Gum disease (gingivitis) and tooth decay are primarily caused by dental plaque. Dental plaque is a whitish, sticky film that accumulates daily along the gumline and on the surfaces of your teeth. Composed of bacteria, it is controllable through good oral hygiene habits — most importantly, effective brushing.
Controlling plaque and preventing gingivitis and tooth decay will make it more likely that you keep your teeth through your lifetime and will also improve your general health. Scientific studies have linked gum disease and diseases of the heart and circulatory system.
“I know how to brush my teeth. I've been doing it since I was a toddler,” you may be saying. But you may not be performing this daily ritual in the most effective way.
Let's take another look at tooth brushing. First, your grip: Hold the brush in your fingertips with a light pressure. Position the brush so the bristles are at a 45 degree angle to your gumline, and then brush with a gentle scrubbing motion. Donât scrub too hard, or you may damage your sensitive gum tissue.
Some electric brushes can remove plaque more quickly than a regular hand-held brush, but if you brush well any kind of brush works. A brush will last several months. Get a new one when the bristles become worn or splayed out.
Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. When used consistently, fluoride toothpastes make your teeth more resistant to decay. Spit out the toothpaste after brushing, but don't rinse or you will wash the fluoride away.
After brushing, complete your cleaning job by using floss to clean between your teeth where the brush does not reach. Wrap it in a “C” shape around each tooth and move it vertically up and down, removing plaque from the tooth surfaces where your teeth meet. You can also use an antibacterial mouth rinse.
Thoroughly clean your teeth at least once a day, brushing and flossing. A plaque film takes 12 to 24 hours to form itself again.
To be certain you are brushing correctly, ask our office or one of our hygienists to demonstrate brushing techniques for you in your own mouth. You can also assess the quality of your brushing technique by checking with your tongue after brushing to make sure your tooth surfaces feel smooth and slick. Your gums should not bleed after brushing. Bleeding is a sign of infection. If you have a habit of consistent brushing but your gums continue to bleed, it's time for a visit to our office.
Did you know that the bacteria that cause tooth decay are usually transmitted to children from their parents, through sharing the same spoon or kissing? Once inside the child's mouth, the bacteria live on the teeth in what is called a biofilm. When the child consumes sugary foods or drinks, the bacteria act upon the sugar to produce acids that eat away at the child's teeth, producing tooth decay.
These bacteria thrive on carbohydrates such as bread, sweets, and sodas. Even fruit juices, which offer more vitamins than soda, are filled with sugars that lead to decay. The child's saliva works hard to neutralize the acidity produced from these foods, but if the child often snacks between meals this neutralization process doesnât have a chance to occur.
The first sign of decay may be white spots on the teeth, an indication that minerals in the surface enamel have been dissolved in certain locations. Before it goes any farther, this process can be reversed by reducing the exposure to acids and using fluorides to strengthen the tooth surface.
Make sure your child sees a dentist by his first birthday, to provide preventive care and treat any beginning decay.
You can also help your child develop the habit of brushing his teeth with fluoridated toothpaste. It is important to use only a smear of toothpaste on the brush for very young children, and a pea-sized amount on the brush for children over the age of 2. Sometimes small children swallow their toothpaste, and excessive amounts of fluoride can cause staining on the teeth. When your children are very young, you must brush their teeth. As they get older, they can do it themselves, with your supervision. We can also apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the tooth surface and make it resistant to acids.
Brushing twice a day is a good start. But it can't prevent tooth decay when a child is eating carbohydrates all day. One way to reduce the use of sugar is to use xylitol, a naturally occurring sweetener that looks and tastes like table sugar and improves oral health. Studies have shown that use of this sweetener reduces tooth decay in children.
Another good idea is to wean children from bottles and training cups as early as possible. Sometimes children are given bottles filled with milk or sugary beverages at bedtime to help them relax. A better idea for their teeth is to teach them to drink from a regular cup filled with milk — or preferably, with water.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about tooth decay in children. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Managing Tooth Decay In Children With Chronic Diseases.” While this article focuses on children with health challenges, it contains excellent advice to help all children prevent tooth decay.
