Brushing and flossing daily, and dental visits at least twice a year: These are the essential things you should be doing to protect your teeth and gums against dental disease. But you're also getting an automatic assist from your body through saliva, that humble fluid swishing around in your mouth, to protect your oral health.
It's more than simply “mouth water”: Without saliva and its various components, your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease would be much higher. Here are 4 ways saliva helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Cleansing. Chewing prepares your food for digestion, but in the process produces tiny particles of food debris. Settling on tooth surfaces, these bits become part of the dental plaque that forms on your teeth and develops the ideal breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps rinse away much of this debris—particularly sugar, the primary food source for bacteria.
Protection. Saliva is the first line defense against disease-causing microorganisms entering the mouth. The primary source of this protection is a protein-based antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which directly fights infection-causing organisms. Another protein in saliva, lactoferrin (also found in tears), interferes with bacterial growth.
Buffering. The main enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid, produced by oral bacteria and the foods that we eat. Saliva neutralizes acid to help the mouth maintain its normally neutral pH range. And it works fast: Saliva can buffer acid and restore balance within thirty minutes to an hour after eating.
Re-mineralization. It's normal for acid to build up after eating, and for it to quickly remove minerals from surface enamel, a process called de-mineralization that can soften and weaken the enamel. But saliva helps restore some of these lost minerals as it's neutralizing acid. This re-mineralization re-strengthens enamel against tooth decay.
Saliva is so important for maintaining a healthy mouth, it's worth your efforts to protect it. Diminished saliva production not only produces an unpleasant dry mouth, it may increase your risk for disease. If this is a constant problem, speak to your dentist about causes and remedies. You'll be doing your teeth and gums a favor.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in maintaining oral health, 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: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Infancy is perhaps the only time in a person's life where a smile with just a few tiny teeth is still endearing. More will come—and then each will gradually depart, succeeded by permanent replacements.
That short lifespan, though, doesn't diminish their importance. Primary teeth not only provide children the ability to eat solid food and develop speech, but they set the stage for future dental health.
The latter arises from primary teeth's role as placeholders for incoming permanent teeth. Because permanent teeth eruption occurs in stages, primary teeth prevent earlier erupted teeth from drifting into the space intended for a later tooth. If they're lost prematurely and other teeth crowd into the space, the intended tooth may not have enough room to erupt properly, cascading from there into a poor bite (malocclusion).
The most common reason for premature loss is an aggressive form of tooth decay in children under 6 called early childhood caries (ECC). About one in four U.S. children encounter ECC, with those in poverty at higher risk. Infection in one tooth can spread to others, including newly erupted permanent teeth.
The goal then is to prevent ECC as much as possible, and initiate prompt treatment should it still occur. A good prevention strategy has two prongs: the actions and habits of parents or caregivers; and the prevention and treatment measures taken by dental providers.
At home, it's important that you wipe your newborn's gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding to reduce bacterial growth. As teeth erupt, switch then to gentle brushing with a rice grain-sized amount of baby toothpaste. You should also limit their sugar consumption, including not allowing them to sleep with a bedtime bottle of any liquid other than water.
It's also important that you start your child's regular dental visits around their first birthday. This allows us to detect any developing cavities, as well as apply sealants and topical fluoride to help prevent decay. And should a cavity develop, regular visits help ensure prompt treatment to preserve the tooth.
Your child's set of primary teeth only last a few short years, but their contribution echoes for a lifetime. Taking these measures to protect them from tooth decay ensures they'll fully make that contribution.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy doesn't require an elaborate plan. It's simple: Besides twice-a-year dental visits, the most important thing you can do is brush and floss every day to remove accumulated dental plaque.
The bacteria that live and breed in this thin biofilm is the main catalyst for both tooth decay and gum disease, the top two diseases that endanger teeth. Brushing and flossing removes this buildup and thus reduces the long-term risk for either disease.
Unfortunately, the message on these important hygiene tasks hasn't resonated with “Millennials,” the first generation to reach adulthood in the 21st Century and new millennium. One recent survey of 2,000 members of this age group found only about 30% brushed their teeth at least once a day, with many skipping the task for two days at a time.
If brushing has taken a beating among millennials, you can well imagine the state of flossing. Unfortunately, the news media has helped this along: Just a few years ago, the Associated Press reported a study that concluded flossing's role as a dental disease deterrent hadn't been proven. A follow-up study a year or two later by the University of North Carolina pushed back on the original AP story with findings of lower risk of tooth loss among flossers than non-flossers.
This decline in oral hygiene practices among millennials has had an unsurprisingly negative effect. Recent statistics indicate that one in three people between the ages of 18 and 34 have some form of untreated tooth decay. As this generation ages this may inevitably result in more extensive dental treatment and higher rates of tooth loss unless the trend toward hit and miss dental care makes a complete U-turn.
The good news is that it may not be too late for many of those slacking on daily care. All that's needed is to heed the same dental advice their grandparents and parents were given: Brush twice and floss once every day.
No matter what your age, consistent daily brushing and flossing still remains essential to keeping potential dental disease at bay. These twin hygiene tasks remain the solution to good dental health throughout your life.
Do you remember when one of your baby teeth began to wiggle? You knew it wouldn't be long before it came out, followed by a little something from the “tooth fairy” under your pillow.
Those were the days! But a loose permanent tooth is something else entirely: Often a sign of advanced periodontal (gum) disease, you may be on the verge of losing the tooth forever.
This sad affair begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm found on tooth surfaces and the ideal haven for oral bacteria that can trigger a gum infection. You might not notice such an infection in its early stages, other than a few initial signs like gum redness, swelling, or bleeding. If these occur, it's imperative you seek treatment promptly.
Without treatment, the infection can spread below the gum line, weakening gum attachments to teeth (which actually hold teeth in place) and eventually doing the same to underlying bone. All of this damage can lead to a tooth becoming loose and eventually falling out.
But it's not inevitable a loose tooth will eventually be lost, though it may require long-term efforts to save it. We may first need to do a bite adjustment, which will often allow a tooth to decrease its mobility. If the mobility has not been reduced enough, we may recommend stabilizing the teeth through splinting: These are techniques used to join the loose tooth to more stable teeth, usually with a thin strip of metal or other dental material.
We'll also need to treat the underlying cause, which in the case of gum disease requires aggressive plaque removal. Our goal is to manually remove all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) deposits, particularly below the gum line. It may also require surgery to fully access deep pockets of infection. But once we remove the offending plaque, the gums can begin to heal.
The best strategy, though, is to avoid gum disease altogether. You can substantially lower your infection risk by brushing and flossing daily and getting a dental cleaning every six months. Dental visits also allow us to check your gums for any signs of infection that might require prompt action.
A loose tooth for a kid is a cause for celebration. It's the exact opposite for an adult loose tooth. Taking care of your gums with daily hygiene and receiving prompt treatment for any emerging infection could help you avoid it.
If you would like more information on treating gum 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”