it’s necessary for your well-being—pain is your body telling you something isn’t right and needs your attention.
That fully applies to tooth pain. Not all tooth pain is the same—the intensity, location and duration could all be telling you one of a number of things that could be wrong. In a way, pain has its own “language” that can give us vital clues as to what’s truly causing it.
Here are 3 types of tooth pain and what they might be telling you about an underlying dental problem.
Sensitivity to hot or cold. If you’ve ever had a sharp, momentary pain after consuming something hot like coffee or cold like ice cream, this could indicate several causative possibilities. You might have a small area of tooth decay or a loose filling. You might also have an exposed root due to gum recession, which is much more sensitive to temperature or pressure changes. The latter is also a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
Acute or constant pain. If you’re feeling a severe and continuing pain from one particular area of your teeth (even if you can’t tell exactly which one), this could mean the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, has become infected with decay. The pain is emanating from nerves within the pulp coming under attack from the decay. To save the tooth, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the decayed tissue and seal the tooth from further infection. You should see your dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain suddenly stops—that only means the nerves have died, but the decay is still there and threatening your tooth.
Severe gum pain. If there’s an extremely painful spot on your gums especially sensitive to touch, then you may have an abscess. This is a localized area of infection that develops in the gums either as the result of periodontal (gum) disease, or an infection spreading from the tooth pulp into the gum tissues. You’ll need to see a dentist immediately for both pain relief and appropriate treatment (including a possible root canal) to heal the abscessed tissue.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and how to treat 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!”
Losing a tooth affects not only your smile but your overall dental health too. A dental implant solves both issues: it replaces the whole tooth, including the root, to merge durability with a life-like appearance.
For teenagers with a missing tooth, however, an implant may not be a good idea, at least until they've physically matured. Although their permanent teeth have usually all come in by puberty, the jaws and facial structure continue to develop into early adulthood. An implant placed too early could appear misaligned when the jaw fully matures.
The best approach for teens is a temporary replacement until they're physically ready for an implant. There are two good options: a removable partial denture (RPD) or a fixed bonded bridge.
Common among adults, an RPD is also a viable replacement for a teenager's missing tooth. An RPD consists of a prosthetic (false) tooth set in a nylon or acrylic base that resembles gum tissue. Metal clips formed in the RPD fit over adjacent teeth to hold the appliance in place; this also makes it easy to remove for cleaning or sleep time. We typically recommend an acrylic base for teens because it's easier to adjust if the RPD's fit becomes loose.
To hold it in place, a traditional bridge uses crowns on either side of the replacement tooth to bond over the natural teeth next to the open socket. Because this requires permanently altering the support teeth, we recommend a bonded bridge that doesn't.
This modified bridge uses wing-like strips of dental material on the back of the false tooth that project outward. With the tooth in place, we bond the extending portions of these projections to the back of the adjacent teeth, which secures the false tooth in place.
Of the two options, the bonded bridge is more comfortable, buys the most time and looks the most natural. But it will cost more than an RPD. Bite issues, teeth grinding, overall gum health or your child's level of hygiene conscientiousness could also nix it as a viable option.
Either choice will effectively replace your child's missing tooth until it's time for a permanent restoration. We'll help you weigh all the factors to determine which one is best for your situation.
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
When we refer to periodontal (gum) disease, we’re actually talking about a family of progressive, infectious diseases that attack the gums and other tissues attached to the teeth. Caused primarily by bacterial plaque left on tooth surfaces from inefficient oral hygiene, gum disease can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
There’s only one way to stop the infection and restore health to diseased tissues — remove all of the offending plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) possible from tooth and gum surfaces, including below the gum line at the roots. The basic tools for this task are specialized hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose. A series of cleaning sessions using these tools could stop the infection and promote healing if followed with a consistent, efficient daily hygiene habit.
There are times, however, when the infection has progressed so deeply below the gum line or into the tissues that it requires other procedures to remove the plaque and infected tissue. One such situation is the formation of an abscess within the gum tissues, a pus-filled sac that has developed in response to infection. After administering local anesthesia, the abscess must be treated to remove the cause and allow the infectious fluid to drain. The area is then thoroughly flushed with saline or an antibacterial solution.
The gum tissues are not completely attached to the tooth surface for a small distance creating a space. These spaces are called periodontal pockets when they are inflamed and continue to deepen as the disease progresses. These inflamed and sometimes pus-filled pockets form when tissues damaged by the infection detach from the teeth. If the pockets are located near the gum line, it may be possible to clean out the infectious material using scaling techniques. If, however, they’re located four or more millimeters below the gum line a technique known as root planing may be needed, where plaque and calculus are shaved or “planed” from the root surface. As the disease progresses and the pockets deepen, it may also be necessary for surgical intervention to gain access to the tooth roots.
To stop gum disease and promote soft tissue healing, we should use any or all treatment tools at our disposal to reach even the most difficult places for removing plaque and calculus. The end result — a saved tooth — is well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
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