One of the key parts to an effective oral disease prevention plan is practicing daily oral hygiene to remove dental plaque. Both brushing and flossing are necessary for cleaning your teeth of this thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But as important as they are, these two essential hygiene tasks aren’t the end-all-be-all for lowering your disease risk. For the best protection, you should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for thorough dental cleanings. That’s because plaque you might have missed can turn into something much more difficult to remove: calculus.
Also known as tartar, calculus is hardened deposits of plaque. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “small stone,” an apt description of its texture on tooth surfaces. Although not the same as the branch of mathematics that bears the same name, both derive from the same Latin word: Merchants and traders centuries ago used small stones to “calculate” their various transactions.
Over time soft and pliable dental plaque hardens into calculus, in part due to a reaction with saliva. Because of the difficulty of accessing all tooth surfaces, calculus can form even if you have an effective daily hygiene practice.
Once formed, calculus can adhere to teeth so tenaciously, it’s impossible to remove it with brushing and flossing. But dentists and hygienists can remove calculus safely with special tools called scalers.
And it should be removed or it will continue to foster bacterial growth. This in turn increases the chances for infections that attack the teeth, gums or underlying bone. Keeping it under control will therefore diminish your risk for developing dental disease.
Although there are other factors like heredity that can affect your disease risk, keeping your mouth clean is the number one thing you can do to protect your teeth and gums. A daily hygiene practice and regular dental visits will help ensure plaque and its calcified form calculus won’t be a problem.
In many parts of the country, summer is often a synonym for "blast furnace" and can be downright hot and miserable. If you find yourself in such a climate, it's imperative that you drink plenty of water to beat both the heat and heat-related injuries. Your teeth and gums are another reason to keep hydrated during those hot summer months.
Your body needs water to produce all that saliva swishing around in your mouth. When you have less water available in your system, the production of this important bodily fluid can go down—and this can increase your risk of dental disease. That's because saliva performs a number of tasks that enhance dental health. It helps rinse the mouth of excess food particles after eating that could become a prime food source for disease-causing bacteria. It also contains antibodies that serve as the first line of defense against harmful microorganisms entering through the mouth.
Perhaps saliva's most important role, though, is protecting and strengthening enamel, the teeth's outer "armor" against disease. Although the strongest substance in the body, enamel has one principal foe: oral acid. If the mouth's normally neutral pH becomes too acidic, the minerals in enamel begin to soften and dissolve. In response, saliva neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes softened enamel.
Without a healthy salivary flow protecting the mouth in these different ways, the teeth and gums are vulnerable to assault from bacteria and acid. As they gain the upper hand, the risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can skyrocket. Keeping yourself adequately hydrated ensures your body can produce an ample flow of saliva.
By the way, summer heat isn't the only cause for reduced saliva: Certain prescription medications may also interfere with its production. Chemotherapy and radiation, if targeting cancer near the head or neck, can damage salivary glands and impact flow as well.
If you have reduced saliva from medication you're taking, talk to your doctor about switching to an alternative prescription that doesn't affect saliva production. If you're undergoing cancer treatment, be extra vigilant about your oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits. And as with summer heat, be sure you're drinking plenty of water to help offset these other effects.
Even when it's hot, summertime should be a time for fun and relaxation. Don't let the heat ruin it—for your health or your smile.
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
August is National Wellness Month. Since part of staying in good overall health is taking care of your dental health, it's a good time to look at ways you can improve and maintain your oral health. Here are some tips:
Practice good oral hygiene. A fundamental key to a long life of healthy teeth and gums is keeping them clean of dental plaque. This thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing twice and flossing once each day gets rid of that unpleasant grittiness and reduces your risk of disease.
See your dentist regularly. A good daily oral hygiene habit works best at controlling soft plaque. But any that you miss—a possibility even with great brushing and flossing skill—can harden into calculus (tartar). To remove it, you'll need professional cleaning by a dental professional. The American Dental Association recommends a comprehensive dental cleaning at least twice a year to fully minimize your disease risk.
Eat a low-sugar, dental-friendly diet. Oral bacteria love to feast on the leftovers from your eating, especially sugar. So, cutting back on foods with added sugar isn't just good for other aspects of your health, it can also help "starve out" bacteria and reduce their population in your mouth. You can also boost oral health by eating foods rich in minerals like calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, and antioxidants that guard against oral cancer.
See your dentist at the first sign of problems. While hygiene, dental care and a nutritious diet can greatly reduce your risk of disease, it won't eliminate it completely. So see your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, mouth pain or unusual spots on your teeth. The sooner you're diagnosed and treated, the less damage from dental disease and future treatment expense you'll endure.
Manage other inflammatory conditions. If you're dealing with a condition like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, it could increase your risk of gum disease or make any occurrence of it worse. That's because gum disease and many systemic conditions share chronic inflammation as a common link. If an inflammatory condition is not managed through proper treatment, it could worsen any gum disease symptoms you have.
Pursuing wellness is a worthy goal—just be sure you include your oral health in the mix. A healthy mouth is a key ingredient for a healthy life. If you would like more information about gaining and maintaining optimum oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Your diet can play as important a role in your dental health as brushing and flossing. What you eat (particularly sugar) could increase your risk of tooth decay despite your hygiene habits. And vice-versa: a nutritious diet may help boost your preventive efforts even more.
Let’s look at two very different approaches to diet and see how your dental health is likely to fare under each.
A High Sugar/Low Fiber Diet. Modern western diets heavy with processed foods are inundated with two particular types of refined sugars. The first is sucrose, which comes mainly from either beets or sugar cane. Foods (and beverages) may also contain a refined sugar from corn known as high fructose corn syrup. Refined sugars are added for taste to thousands of products like cake, candy, soft drinks or even condiments like catsup. These “free” sugars are easily processed by bacteria into acid. Combine that with fewer fibrous vegetables in the diet and you have a recipe not only for obesity and other health issues, but tooth decay as well.
A High Fiber/Low Sugar Diet. Fruits and vegetables make up a large part of this kind of diet, while added free sugars much less so. That doesn’t make this diet sugar-free: all plant products contain simple sugars produced by photosynthesis. The difference, though, is that these sugars — glucose, fructose and sucrose (natural, not the refined versions) — are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion because of the fiber content of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also receive other nutrients like vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Eating this kind of diet will help decrease the risk of tooth decay.
So there you have it: eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and restrict your intake of processed foods and sweets. You may also want to fine-tune a few items to maximize decay prevention: for example, eat starches in their natural form (whole grains, beans or certain fruits) as much as possible rather than refined or in combination with added sugar (cakes, cookies, etc.). And while fresh fruits with their naturally occurring sugars aren’t a significant factor in tooth decay, dried fruits (especially with added sugar) might.
If you would like more information on proper diets for better 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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