Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
Pain can tell you things. Not verbally, of course, as in, “Hey, your appendix is inflamed!” But the quality of your pain—dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, acute or general—can point the way to the actual problem.
That's especially true of tooth pain, which could signal any number of dental problems. Looking at its characteristics, though, can narrow the search. Here are a few examples.
Sharp, momentary pain. This could be an indication of a number of possible dental problems. If it occurs for a few seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold, it might signal a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling or early signs of gum recession. The latter could be a symptom of periodontal (gum) disease, so you should seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Sharp pain when biting. Like tooth sensitivity, this could be a sign of decay or a loose filling, or it could indicate a fractured (cracked) tooth. If it's the latter, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth problems, if you want the best chance for saving the tooth.
Dull ache in upper teeth. This might not be a dental problem at all, but radiating pain from an infection of the sinus just above the upper posterior teeth. The infection could also have begun with one of the molar teeth and advanced into the sinus. You'll need to see your dentist for any teeth or gums involved and possibly a physician to address any potential sinus infection.
Constant throbbing pain. That horrible toothache that won't stop could be the nerves in the tooth's interior under attack from decay. The primary means for saving a tooth with deep decay is a root canal treatment to clean out diseased tissue and replace it with a filling or a crown. You should see a dentist even if the pain suddenly subsides—this may only mean the nerves have died, but the infection is still active.
These are just a few of the problems, including true dental emergencies, that oral pain can signal. For any instance of pain in your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it might indicate, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
We Americans love our sports, whether as participants or spectators. But there's also a downside to contact sports like soccer, football or basketball: a higher risk of injury, particularly to the mouth and face. One of the most severe of these is a knocked out tooth.
Fortunately, that doesn't necessarily mean it's lost: The tooth can be reinserted into the empty socket and eventually return to normal functionality. But it must be done as soon as possible after injury. The more time elapses, the lower the chances of long-term survival.
That's because of how teeth are held in place in the jaw, secured by an elastic, fibrous tissue known as the periodontal ligament. When a tooth is knocked out some of the ligament's periodontal cells remain on the tooth's root. If these cells are alive when the tooth is reinserted, they can regenerate and reestablish attachment between the ligament and the tooth.
Eventually, though, the cells can dry out and die. If that has already happened before reinsertion, the tooth's root will fuse instead with the underlying bone. The tooth may survive for a short time, but its roots can eventually dissolve and the tooth will be lost.
Your window of opportunity for taking advantage of these live periodontal cells is only 5-20 minutes with the best chances in those earlier minutes. You should, therefore, take these steps immediately after an injury:
- Find the tooth, hold it by the crown (not the root end), and rinse off any debris with clean water;
- Reinsert the root end into the empty socket with firm pressure;
- Place clean gauze or cloth in the person's mouth between the tooth and the other jaw, and ask them to bite down gently and hold their bite;
- Seek dental or emergency medical care immediately;
- If you're unable to reinsert the tooth, place it quickly in a container with milk and see a dentist immediately.
You can also obtain an Android or IOS smartphone app developed by the International Association of Dental Traumatology called ToothSOS, which will guide you through this process, as well as for other dental emergencies. The quicker you act, the better the chances that the injured person's knocked out tooth can be rescued.
If you would like more information on what to do in a dental emergency, 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 “When a Tooth is Knocked Out.”
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, when we call attention to the importance of keeping those pearly whites clean. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, protect your teeth and gums from dental disease. It might also lessen the risk or severity of heart disease, arthritis—or even dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Sound far-fetched? A number of years ago, researchers noticed that people with periodontal (gum) disease were also more prone to systemic conditions like chronic heart and lung diseases, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. The common thread: inflammation, the body's response to infection or trauma.
Inflammation in and of itself is a necessary part of the healing process. But if it becomes chronic, as it often does with a gum infection and these other systemic diseases, this defensive response meant to aid healing can instead damage tissues.
We've also learned that inflammation arising from gum disease may worsen inflammation associated with other systemic conditions. It can work the other way as well: If you have an inflammatory disease, your risk for gum disease goes up and any gum infection can be more acute.
What we've learned recently, though, might be even more concerning: Results from a recent study are showing some evidence of a link between gum disease and dementia and decline in cognitive ability. The study, published in the journal Neurology this past July, followed approximately 8,000 Americans for twenty years. Participants came from a variety of locations and demographic subsets, and were on average in their early sixties with no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study.
Of the participants who completed the study, about 19% had developed dementia. Of these participants, those with severe gum disease and tooth loss were slightly more likely to have dementia than subjects with healthy teeth and gums.
At the very least, these studies raise more questions about the connections between oral and general health, calling for further exploration. One thing's for sure, though—healthy teeth and gums play an important role in the overall quality of life and health. The time and effort required for the following are well worth it to maintain a healthy mouth.
- Brush and floss your teeth every day without fail;
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings;
- Eat a “tooth-friendly” diet low in sugar and rich in vitamins and minerals (especially calcium);
- See your dentist as soon as possible if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
We all want to stay fit and active throughout our senior years. Taking care of your teeth and gums—especially with daily oral hygiene—is a key part of the formula for a long and happy life.
If you would like more information about the importance of dental hygiene to overall health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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