If you wince in pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold, you’re not alone: tooth sensitivity afflicts one in three Americans. To understand what’s possibly going on, let’s look first at tooth anatomy.
Teeth are mainly composed of three layers: an outer protective enamel that covers the upper crown, a middle layer called dentin and an inner pulp. The dentin is composed of small tubules that transmit outer temperature and pressure sensations to nerves in the pulp.
The enamel serves as a “muffler,” damping sensations to protect the nerves from overload. In the root area, the gums and a thin material called cementum covering the roots also help muffle sensation.
But sometimes teeth can lose this muffling effect and the nerves encounter the full brunt of the sensations. The most common reason is gum recession, usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease. The gums have shrunk back or “receded,” and after a short while the cementum covering will also be lost, exposing the dentin in the root area.
Another problem is enamel erosion caused by mouth acid. Chronic high acidity, often caused by bacterial growth or acidic foods and beverages, can dissolve the enamel’s mineral content, causing decay and exposure as well of the underlying dentin.
To avoid future tooth sensitivity, it pays to prevent these two dental problems. The most important thing you can do is practice daily brushing and flossing to reduce bacterial plaque and see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and checkups.
But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you’ll first need an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If it’s related to gum disease, immediate treatment could help stop or even reverse any gum recession. To address enamel erosion, your dentist may be able to protect and strengthen your teeth with sealants and topical fluoride.
There are also things you and your dentist can do to reduce your symptoms. One is for you to use hygiene products with fluoride, which can take the edge off of sensitivity, or potassium, which helps reduce nerve activity. Your dentist can further reduce nerve sensitivity by blocking the tubules with sealants and bonding agents.
Tooth sensitivity is an irritating problem in itself; more importantly, though, it’s often a warning of something else seriously wrong that needs attention. If you’re feeling a little sensitive in the teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
While the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation have contributed to rising cancer survival rates, they can still have an adverse effect on the rest of the body. That includes the mouth: these treatments can damage healthy tissues like the salivary glands. The decrease in saliva flow increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
While overcoming cancer is certainly the patient’s main health priority, it’s important for them to tend to their oral health. The best approach often involves a three-way partnership between patient, dentist and family caregivers all doing their part to keep the patient’s teeth, gums and mouth healthy during cancer treatment.
Here’s what each “partner” can do to protect a cancer patient’s oral health during treatment.
The dentist. To minimize dental disease odds, patients should enter cancer treatment with their teeth and gums in the best shape possible. Before beginning treatment, then, the dentist can assess their oral health status and recommend a treatment plan for any existing disease or condition. The dentist can also monitor a patient’s oral health during the treatment period.
The patient. Patients can do the most to protect their oral health by removing disease-causing plaque buildup with daily brushing and flossing, as well as maintaining their regular schedule of dental cleanings (if possible). They should also attempt to reduce dry mouth, a potential consequence of cancer treatment, by consuming more water and using saliva boosters like Xylitol-sweetened gums and mints. A nutritious diet is also important for protecting oral health.
The caregiver. Many cancer patients depend on family or friends to aid them during treatment. One of the best things a caregiver can do is act as a liaison between the patient and their medical and dental providers. When it comes to oral health, caregivers should be on the alert for any mouth changes including tooth pain, gum swelling or bleeding, foul breath and other signs of disease.
Focusing on oral health can be a daunting challenge for patients during their fight with cancer. But with help from their other partners, they can come out of this fight with their teeth, gums and mouth in good health.
If you would like more information on oral care during cancer 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Vitamins play a key role in your body’s health, including your teeth and gums. A vitamin-deficient diet is an invitation to all sorts of disease.
But what are vitamins? Although they differ individually in what effect they have on the body, they’re all organic compounds found in foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Each in a different way helps with bodily processes.
Vitamin C, for example, helps the body repair tissue. Without it, tissue breaks down easier, as British sailors discovered centuries ago on long sea voyages. Deprived of vitamin C in their diets they soon encountered health issues like bleeding gums. Eating limes — chock full of vitamin C—helped to clear up such problems (and also why they were called “limeys”).
Scientists have discovered thirteen vitamins, four of which—A, D, E and K—are soluble (dissolvable) in fat; the body stores these in the liver and fat tissue where they issue out into the body slowly. The rest—C and eight types of B vitamin—are soluble in water. Unlike the fat-soluble vitamins, these are used quickly and any remaining are excreted from the body.
