Do you or your family members get cavities often? Dental research has found out that certain factors can affect your risk of tooth decay. These factors include
The current number of decayed or filled teeth
Your fluoride exposure
Family history of decay
How well you take care of your teeth
The amount of saliva and the balance of minerals, enzymes and buffering agents it contains
How often and what types of foods you eat (especially carbohydrates)
Ask your dentist about the best ways to reduce your risks and limit dental decay.
To prevent your teeth from decaying, you can do two things:
Strengthen your teeth’s defenses with fluoride, sealants and agents that contain calcium and phosphate ions.
Reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth.
Fluoride penetrates into teeth. It strengthens them by replacing minerals that acid has destroyed. The benefits of fluoride to teeth were first discovered in the 1930s. Dentists started to notice that people who drank water that naturally contained fluoride had less tooth decay. In 1945, communities started to add fluoride to water supplies. Adding fluoride to water systems has been the most successful cavity prevention method to date.
In the early 1960s, fluoride also began to be added to toothpaste. This also had a major impact on cavity prevention. Now almost all toothpastes contain fluoride. Everyone should brush with a fluoride toothpaste every day. Dental offices sometimes recommend higher levels of fluoride in toothpastes, gels and mouth rinses for both children and adults.
More recently, agents containing calcium and phosphate have been developed. MI Paste and MI Paste Plus both contain Recaldent (the calcium-phosphate ingredient). Your dentist can apply them to your teeth. Recaldent also also can be found in chewing gum (some Trident products) and toothpaste. These agents help prevent and reverse early decay that has not yet led to a cavity.
Sealants are protective coatings placed over the tops of the back teeth — molars and premolars. They block bacteria and acids from sticking in the tiny grooves on the chewing surfaces of these teeth. Sealants can be placed in adults and children. Children can have sealants on their baby molars, and also on the permanent molars once they come in. Dentists can put sealants on molars with signs of early decay, as long as the decay hasn’t broken through the enamel.
You can never get rid of all the bacteria in your mouth. But you can take steps to control bacteria:
Brush twice a day.
Reduce the number of times each day that you consume fermentable carbohydrates.
Some prescription mouthwashes (those that contain chlorhexidine) reduce bacteria in your mouth. This can help prevent decay. Chewing sugarless gums, especially those with xylitol, can help reduce bacteria levels and increase the flow of saliva.
Most importantly, visit your dentist regularly. Then the dentist can find any decay early, when it can be treated and reversed.
Young children can get a type of decay called baby bottle tooth decay or early childhood caries. It destroys enamel quickly. This type of decay is common in children who are put to sleep with a bottle of milk or juice. The bottle exposes the teeth constantly to carbohydrates through the night. Bacteria can grow rapidly and produce acid that decays teeth.
Decay can become worse if the parent does not clean the child’s teeth. It can eat through enamel and leave a large cavity in a matter of months.
In older adults, the exposed roots of teeth can develop cavities. This is called root caries. Older adults are more likely to have receding gums caused by years of hard brushing or periodontal disease. They also are more likely to have dry mouth (xerostomia). The decrease in saliva results in less protection of the teeth. This increases the risk of decay. Many common medicines can cause dry mouth. Be sure to ask the doctor or pharmacist if any of your medicines cause dry mouth.
Decay can form beneath fillings or other tooth repairs, such as crowns. Sometimes bacteria and bits of food can slip between the tooth and a poorly placed filling or crown. This also can happen if the filling cracks or pulls away from the tooth, leaving a gap.
To understand what happens when your teeth decay, it’s helpful to know what’s in your mouth naturally. Here are a few of the elements:
Saliva — Your mouth and teeth are constantly bathed in saliva. We never give much thought to our spit, but this fluid is remarkable for what it does to help protect our oral health. Saliva keeps teeth and other parts of your mouth moist and washes away bits of food. Saliva contains minerals that strengthen teeth. It includes buffering agents. They reduce the levels of acid that can decay teeth. Saliva also protects against some viruses and bacteria.
Plaque — Plaque appears as a soft, gooey substance that sticks to the teeth a bit like jam sticks to a spoon. It is, in fact, colonies of bacteria, protozoa, mycoplasmas, yeasts and viruses clumping together in a gel-like organic material. Also in the mix are bacteria byproducts, white blood cells, food debris and body tissue. Plaque grows when bacteria attach to the tooth and begin multiplying. Plaque starts forming immediately after a tooth is cleaned; it takes about an hour for plaque to build up to measurable levels. As time goes on, different types of microorganisms appear, and the plaque thickens.
