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Posts for tag: tooth decay

By Dr. Millay
October 09, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  
HowtoKeeptheCavityMonsterAwaythisHalloween

Watching your kids dress up in cute, spooky costumes and go out trick-or-treating can be a real thrill. But thinking about the dental damage caused by eating all those sweets might just give you the chills. So is it best to act like a witch and take away all the candy from those adorable little ghosts and goblins?

Relax! According to experts like the American Dental Association, it’s OK to let kids enjoy some sweet treats on special occasions like Halloween—especially if they have been taking good care of their oral hygiene all year long, by brushing twice each day and flossing once every day. But to help keep cavities away from those young smiles, there are some things parents (and everyone else) should understand.

Cavities—small holes in the tooth’s outer surface that result from the decay process—get started when bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and produce acids. The acids eat away at the hard enamel coating of teeth. If left untreated, decay will eventually reach the soft inner core of the tooth, causing even more serious damage.

There are several ways to stop the process of tooth decay. One is to take away the sugar that decay bacteria feed on. Because this ingredient is common in so many foods, it’s hard to completely eliminate sugar from the diet. Instead, it may be more practical to limit the consumption of sweets. For example, if kids are only allowed to eat sugary treats around mealtimes, it gives the mouth plenty of “downtime,” in which healthful saliva can neutralize the bacterial acids. It also helps to avoid sweets that stick to teeth (like taffy or gummy bears) and those that stay in the mouth for a long time (like hard candy).

Another way to help stop tooth decay is by maintaining top-notch oral hygiene. Decay bacteria thrive in the sticky film called plaque that clings stubbornly to the surfaces of teeth. Plaque can be removed by—you guessed it—effective brushing and flossing techniques. While it’s a good start, brushing alone won’t remove plaque from the spaces between teeth and under the gums: That’s why flossing is an essential part of the daily oral hygiene routine. Helping your kids develop good oral hygiene habits is among the best things you can do to fight cavities.

And speaking of habits, there are a few others that can help—or hurt—your oral health.  For example, drinking plenty of water keeps the body hydrated and benefits oral health; but regularly drinking soda and other sweetened or acidic beverages greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. And seeing your dentist on a regular basis for professional cleanings and routine checkups is one of the most beneficial habits of all. Working together, we can help keep tooth decay from turning into a scary situation for kids—and adults too.

If you have questions about cavity prevention or oral hygiene, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay—How to Assess Your Risk.”

LimitingRefinedSugarinYourDietcanReduceRiskofToothDecay

“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.”

AlthoughaChallengeChronicallyIllChildrenNeedToothDecayPrevention

Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.

Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.

Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.

It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:

  • Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
  • Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
  • Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
  • Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.

Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.

If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”

NotYourGranddadsDentalCaretheNewApproachtoToothDecayTreatment

More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.

You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.

This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.

There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.

In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.

If you would like more information on preventing and treating tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

ActorDavidRamseyDiscussesBabyBottleToothDecay

Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.

“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavi­ties. How did this happen?

Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.

While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods.  Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.

This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”

Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:

  • Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
  • Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
  • Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.

Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.

“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”

If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”