Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
What happens when you lose a tooth? In the short-run, it can certainly undermine your appearance and ability to efficiently chew and digest food. But a chain of events could also be set in motion that may cause the most harm to your appearance and health—and it all has to do with bone loss.
Our bones aren't just rigid structures providing a frame for our bodies. They're living tissue with other purposes like producing blood cells and regulating the endocrine system. Bone tissue is constantly replenishing itself as older cells die and newer ones take their place.
In the jawbone, the pressure generated by the teeth while biting and chewing travels through the roots to stimulate the growth of new bone. If a tooth goes missing, however, the bone around the tooth also loses this growth stimulus.
This can cause normal bone growth to slow so that dying bone cells aren't sufficiently replaced. The bone may then diminish at an alarming rate—a decrease in width of about 25% in the first year after a tooth loss and several millimeters in height after only a few years.
This bone loss can continue to advance, especially if multiple teeth are lost, until the jaw structure as a whole loses significant height. The bite may then collapse, forcing the front teeth to push forward. In this state, a person may not be able to adequately bite or chew food. It can also damage their appearance—their smile suffers, of course, but their entire face may also appear shrunken.
You may be able to avoid this scenario if you replace missing teeth with dental implants. In addition to their life-likeness and durability, implants can also stop or slow bone loss. This is because titanium, the principle metal used in an implant, has a strong affinity with bone: Bone cells readily grow and attach to the titanium surface and foster new growth.
But don't wait: Bone loss could eventually extend beyond what an implant can accommodate—you may then need grafting to build up the bone or consider a different type of restoration. So, speak with your dentist as soon as possible about an implant restoration for a lost tooth to help avoid significant bone loss.
If you would like more information on how tooth loss can affect your life, 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
As far as your appearance goes, the most important teeth you have are those in the “smile zone.” These are the teeth most visible when you smile—and the ones that awkwardly stand out if they're chipped, worn or otherwise flawed. More than any other teeth, they determine how inviting your smile is to others.
You might think you'll need extensive cosmetic dental work to fix these kinds of dental defects. But that may not be necessary: We may be able to use a dental material known as composite resin to repair the defects in your “smile zone” teeth in one office visit.
Composite resins are a combination of ceramics and plastics that have been around for some time. They've only recently come into wide use, though, with the development of new techniques to bond them to tooth surfaces. They're ideal for chips, cracks, or decayed areas where front teeth make contact with one another. They may also be used occasionally to reshape irregular or misaligned teeth.
You'll first need a complete dental examination to determine if composite resin bonding is an appropriate approach for your situation. If so, we'll begin by preparing the tooth surface to better accept the resin material. We'll then apply the liquid form of the material in layers, along with other agents to increase the material's strength. Each layer is cured (hardened) before applying the next layer.
As the layers build up, we shape the material to achieve a normal tooth appearance. We'll also incorporate your individual color shadings, so that the prepared tooth blends well with surrounding natural teeth. In effect, the procedure requires as much artistry as technical skill to create a natural look.
Though not as strong as porcelain veneers or crowns, composite resins are durable if not subjected to heavy biting forces. And for a few hours in the dentist's chair with minimal tooth preparation, a composite resin treatment can create a dramatic and exciting change in your appearance.
If you would like more information on composite resin bonding, 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk of tooth decay, 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 Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.