When it comes to teeth, gums and the mouth, a rich assortment of vitamins helps maintain good oral health. For the teeth especially, vitamin D plays a critical role—it helps the body absorb the mineral calcium necessary for strong bones and teeth. You’ll find this vitamin plentiful in dairy products, but also fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
While vitamins occur naturally in foods, they can be manufactured in the form of dietary supplements. Unfortunately, the world of dietary supplements is a murky one, ungoverned by the restrictions and clinical trials that drugs undergo before they go to market. And, it’s big business: vitamin supplements are promoted as “insurance” for good health.
But while some people have conditions that may require a vitamin supplement, research has shown that most of us can effectively get our vitamins through a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. So, do your teeth and gums (as well as the rest of your body) a favor—eat your fruits and veggies. Along with daily brushing and flossing, getting enough vitamins can go a long way toward keeping your mouth healthy and disease-free.
If you would like more information on nutrition and dental 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 “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements: What Every Consumer Should Know.”
You're doing all the right things helping your child avoid tooth decay: daily brushing and flossing, regular dental visits and a low-sugar diet. But although occurrences are low, they're still getting cavities.
Some children still struggle with tooth decay even with proper dental care. If this is happening to your child, your dentist may be able to give them an extra preventive boost through topical fluoride.
Fluoride has long been recognized as a proven cavity fighter. Often added in small amounts to toothpastes and drinking water, fluoride strengthens tooth enamel against acid attacks that create cavities. With topical fluoride, a dentist applies a varnish, foam or gel containing a more concentrated amount of the chemical directly to the teeth.
The effectiveness of this method in reducing tooth decay is well-founded: A number of scientific studies involving thousands of children and adolescents found an average 28% reduction in occurrences of decay among those who received the treatment compared to those who didn't.
Still, many parents have concerns about the higher fluoride concentrations in topical applications. But even at this greater amount, fluoride doesn't appear to pose any long-term health risks. The most adverse effects—vomiting, headaches or stomach pain—usually occur if a child accidentally ingests too much of the solution during treatment.
Dentists, however, go to great lengths to prevent this by using guards to isolate the solution during an application. And in the case of a foam or gel application, parents can further lower the risk of these unpleasant side effects by not allowing their child to eat or drink for at least thirty minutes after the procedure.
The evidence seems to indicate that the benefits of regular topical fluoride applications for children at high risk outweigh the possible side effects. By adding this measure to your prevention strategy, you can further protect your child from this danger to their current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention for your child, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Pediatricians and dentists alike recommend beginning your child's regular dental visits at an earlier age rather than later. Most say children's first visits should happen around their first birthday.
Some may question whether that's necessary given the state of a child's dental development at that age. At that stage they normally have only a few primary teeth, which will eventually give way to their permanent set soon enough.
But regular dental visits can make a positive difference even at that early age. Here are 3 oral health areas that could benefit from seeing the dentist by Age One.
Protecting primary teeth from decay. It's true that primary teeth don't last long when compared to a normal lifespan. But during their short tenure, they do play a critical role in a child's health and development. Not only do they provide a child dental function for eating, speaking and smiling, they also preserve the space for the permanent teeth that will succeed them. Without them, permanent teeth can erupt out of position to form a poor bite (or malocclusion). That's why early dental care to prevent and treat decay in primary teeth helps them remain for as long as they should.
Detecting developing malocclusions. A malocclusion doesn't form overnight—there can be subtle signs of its development during early childhood. A dentist, especially a pediatric dentist or orthodontist, can often detect those signs before the malocclusion fully develops (one reason why every child should have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6). With early detection, an orthodontist can use interventional techniques that will lessen or even stop a malocclusion from forming. As a result, later orthodontic treatment may not be as extensive—or expensive—as it could have been.
Developing a healthy dentist-patient relationship. Dental anxiety is a real problem for many adults—in some cases it can be so severe they avoid professional dental care altogether. The roots of that dental fear often go back to unpleasant experiences during childhood. Starting dental visits when a child is very young appears to minimize the development of dental anxiety. A young child, especially visiting a "kid-friendly" dental clinic, will more likely view dental care as a routine part of life and will less likely be afraid.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why It's Important for Your Baby.”
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