Over the last century effectively treating a decayed tooth has often required removing any decayed structure with drilling and then filling the remaining cavity. While this approach does save teeth that might otherwise be lost, it can also result in a fair amount of healthy structure removed in the process.
But continuing advances in dentistry are now making possible a new approach to tooth decay treatment that preserves as much of the healthy portions of tooth as possible. This new way is often referred to as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
The primary goal of MID treatment is to intercept and treat decay as early as possible to minimize tooth damage. It begins with helping patients identify their own individual risk factors for decay such as the presence of disease-causing bacteria, the adequacy of their saliva flow, or their lifestyle and dietary habits. We then recommend changes or preventive measures to reduce those risks.
The next step in MID is using various diagnostic technologies to find decay as early as possible. X-rays continue to play a major role, but dentists are also using dental microscopy to magnify the earliest forms of decay. Many also utilize laser fluorescence, infrared photography and optical scanning to further “see” decay difficult to detect with the naked eye.
In regard to treatments, MID adopts the adage “less is more.” If caught early enough, we can encourage the re-mineralization of enamel that acid has eroded with CPP-ACP, a substance acquired from milk, or strengthen teeth with topical fluoride applications. Instead of the dental drill, many dentists now turn to air abrasion for decay removal, equipment that emits a fine stream of abrasive particles that harms less healthy structure than a drill.
And if lasers continue to develop at their current pace, we’ll be able to use this technology to perform much more precise decay treatment than possible with manual instruments. As a result, we’ll be able to treat decayed teeth with less invasive means to preserve as much healthy structure as possible.
As these and other developments continue, MID promises a bright future for preventing and treating tooth decay. As a result, there’ll be less tooth structure loss and more attractive and healthy smiles.
If you would like more information on the latest techniques for treating 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
We’ve waged war for decades against tooth decay through oral hygiene and the increasing use of fluoride, nature’s “super weapon” against this disease. And yet, tooth decay remains a significant health problem.
One major reason is refined sugar found in many processed foods. In the 1970s researchers raised concerns about the fat content of many processed foods, so manufacturers began removing fat from their products — along with much of the flavor. To compensate, they added sugar. Today, three-quarters of approximately 600,000 food products contain sugar.
This has increased average individual consumption to 90 pounds of sugar annually. The World Health Organization says we should consume no more than 20 pounds annually, or about 6 teaspoons a day. A single can of soda contains 4 teaspoons, two-thirds of the daily allowance.
High sugar consumption is an obvious threat to dental health: decay-causing bacteria thrive on it. But the trend has also been linked to serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Hopefully, changes in public policy will one day modify the addition of sugar in processed foods. In the meantime, you can take action for yourself and your family to create a more healthy relationship with this popular carbohydrate.
Shop wisely. Learn to read and understand food labels: steer clear of those containing sugar or large numbers of ingredients. Become acquainted with sugar’s many other “names” like corn syrup or evaporated cane juice. And maximize your shopping on a store’s outer perimeters where you’ll find fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products, rather than the middle aisles with “boxed” processed items.
Avoid sugar-added drinks. Limit consumption of sodas, sports drinks, sweet teas or even juice to avoid added sugar. Make water or sugar-free beverages your go-to drinks. It’s much better to eat sugar naturally found in fresh fruits and vegetables, where fiber helps slow it’s absorption in the body, than to drink it.
Exercise. Depending on your condition, physical exertion is good for your overall health. It’s especially beneficial for your body’s ability to metabolize sugar. So with your doctor’s advice, exert your body every day.
It’s important to engender a proper relationship with sugar — a little can go a long way. Putting sugar in its rightful place can help you avoid tooth decay and increase your chances of greater overall health.
If you would like more information on sugar’s impact on dental and general 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 “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
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.
For over a century dentists treated tooth decay by removing both diseased portions of the tooth and healthy structure deemed at risk for future decay. In the 1970s, though, a new approach emerged, known as Minimally Invasive Dentistry (MID). This practice protocol attempts to preserve as much of the healthy structure as possible.
Before MID, dentists followed a decay treatment protocol developed in the 19th Century. A part of this became known as extension for prevention calling for dentists to remove healthy structure considered vulnerable to decay. Besides reducing the tooth's volume, this practice also resulted in, by today's standards, larger than necessary fillings.
It was thought that removing this additional material would make it easier to clean bacterial plaque, the source of decay, but later, research showed the practice couldn't guarantee the teeth wouldn't be reinfected.
Since then we've learned a lot more about teeth and have developed new ways to detect decay at earlier stages. X-ray imaging, for example, has transitioned largely from film to digital technology, providing more detailed images at greater magnification. This, along with laser fluorescence and infrared cameras, has made it easier to detect the first tiny stages of decay.
We can also limit tooth decay damage by boosting enamel strength with fluoride applications and sealants or reducing decay-causing bacteria with anti-bacterial rinses. We've also seen advancement in techniques like air abrasion that remove decayed tooth material while leaving more healthy structure intact better than using a traditional dental drill.
Restoring teeth after treatment has also improved. While dental metal amalgam is still used for some fillings, the main choice is now composite resin. These new tooth-colored dental materials require less tooth preparation (and thus less material loss) and bond well to the remaining structure, resulting in a stronger tooth.
Following a MID protocol leads to less intervention and less time in the dentist's chair. It also means preserving more of a natural tooth, an important aim in promoting long-lasting dental health.
Protecting a child's primary (“baby”) teeth from tooth decay should be a top priority. If one is lost prematurely due to decay, it could cause the permanent tooth to misalign when it comes in.
The basic prevention strategy for every child is daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. But children at higher risk for decay may need more: Â additional fluoride applied to teeth enamel during office visits.
This natural mineral has been shown to strengthen enamel, teeth's protective layer against decay, especially during its early development. Enamel is composed of calcium and phosphate minerals interwoven to form a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite. Fluoride joins with this structure and changes it to fluorapatite, which is more resistant to mouth acid than the original structure.
We mostly receive fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and dental care products like toothpaste. Topical fluoride takes it a step further with a stronger dose than found in either of these sources. It can be applied with a foam, varnish or gel using an isolation tray (foam or gel) or painted onto the enamel (varnish or gel).
But does topical fluoride effectively reduce the occurrence of decay? Research indicates yes: a recent review of 28 studies involving over 9,000 children found an average 28% reduction in decayed teeth in children who underwent topical fluoride treatments.
There is, though, one potential side effect: children who swallow the fluoride substance can become sick and experience headache, stomach pain or vomiting. This can be avoided with proper precautions when applying it; the American Dental Association also recommends using only varnish for children younger than 6 years. It's also recommended that children receiving gel or foam not eat or drink at least thirty minutes after the treatment (those who receive the varnish aren't restricted in this way).
Topical fluoride is most effective as part of an overall prevention strategy. Besides daily hygiene and regular dental visits, you can also help reduce your child's decay risk by limiting the amount of sugar in their diet. Sealants, which are applied to the nooks and grooves of teeth where plaque can build up, may also help.