While oral hygiene, a nutritious diet and regular dental visits are all crucial to long-term oral health, these efforts complement what your body already does to keep your mouth healthy. One of the major players in this function is saliva.
Produced by hundreds of glands located throughout the mouth, saliva does much more than help you swallow and wash away food. As you chew, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase breaks down starches in your food to make it easier to digest in the stomach. Saliva also contains antibodies, similar to what’s in tears, which can fight bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Perhaps its most important function, though, is its ability to protect and maintain healthy tooth enamel. The strongest substance in the body, enamel nevertheless has one primary enemy — the acid found in certain foods or as a byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates.
When the ideally neutral pH level of the mouth becomes too acidic (nearly every time you eat), minerals in the enamel begin to soften and dissolve. The increased saliva flow when we eat floods the mouth with buffering agents that neutralize the acid and restore the mouth’s normal pH level. Not only does saliva stop demineralization, but it also restores a good bit of the enamel’s mineral content.
In recent years, a new role for saliva has begun to emerge as a means to diagnose disease. Like blood, urine and other bodily fluids, saliva contains molecules that serve as biological markers for disease. Given the right equipment, saliva has the potential to indicate early signs of cancer (including oral), diabetes and other systemic conditions. As the means to examine saliva for these markers increases it promises to be easier and less expensive to collect and sample than blood, while reducing the chances of transmitting bloodborne diseases to healthcare workers.
It’s a lot to consider with this fluid that you hardly notice, except when it isn’t there. Saliva is proof that our efforts at keeping our mouths healthy cooperate and depend on our bodies’ amazing systems.
If you would like more information on saliva and other ways your body maintains a healthy mouth, 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 “Saliva.”
Besides reduced biting and chewing function, a missing tooth can cause an embarrassing inhibition to healthy social interaction. This can be especially so for teens who greatly value peer relationships and acceptance.
Be that as it may, we typically discourage a permanent replacement for teens with a missing tooth, particularly dental implants. While we value a patient’s psychological needs, the long-term effect on dental health may be too great to advise otherwise.
The effect we’re concerned with involves jaw growth and development. Although a person’s permanent teeth have usually all erupted by early adolescence, the jaws continue to grow until the late teens or early twenties. Natural teeth can adapt to this growth because the periodontal ligament that holds them in place allows for incremental tooth movement. The teeth move in response to jaw growth and are thus able to maintain their proper relationship and alignment in the jaw as growth occurs.
Dental implants, on the other hand, are imbedded into the jaw bone: they, therefore, can’t move like natural teeth and thus can’t adjust their position with jaw growth, particularly the upper jaw as it grows forward and down. This can result in the implants appearing as though they are left behind or retreat into the jaw. It can also affect the position of the gums and inhibit their growth around the implants.
It’s best then to hold off implants and other permanent restorations until the jaw has finished developing. That, however, isn’t always easy to determine: specialized x-ray diagnostics may help, but it’s not an exact science. Your input as a parent will also be helpful, such as whether you’ve noticed the end of growth spurts (not changing clothes or shoe sizes as often) or your child’s recent similarity in appearance to other adult members of your family. It thus becomes a judgment call, based on examination and experience, as to whether it’s safe to proceed with implants — and may require erring on the side of caution.
In the meantime, there are temporary restorations that can improve appearance while you wait for the appropriate time to undertake a permanent restoration. Two of the most useful are removable partial dentures (RPDs) or a bonded bridge, a less invasive form of the traditional bridge. With a proper assessment we can advise you on which option is your best choice.
If you would like more information on tooth restorations for teenagers, 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 “Teenagers & Dental Implants.”
One of the health issues pregnant women should be concerned about is a higher risk of periodontal (gum) disease. But you don’t have to be pregnant to have an increased risk — you also may be more susceptible to dental disease if you’re taking certain birth control pills.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by plaque, food debris that builds up on tooth and gum surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. If left untreated gum disease can eventually lead to the breakdown of connective gum tissue and cause tooth loss.
Pregnant women are at greater risk because of an increased level of female hormones (estrogen) in their blood stream. This causes a change in the blood vessels that supply the gums, making them more susceptible to the effects of bacteria. A number of birth control options also increase estrogen levels, causing much of the same effect. To heighten the effect, you may also have a predisposition toward gum disease by your genetics or a high stress level.
There are some things you can do, however, to help lower your risk if you’re taking birth control medication. First and foremost, practice a consistent, daily habit of brushing and flossing. If you’re unsure if your technique is effective, we can provide guidance and training to make sure you’re performing these tasks properly. You should also visit us at least twice a year for office cleanings and checkups: no matter how effective you are with brushing and flossing, plaque can still accumulate in hard to reach places and form hardened deposits known as calculus.
You should also be on the lookout for signs of disease like gum redness, swelling or bleeding. If you see any of these signs, contact us as soon as possible for a thorough examination. As with many other issues involving health, the sooner we begin treatment for gum disease the better your chances of stopping it before it does too much harm.
If you would like more information on the relationship between gum disease and pregnancy or birth control, 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 “Pregnancy & Birth Control.”
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
For over half a century, dentists have promoted a proven strategy for sound dental health. Not only is this strategy effective, it’s simple too: brush and floss every day, and visit your dentist at least twice a year or as soon as you see a problem.
Unfortunately, this strategy isn’t resonating well with people between the ages of 18 and 34, known more commonly as the “millennials.” A recent survey of 2,000 members of this age bracket found a startling number: over one-third didn’t brush their teeth as often as recommended, some going as long as two days between brushings. About the same number also reported fear of dental visits. Given all that, the next statistic isn’t surprising: tooth decay affects one in three people in the millennial age group.
This isn’t to pick on millennials, but to point out that good oral hygiene naturally leads to good oral health, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. Here’s more about the dental care basics for better health.
Brush twice, floss once daily. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a thorough brushing with toothpaste containing fluoride twice a day. You also shouldn’t neglect a once a day flossing between teeth to remove plaque from areas brushing can’t effectively reach. Keeping plaque accumulation to a minimum is the best way to prevent diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Visit your dentist at least twice a year. Dental visits every six months (or more if your dentist recommends it) accomplish two things: a professional dental cleaning removes any buildup of plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) missed by daily hygiene. It also allows your dentist to inspect your teeth and gums for any signs of disease that may require treatment.
See your Dentist ASAP if you notice problems. You should also see your dentist sooner if you notice anything abnormal like unusual spotting on the teeth, tooth pain or sensitivity, or swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. These are all signs of disease, and the sooner it’s treated the less chance your teeth and gums will suffer serious harm.
Like other age groups, millennials know the importance of a healthy smile, not only for social and career interaction, but also for their own personal well-being. Sticking to a regular dental care program is the primary way to keep that healthy smile.
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