The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia (“xero” – dry; “stomia” – mouth), something that many of us have experienced at some point in life. However, for some people it can be a chronic condition that is ideal for promoting tooth decay. It can also be a warning sign of a more serious health condition.
Dry mouth occurs when there is an insufficient flow of saliva, the fluid secreted by the salivary glands. Your major salivary glands are located in two places: inside the checks by the back top molars and in the floor of the mouth, with about six hundred tiny glands scattered throughout your mouth. And many people are surprised to learn that when they are functioning normally, saliva glands secret between two and four pints of saliva per day! While this may sound like a lot (and it is), saliva is key for buffering or neutralizing acids in the mouth. Without this powerful protection, tooth decay can increase quickly. This is especially true for older individuals who have exposed tooth root surfaces.
It is also important to note that there are times when mouth dryness is perfectly normal. For example, when you wake, you will probably have a slightly dry mouth because saliva flow slows at night. Another example is if you are dehydrated when it is simply a warning sign that you need to drink more fluids (especially water). Other causes for temporary dry mouth include stress as well as what you consume: coffee, alcohol, onions, and certain spices.
You can also have a dry mouth due to a side effect from an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. If it turns out that this is the cause in your case, you need to talk to the prescribing physician to see if there is something else you can take to avoid this side effect. If there are no substitutes, one tip you can try is to take several sips of water before taking the medication followed by a full glass of water, or chew gum containing xylitol, which moistens your mouth and decreases the risk of tooth decay.
Another cause of dry mouth is radiation treatment for cancer in the head and neck region. Yes, these treatments are crucial for fighting cancer; however, they can inflame, damage or destroy salivary glands. You can also have dry mouth from certain systemic (general body) or autoimmune (“auto” – self; “immune” – resistance system) diseases, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cystic fibrosis and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
Guidelines regarding the concentration of fluoride in water have recently been changed by the US Government's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These agencies recommended a reduction of fluoride in water supplies to 0.7mg/L, modifying the original recommendations provided in 1962 by the US Public Health Service.
What is fluoride, and why add it to water supplies?
Fluoride is a chemical form of fluorine, a naturally occurring element. For decades, scientists have carried out studies on the effects of fluoride in water, and they have proved that fluoride strengthens tooth surfaces and makes them resistant to decay. A fluoride concentration of about one milligram per liter (1 mg/L), or 1 part per million (1ppm), in the water supply is associated with substantially fewer cavities. This concentration of fluoride (equivalent to a grain of salt in a gallon of water) has been found to have no negative health effects.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that fluoridated water is one of the ten most effective public health measures of the 20th Century. The optimal amount of fluoride necessary to make teeth resistant to decay turns out to be between 0.7 and 1.20 milligrams per liter (mg/L). A certain amount of fluoride occurs naturally in water supplies, and communities have added fluoride to bring the amount up to the optimal recommendations.
How does fluoride you drink get into your teeth?
The fluoride you drink in your water is deposited in your bones. Bone is an active living substance that is constantly broken down and rebuilt as a normal body process. As this happens the fluoride is released into the blood, from which it can enter the saliva and act on the tooth surface.
What about fluoride from other sources?
Americans now have access to many sources of fluoride in addition to the water they drink. These include foods, beverages and toothpaste. As a result, dentists have begun to notice an increased prevalence of a condition known as Dental Fluorosis.
What is Dental Fluorosis?
Dental Fluorosis can occur when teeth, particularly in children, receive too much fluoride. This condition is a mottling or uneven staining of the tooth surface enamel. There may be small white spots or extensive brownish discolorations. The mottled enamel is still resistant to decay, but it may be unattractive in appearance.
What is the idea behind the new guidelines?
With the new guidelines, fluoride is kept at the lower end of the scale of the optimal concentration for strengthening teeth against decay. At this end, there is room to add consumption of fluoride from other sources such as foods or toothpaste. In short, it is the best of both worlds.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about fluoride. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry” and “New Fluoride Recommendations.”