Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) jolted our collective consciousness in the 1980s. The deadly disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had no known cure and, at the time, no effective treatment.
HIV is a retrovirus, a virus with a genetic makeup and reproduction system differing from other kinds. After taking up permanent residency in the body, HIV begins “hijacking” the replication process of cells in the body's immune system and replacing it with a copy of its own. This destroys the cells' ability to protect the body from hostile organisms. As the virus affects more and more cells, the patient's condition ultimately develops into AIDS.
An estimated 35 million people worldwide (1.2 million in the U.S.) are currently infected with the virus. Thanks to new antiretroviral drugs, though, HIV can be kept from accelerating into AIDS. While their condition remains serious, many HIV positive patients can now live long and relatively normal lives. Even so, having the virus requires them to pay close attention to their health, including their mouth.
Even while stalled from becoming AIDS, HIV can still cause oral problems for 30 to 80% of patients. The fungal infection candidiasis (also known as thrush) is the most common of these problems, which appears as lesions, cracking skin or creamy white patches on the tongue or palate that easily bleed. Patients also have higher risks for dry mouth, oral cancer and periodontal (gum) disease.
HIV positive patients must practice diligent daily oral care and see their dentist for checkups regularly. Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment can keep gum disease and other damaging conditions under control. Monitoring oral health is also important because certain mouth conditions could be an early sign the infection is entering a new advanced stage in the body that requires additional attention.
Keeping vigilant in all aspects of health is a way of life for someone with HIV. Such vigilance, though, can help them maintain a healthy mouth and even prolong their life.
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Eating is like breathing: We often do it without much thought. But if you suffer from chronic jaw pain, every bite can get your attention—and not in a good way. What's worse, in an effort to avoid the pain associated with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) you might make less than nutritious food choices.
But there are ways to eat healthy without aggravating the symptoms of TMD—not just your choices of food, but also how you prepare and actually eat the food. Here are 4 tips that can help you manage eating with TMD.
Choose moist foods in sauces or gravy. A lot of chewing action is intended to mix saliva with tough or dry foods to make them easier to digest. But this extra jaw action can irritate the jaw joints and muscles and increase your discomfort. To help reduce your jaws' work load, choose foods with a high moisture content, or cook them in a sauce or gravy.
Peel foods with skin. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, but their tough outer skin or peel is often hard to chew. Although these parts may also contain nutrients, removing them allows you to gain most of the nutritional benefit of the food while making it easier to chew it.
Cut foods into bite-size pieces. A lot of discomfort with TMD occurs with having to open the jaws wide to accommodate large pieces of food. To minimize the amount of jaw opening, take time to cut all your food portions down into smaller pieces. Doing so can help you avoid unnecessary discomfort.
Practice deliberate eating. All of us can benefit from slower, more methodical eating, but it's especially helpful for someone with TMD. By chewing deliberately and slowly and doing your best to limit jaw opening, you can enhance your comfort level.
Eating often becomes an arduous task for someone with TMD that increases pain and stress. But practicing these tips can make your dining experience easier—and more enjoyable.
If you would like more information on managing TMD in everyday 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
Dental implants aren't simply prosthetic teeth, but rather an innovative system that restores both smile appearance and dental function. And while an implant can indeed replace a single tooth, they can do so much more. Integrated with removable dentures or a fixed bridge, they provide a secure solution to multiple missing teeth.
Implants essentially replace a missing tooth's root, the basis for their lifelikeness and functionality. As such, they're also the most sophisticated restoration used today, requiring a high degree of technical and aesthetic skill to place them properly. In reality, implantation is more a process than a procedure.
If you're considering implants, that process begins with a comprehensive dental exam. During the exam, we'll assess the exact condition of your oral and facial structures like the length of remaining teeth, your bite and jaw dimensions. We'll use this information to plan the type and placement of your implants. The exam may also reveal problems like bone loss that might postpone your implants or suggest another form of restoration.
Using digital technology, we then locate the exact positions for your implants on the jaw to ensure the best outcome. This often results in the creation of a surgical guide, a plastic template placed over the jaw that accurately pinpoints the locations for the drilling sequence during implant surgery.
In most cases once the implants are surgically installed, gum tissue may be sutured over the implant to protect it while it integrates with the bone. In some cases, though, a visible crown may be placed immediately, so the patient can enjoy a tooth-filled smile the same day. This immediate crown, though, is temporary and will be replaced with a more durable, permanent one in a few months.
During this interim, the titanium in the implant post will attract bone cell growth, which will build up on the implant surface. This increased bone contact will help secure the implant fully in the jaw, giving the implant its signature durability.
Once the integration is complete, the permanent crown is affixed to the implant (or implants in the case of a fixed or removable dental appliance). It may have been a long road, but you'll have the closest thing to real teeth.
If you would like more information on implant restorations, 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 “New Teeth in One Day.”
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