Posts for: July, 2021
Although we've known for some time how tooth decay forms, it's still prevalent across the population—even more so than cancer or heart disease. Along with gum disease, it's a leading cause of tooth loss.
Fortunately, our knowledge about tooth decay has grown considerably, to the point that we now recognize a number of risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop this disease. By first identifying them in individual patients, we can take steps to address them specifically to reduce the chances of this destructive disease.
Genetics. Researchers have identified around 40 to 50 genes that can influence cavity development. The best way to assess your genetic risk is through family history—if numerous close family members contend with tooth decay, your risk may be high. If so, it's important to be extra vigilant with addressing other areas over which you have more control.
Saliva. Cavities are directly caused by oral acid, a byproduct of bacteria, that can erode tooth enamel over prolonged contact. This is minimized, though, through a normal saliva flow that neutralizes acid and helps remineralize enamel. But poor saliva production can slow acid neutralization. You can improve your saliva flow by drinking more water, changing medications or using saliva-boosting products.
Oral hygiene. You can reduce bacteria (and thus acid) by removing their "room and board"—dental plaque. This accumulating film of food particles harbors the bacteria that feed on it. Daily brushing and flossing, accompanied by regular dental cleanings, effectively removes dental plaque, which in turn lowers the levels of oral bacteria and acid.
Dental-friendly diet. Even if you diligently address the previous risk factors, your diet may fight against your efforts. Diets high in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, provide abundant food sources for bacteria. On the other hand, a diet primarily of whole foods rich in vitamins (especially D) and minerals like calcium and phosphorous strengthen teeth against decay.
Preventing tooth decay isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach. By identifying your own particular risk, we can craft a care strategy that can be your best defense against this destructive dental disease.
Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.
Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.
Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.
But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.
As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.
In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.
As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.
Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Lichen Planus.”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms 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.”