Calculus — If left alone long enough, plaque absorbs minerals from saliva. These minerals form crystals and harden the plaque into calculus. Then new plaque forms on top of existing calculus. This new layer can also become hard.
Bacteria — We have many types of bacteria in our mouths. Some bacteria are good; they help control destructive bacteria. When it comes to decay, Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli are the bacteria that cause the most damage to teeth.
Eating too much sugar can cause tooth decay. But even if you have healthy eating habits and brush frequently, you can still be at risk of dental erosion.
Prolonged exposure of the teeth to an acidic environment can dissolve or eat away the enamel surface of the teeth.
This can occur when acidic drinks are sipped over a prolonged period of time, rather than consumed with a meal. With prolonged exposure to acids, faster tooth wear occurs. Sometimes erosion results in the soft inner part of the tooth being exposed which can cause sensitivity.
Not only do oral piercings offer dangers like chipped and fractured teeth, damage to the gums, periodontal disease and problems with speech, swallowing and chewing, the studs themselves could be harboring oral biofilm—increasing risks for infection.
Researchers in Austria studied 85 people with tongue piercings. After examining the participants’ oral health, they randomly assigned each participant with sterile studs made from four different materials: stainless steel, titanium and two kinds of plastic. Participants were examined again after two weeks.
Scientists found that although the participants’ piercing channels had low bacterial counts, studs made of steel seemed to promote development of a biofilm—a thin layer of microorganisms that adhere to the surface of a structure. Types of bacteria associated with staph infections were found on the steel and titanium studs, leading researchers to conclude that metal studs increase risks for complications if a piercing channel becomes infected.
The ADA cautions against oral piercings —including those of the tongue, lips, cheeks and uvula— because they can interfere with speech, chewing or swallowing. They can also cause complications like excessive drooling; infection; chipped or cracked teeth; gum injuries; uncontrolled bleeding; damage to fillings; nerve damage; and hypersensitivity to metals.
People used to think that as you got older you naturally lost your teeth. We now know that’s not true. By following easy steps for keeping your teeth and gums healthy – plus seeing your dentist regularly — you can have your teeth for a lifetime!
Plaque: What is it?
Plaque is made up of invisible masses of harmful germs that live in the mouth and stick to the teeth.
Some types of plaque cause tooth decay
Other types of plaque cause gum disease
Red, puffy or bleeding gums can be the first signs of gum disease. If gum disease is not treated, the tissues holding the teeth in place are destroyed and the teeth are eventually lost.
Dental plaque is difficult to see unless it’s stained. You can stain plaque by chewing red “disclosing tablets,” found at grocery stores and drug stores, or by using a cotton swab to smear green food coloring on your teeth. The red or green color left on the teeth will show you where there is still plaque—and where you have to brush again to remove it.
Stain and examine your teeth regularly to make sure you are removing all plaque.
Ask your dentist or dental hygienist if your plaque removal techniques are okay.
Step One: Floss
Use floss to remove germs and food particles between teeth. Rinse.
Holding floss. Using floss between upper teeth. Using floss between lower teeth.
NOTE! Ease the floss into place gently. Do not snap it into place — this could harm your gums.
Step Two: Brush Teeth
Use any tooth brushing method that is comfortable, but do not scrub hard back and forth. Small circular motions and short back and forth motions work well. Rinse.
To prevent decay, it’s what’s on the toothbrush that counts. Use fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is what protects teeth from decay.
Brush the tongue for a fresh feeling! Rinse again.
Remember: food residues, especially sweets, provide nutrients for the germs that cause tooth decay, as well as those that cause gum disease. That’s why it is important to remove all food residues, as well as plaque, from teeth. Remove plaque at least once a day — twice a day is better. If you brush and floss once daily, do it before going to bed.
Another way of removing plaque between teeth is to use a dental pick — a thin plastic or wooden stick. These sticks can be purchased at drug stores and grocery stores.
What is it?
Tooth sensitivity is something that affects a number of people. It is often caused by eating or drinking something hot, cold, sweet or acidic. Under normal conditions, the underlying dentin of the tooth (the layer that immediately surrounds the nerve) is covered by the enamel in the tooth crown, and the gums that surround the tooth. Over time, the enamel covering can get thinner, thus providing less protection. The gums can also recede over time, exposing the underlying root surface dentin.
