Posts for: May, 2015
“Cut down on sweets, especially between meals” is perhaps one of the least popular words of advice we dentists regularly give. We’re not trying to be killjoys, but the facts are undeniable: both the amount and frequency of sugar consumption contributes to tooth decay. Our concern isn’t the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, grains or dairy products, but rather refined or “free” sugars added to foods to sweeten them.
The World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration both advise consuming no more than 50 grams (about ten teaspoons) of sugar a day. Unfortunately, our nation’s average per person is much higher: we annually consume around 140 pounds per capita of refined sugars like table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, more than three times the recommended amount. Soft drinks are the single largest source of these in our diets — Americans drink an average of 52 gallons every year.
The connection between sugar and tooth decay begins with bacteria that ferments sugar present in the mouth after eating. This creates high levels of acid, which causes the mineral content of tooth enamel to soften and erode (a process called demineralization) and makes the teeth more susceptible to decay. Saliva naturally neutralizes acid, but it takes about thirty minutes to bring the mouth’s pH to a normal level. Saliva can’t keep up if sugars are continually present from constant snacking or sipping on soft drinks for long periods.
You can reduce the sugar-decay connection with a few dietary changes: limit your intake of sugar-added foods and beverages to no more than recommended levels; consume sweets and soft drinks only at meal times; replace sugar-added foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that inhibit the fermentation process (like cheese or black and green teas); and consider using mint or chewing gum products sweetened with xylitol, a natural alcohol-based sugar that inhibits bacterial growth.
Last but not least, practice good oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing, along with regular office cleanings and checkups. These practices, along with limits on refined sugar in your diet, will go a long way toward keeping your teeth and mouth healthy and cavity-free.
If you would like more information on the relationship of sugar and dental 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
Ah, the baby teeth: those cute little pearl buttons that start to appear in a child’s mouth at around 6 to 9 months of age. Like pacifiers and bedtime stories, they’ll be gone before you know it — the last usually disappear by age 10-13. So if the dentist tells you that your young child needs a root canal, you might wonder why — isn’t that tooth going to be lost anyway?
The answer is yes, it is — but while it’s here, it has some important roles to play in your child’s development. For one thing, baby teeth perform the same functions in kids as they do in adults: Namely, they enable us to chew, bite, and speak properly. The primary teeth also have a valuable social purpose: they allow us to smile properly. If a baby tooth is lost prematurely at age 6, the child may suffer detrimental effects for five years or more — and that’s a long time for someone so young!
Even more important, baby teeth have a critical function in the developing mouth and jaw: Each one holds a space open for the permanent tooth that will eventually replace it — and it doesn’t “let go” until the new tooth is ready to come in. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost too soon, other teeth adjacent to the opening may drift into the empty space. This often means that the permanent teeth may erupt (emerge above the gum line) in the wrong place — or sometimes, not at all.
The condition that occurs when teeth aren’t in their proper positions is called malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite). It can cause problems with eating and speaking, and often results in a less-than-perfect-looking smile. It’s the primary reason why kids get orthodontic treatment — which can be expensive and time-consuming. So it makes sense to try and save baby teeth whenever possible.
Procedures like a root canal — or the similar but less-invasive pulpotomy — are often effective at preserving a baby tooth that would otherwise be lost. But if it isn’t possible to save the tooth, an appliance called a space maintainer may help. This is a small metal appliance that is attached to one tooth; its purpose is to keep a space open where the permanent tooth can come in.
If your child is facing the premature loss of a primary tooth, we will be sure to discuss all the options with you. It may turn out that preserving the tooth is the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. If you have questions about your child’s baby teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Cosmetic and restorative dentistry is filled with a varied array of procedures, materials and techniques that can address any shortcoming with your smile. Whatever your condition, there’s a means to correct or enhance your smile.
The real question, though, is whether we’re both, patient and dentist, on the same page as to what’s best to enhance your smile. Dentists have a different perspective on smile outcomes than the average layperson. We’re clued into aspects like tooth alignment with facial features or gum-to-lip distance influenced by our professional training and experience. You, though, may see your smile in terms of other features that define beauty like mouth expressions or lip shape.
Bridging these differing points of view requires open and honest communication. Here are three considerations to make that happen.
Build trust between you and your dentist. It’s natural for us to have differing views on what constitutes proper smile aesthetics based on the perspectives previously mentioned. Working through those perspectives to arrive at a unified plan requires trust that both of us desire the same outcome: a beautiful smile you’re happy to display to the world.
“Seeing” your future smile can help ease your misgivings. It’s one thing to try to imagine a certain treatment outcome — it’s quite another to actually see it beforehand. And you can, through computer simulation that takes a picture of your current face and smile and then augments them digitally so you can see how your smile will appear after proposed treatment. It’s also possible in some cases for you to wear temporary or “provisional” restorations so that not only can you see how they look, but also how they feel and function in the mouth.
Understand what “type” of restoration patient you are. Although everyone is different, we can usually characterize patients and their expectations in two ways. Some patients are “perfect-minded” — they want restorations that offer the maximum symmetry, regularity and tooth brightness. Others are more “natural-minded” in that the changes they seek don’t drastically alter their natural appearance, but are just enough to look different and create a sense of character. Knowing what you really want — a drastic change or a subtle enhancement — will help you communicate your desires more clearly and help us design the treatment options that best fit your expectations.
If you would like more information on fostering communication between dentists and patients, 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 “Great Expectations.”
The arrival of your child’s first set of teeth is a natural and expected process. But that doesn’t mean this period of development, commonly known as teething, is an easy time: your baby will endure a fair amount of discomfort, and you, perhaps, a bit of anxiety.
Knowing the facts about teething can help you reduce your child’s discomfort — as well as your own concern — to a minimum. Here are a few things you need to know.
Teething duration varies from child to child. Most children’s teeth begin to erupt (appear in the mouth) between six and nine months of age — however, some children may begin at three months and some as late as a year. The full eruption sequence is usually complete by age 3.
Symptoms and their intensity may also vary. As teeth gradually break through the gum line, your baby will exhibit some or all normal teething symptoms like gum swelling, drooling and chin rash (from increased saliva flow), biting or gnawing, ear rubbing, or irritability. You may also notice behavior changes like decreased appetite or disrupted sleep. These symptoms may be a minimal bother during some teething episodes, while at other times the pain and discomfort may seem intense. Symptoms tend to increase about four days before a tooth emerges through the gums and about three days afterward.
Diarrhea, rashes or fever aren’t normal. These symptoms indicate some other sickness or condition, which can easily be masked during a teething episode. If your child exhibits any of these symptoms you should call us for an exam to rule out a more serious issue.
Keep things cool to reduce discomfort. There are a few things you can do to reduce your child’s discomfort during a teething episode. Let your child chew on chilled (but not frozen) soft items like teething rings, wet washcloths or pacifiers to reduce swelling and pain. Gum massage with your clean finger may help counteract the pressure from the erupting tooth. And, if your doctor advises it, pain relievers in the proper dosage may also help alleviate discomfort. On the other hand, don’t use rubbing alcohol to soothe painful gums, or products with the numbing agent Benzocaine in children younger than two unless advised by a healthcare professional.
If you would like more information on dealing with teething issues, 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 “Teething Troubles.”