One of the key parts to an effective oral disease prevention plan is practicing daily oral hygiene to remove dental plaque. Both brushing and flossing are necessary for cleaning your teeth of this thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
But as important as they are, these two essential hygiene tasks aren’t the end-all-be-all for lowering your disease risk. For the best protection, you should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for thorough dental cleanings. That’s because plaque you might have missed can turn into something much more difficult to remove: calculus.
Also known as tartar, calculus is hardened deposits of plaque. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “small stone,” an apt description of its texture on tooth surfaces. Although not the same as the branch of mathematics that bears the same name, both derive from the same Latin word: Merchants and traders centuries ago used small stones to “calculate” their various transactions.
Over time soft and pliable dental plaque hardens into calculus, in part due to a reaction with saliva. Because of the difficulty of accessing all tooth surfaces, calculus can form even if you have an effective daily hygiene practice.
Once formed, calculus can adhere to teeth so tenaciously, it’s impossible to remove it with brushing and flossing. But dentists and hygienists can remove calculus safely with special tools called scalers.
And it should be removed or it will continue to foster bacterial growth. This in turn increases the chances for infections that attack the teeth, gums or underlying bone. Keeping it under control will therefore diminish your risk for developing dental disease.
Although there are other factors like heredity that can affect your disease risk, keeping your mouth clean is the number one thing you can do to protect your teeth and gums. A daily hygiene practice and regular dental visits will help ensure plaque and its calcified form calculus won’t be a problem.
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
The internet has transformed how we get information. Where you once needed to find an encyclopedia, telephone directory or library, you can now turn to your handy smartphone or tablet for the same information.
But this convenience has a dark side: A lot of material online hasn’t undergone the rigorous proofreading and editing published references of yesteryear once required. It’s much easier now to encounter misinformation—and accepting some of it as true could harm your health. To paraphrase the old warning to buyers: “Viewer beware.”
You may already have encountered one such example of online misinformation: the notion that undergoing a root canal treatment causes cancer. While it may sound like the figment of some prankster’s imagination, the idea actually has a historical basis.
In the early 20th Century, a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a dead anatomical part in the body led to disease or major health problems. In Price’s view, this included a tooth that had undergone a root canal treatment: With the vital pulp removed, the tooth was, in his view, “dead.”
Price amassed enough of a following that the American Dental Association rigorously investigated his claims in the 1950s and found them thoroughly wanting. For good measure, a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery) published a study in 2013 finding that not only did canal treatments not increase cancer, but they might even be responsible for decreasing the risk by as much as forty-five percent.
Here’s one sure fact about root canal treatments—they can save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Once decay has infiltrated the inner pulp of a tooth, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads through the root canals to the bone. Removing the infected pulp tissue and filling the resulting empty space and root canals gives the tooth a new lease on life.
So, be careful with health advice promoted on the internet. Instead, talk to a real authority on dental care, your dentist. If they propose a root canal treatment for you, they have your best health interest—dental and general—at heart.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Safety: The Truth About Endodontic Treatment and Your Health.”
It’s July—and that means it’s National Park and Recreation Month! If you’re like a lot of families, you might already be planning a trip to one of the nation’s 58 national parks, or one of the thousands of state outdoor recreational areas across the country.
Temporarily escaping the stresses of daily life in the great outdoors is a wonderful way to refresh both the soul and the body. But that’s not an excuse to neglect all your responsibilities. That includes making provisions to care for your teeth while you’re away from home—you are bringing them with you, aren’t you?
Here are three ways you can take care of your teeth during your outdoor getaway.
Keep up your daily hygiene. While you’re packing extra socks, granola and moleskin, be sure to include your toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. Just a few days of neglecting your regular oral hygiene can give bacterial plaque a chance to build up. You could even come back from your trip with the beginnings of gingivitis, an early form of gum disease. If you’re trying to pack light, take along travel-size toothpaste tubes or pre-threaded floss picks to make it easier.
Eat dental-friendly snacks and food. Escaping your usual dietary choices doesn’t mean you should take a vacation from good nutrition. Whether you’re in camp or on the trail, eat whole fruits, grains or cheeses, and avoid snacks and foods with added sugar that feeds disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. The same goes for beverages—keep your intake of sodas and sports or energy drinks (all loaded with added sugar and acid) to a bare minimum. Instead, hydrate with water.
Be prepared for emergencies. Exploration through hiking, canoeing and other physical activities is a great part of the outdoor park experience. But it also increases your risk of injury, especially in rough terrain. Before you head out, take some time to research medical and dental resources near your vacation destination in case you or a family member will need immediate care. Having that information handy can save time in the event of an emergency.
An outdoor park trip can be the experience of a lifetime. Just be sure to follow these simple tips to care for and protect your teeth. Doing so will help ensure that your memories of this summer’s outing will be pleasant ones.
If you would like more information about caring for your dental health at home or away, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
Tooth decay is a destructive oral disease, which along with periodontal (gum) disease is most responsible for tooth loss. And as you age, your disease risk goes up.
One form of decay older people often experience is root cavities. Unlike those occurring in the visible crown, root cavities often occur below the gum line and are especially destructive to tooth structure.
That's because, unlike the crown protected by ultra-hard enamel, the roots are covered by a thin, mineralized material called cementum. Although cementum offers some protection, it can't compare with the decay-resistant capacity of enamel.
The roots also depend on gum coverage for protection. But unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or recede, usually due to gum disease or over-aggressive brushing, and expose some of the root surface. With only the cementum to protect them, the roots can become highly susceptible to decay. If a cavity forms here, it can rapidly advance into the tooth's interior, the pulp, weakening the tooth and increasing its risk of loss.
To stop the decay, we must treat root cavities much like we do with crown cavities: by removing any decayed structure and then filling the cavity. But root cavities are often more difficult to access depending on how far below the gum line they extend. We may need to perform minor gum surgery to expose the cavity to treat it.
But as with any form of tooth decay, the best strategy is to prevent root cavities in the first place. Your first line of defense is a daily hygiene habit of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque, the main cause for tooth decay. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year (or more, if recommended) for more thorough cleanings and checkups. Your dentist can also recommend or prescribe preventive rinses, or apply fluoride to at-risk tooth surfaces to strengthen them.
You should also be on the lookout for any signs of gum disease. If you see swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist as soon as possible. Stopping possible gum recession will further reduce your risk of root cavities.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay Near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
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