The dentin contains a large numbers of pores or tubes that run from the outside of the tooth to the nerve in the center. When the dentin is exposed, these tubes can be stimulated by changes in temperature or certain foods.
What causes it?
Exposure of the dentin can occur due to a number of factors. Some of the more common reasons are:
Gum recession due to age or improper tooth brushing
Acidic beverages (such as soda) that cause enamel erosion and dentin exposure
Tooth grinding – this may actually cause most or all of the teeth to feel sensitive
Brushing with a very abrasive toothpaste, brushing incorrectly and/or brushing more than three times a day could result in a loss of enamel
Gum disease, which can result in gum recession
A chipped or fractured tooth may expose the dentin
In addition, some dental treatments can cause sensitivity. Treatments such as such as teeth whitening, professional dental cleanings, having braces put on or getting a filling placed have been known to cause sensitivity during or after the procedure.
What can I do about it?
The first step in doing something about dental sensitivity is to find out what the cause is – a dental professional can help you with this. If the sensitivity is due to exposed dentin, there are a number of steps you can take, as can your dental professional, to help reduce the sensitivity. These can include:
Using a very soft bristle tooth brush
Brushing correctly to help prevent abrasion of the enamel and recession of the gums
Using a toothpaste specially formulated to help reduce sensitivity
The dental professional can:
Apply a fluoride varnish on the sensitive areas to help strengthen the tooth
Prescribe a high fluoride tooth paste to use every day
Place a dental restoration to build up the areas that have lost enamel
In the end, whether you need an in-office procedure or over-the-counter products, the most important step is to see a dental professional so that he or she can determine the cause of the tooth sensitivity and help you find a solution that will work
What Are the Different Parts of a Tooth?
Crown— the top part of the tooth, and the only part you can normally see. The shape of the crown determines the tooth’s function. For example, front teeth are sharp and chisel-shaped for cutting, while molars have flat surfaces for grinding.
Gumline— where the tooth and the gums meet. Without proper brushing and flossing, plaque and tartar can build up at the gumline, leading to gingivitis and gum disease.
Root— the part of the tooth that is embedded in bone. The root makes up about two-thirds of the tooth and holds the tooth in place.
Enamel— the outermost layer of the tooth. Enamel is the hardest, most mineralized tissue in the body — yet it can be damaged by decay if teeth are not cared for properly.
Dentin— the layer of the tooth under the enamel. If decay is able to progress its way through the enamel, it next attacks the dentin — where millions of tiny tubes lead directly to the dental pulp.
Pulp— the soft tissue found in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain.
What Are the Different Types of Teeth?
Every tooth has a specific job or function (use the dental arch in this section to locate and identify each type of tooth):
Incisors— the sharp, chisel-shaped front teeth (four upper, four lower) used for cutting food.
Canines— sometimes called cuspids, these teeth are shaped like points (cusps) and are used for tearing food.
Premolars— these teeth have two pointed cusps on their biting surface and are sometimes referred to as bicuspids. The premolars are for crushing and tearing.
Molars— used for grinding, these teeth have several cusps on the biting surface
Taking care of your gums could mean staving off diabetes.
According to a study in a recent issue of the Journal of Periodontology, periodontal disease may contribute to the progression of pre-diabetes, a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not enough to be classified as diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 54 million Americans suffer from pre-diabetes. Of those, many will develop type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years.
A team of Denmark researchers conducted a study with animal models known to exhibit pre-diabetes characteristics and concluded that having periodontal disease such as gingivitis or aggressive periodontitis can cause patients to develop pre-diabetic characteristics. They also found that periodontal disease can disturb glucose regulation and may ultimately contribute to the progression of Type 2 diabetes.
“We have known that people with diabetes are more susceptible to periodontal diseases and have more severe disease,” said Dr. Preston D. Miller, Jr., president of the American Academy of Periodontology. “This breakthrough research shows having periodontal disease may aggravate pre-diabetes which is a precursor for diabetes. These findings underscore the importance of taking good care of your teeth and gums: it may be a simple way to prevent diabetes, or to prevent the progression of diabetes.”
Signs of pre-diabetes include: elevated blood sugar levels, obesity, inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of diabetes. Also, mothers who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at risk to develop the disease later on in life.
Fortunately, periodontal disease can be reversible—if caught in the early stages. Advanced stages of the disease can lead to bone and tooth loss. Talk to your dentist about your gums and find out what you can do to keep them healthy.