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.
One of the keys to a healthy mouth is daily oral hygiene. These tasks have one objective: remove plaque, a thin film of bacteria and leftover food particles, from tooth surfaces. Plaque fosters bacterial growth that can cause diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Brushing does an effective job removing plaque from the broad surfaces of teeth. But because plaque can also grow between teeth where your brush can’t reach, you also need to floss.
Unfortunately, flossing is a lot of people’s least favorite hygiene task. It can be time-consuming and requires a little more dexterity than brushing. As a result, it’s common for people to brush but not floss — and potentially miss plaque that could trigger dental disease.
There is an easier alternative to traditional string flossing: an oral irrigator. These countertop appliances deliver a stream of pulsating water at high pressure through a handheld device that looks similar to a power toothbrush. The user directs the water stream through the nozzle tip (which comes in various sizes) between the teeth. The water vibrates plaque loose and then rinses it away.
Besides people with limited dexterity, water flossers are also ideal for individuals wearing braces or other orthodontic hardware. Because of the metal hardware on and around teeth, flossing can be an arduous task. An oral irrigator makes it easier to floss and reduce plaque buildup, a perennial problem for orthodontic patients. In fact, one study of orthodontic patients found that using an irrigator with a tip especially designed for braces removed five times as much plaque as patients using only a manual toothbrush.
Of course, anyone can use an oral irrigator as an alternative to traditional flossing. Your dentist and staff can advise you on what to look for in equipment and provide instruction on how to use it. If traditional flossing isn’t your thing, consider an oral irrigator to get rid of plaque and keep your teeth and gums healthy and attractive.
If you would like more information on oral irrigation to remove daily plaque, 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 “Cleaning between Your Teeth: How Water Flossing can help.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Oral appliances run the gamut from night guards and retainers to full or partial dentures. Millions of people depend on them for restoring or maintaining dental health.
Today's user-friendly appliances reflect the latest advances in technology. But that doesn't mean you can simply "place them and forget them." Their longevity depends on taking care of them.
The most important aspect of appliance care is keeping them clean. Although bacteria have no effect on an appliance's materials, they can accumulate on its surfaces and raise the risk your natural teeth and gums will be infected. To reduce that risk you should clean your appliance every day.
The best way is with a countertop ultrasonic cleaner. These units emit high frequency sound vibrations that loosen plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles) from even the appliance's tiniest crevices. Most units cost between $40 and $60, and pose less of a scratching risk to the appliance's surfaces than manual cleaning.
If you'd prefer to use a brush, there are some dos and don'ts to follow. You can use a cleaner especially designed for your appliance, but less expensive mild dish detergent or hand soap (with an antibacterial agent) will work too. Don't use toothpaste — most contain an abrasive ingredient for removing plaque from enamel that could leave microscopic scratches on your appliance. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush (but not the one you use for your natural teeth) or one designed for your appliance.
While boiling kills bacteria, the high heat can soften and warp the plastic material in an appliance. This could alter how the appliance fits in your mouth, making them loose and uncomfortable to wear. You should also avoid bleach: it can whiten acrylic or nylon designed to mimic the red color of real gum tissue.
Unless we've advised you otherwise, don't wear the appliance around the clock, a practice that raises the chances of bacterial accumulation. And be sure you also brush and floss your natural teeth every day.
Keeping both your mouth and your appliance clean helps ensure the best oral health possible — and that your appliance will last longer.
As dentists, we often see other mouth problems besides those with teeth and gums. One of the most common is cracking around the corners of the mouth. Although usually not serious, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Medically known as angular cheilitis (literally “an inflammation of the angles of the lip”), it’s also called perleche, derived from the French lecher, “to lick.” The latter moniker aptly describes the tendency of sufferers to compulsively lick the sores to relieve irritation, which actually can make things worse.
Perleche has a number of possible causes, mostly from in or around the mouth (although systemic diseases or medications can cause it on rare occasions). It’s often found among younger people who drool during sleep or older people with deep wrinkles along the sides of the mouth that increase the chances of dryness and cracking. Long-term wind or cold exposure, ill-fitting dentures or a lack of back teeth (which help support facial structure) may also contribute to the condition.
Patients with perleche can also develop yeast infections from a strain called candida albicans. The infection can spread through the whole mouth, significantly increasing the chances of physical discomfort.
Treating perleche often involves topical ointments with inflammation-reducing steroids and zinc oxide, which has antifungal properties, to provide an environmental barrier during the healing process. If a yeast infection occurs, we may treat it with oral or topical antifungal medication like Nystatin for the whole mouth and chlorhexidine rinses, which has antibacterial properties.
It also helps to adopt a few preventive measures that can minimize the occurrence of perleche. If you wear dentures, for example, cleaning them often (including, if necessary, with chlorhexidine) and leaving them out at night reduces bacterial and fungal growth. We can also see if your dentures are fitting properly. Replacing missing teeth provides better facial support and could minimize wrinkling around the mouth. And, of course, keeping up daily brushing and flossing helps ensure a healthy and disease-free mouth.
If you’re experiencing cracked mouth corners, let us know at your next appointment. With our help and of other medical professionals we may be able to give you relief from this irritating condition.
If you would like more information on gaining relief from angular cheilitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
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