While your teeth and gums can take a lot, they still face dangers like dental disease. Your teeth are also affected by aging-related wear and tear.
And, something else could put your teeth at risk: teeth grinding. This is an involuntary habit afflicting one in ten adults in which they grind or clench their teeth, often while they’re asleep. This generates higher than normal biting forces that can cause sore jaw joints, accelerated teeth wear and damage to the ligaments that hold teeth in place. In the worst case, you could eventually lose teeth.
So how do you know you’re grinding your teeth, especially if you’re asleep? You might notice your jaw being unusually sore after you wake up or your jaw muscles feel tired. Your dentist may also notice higher than normal tooth wear during a regular checkup. One of the best indicators, though, might be your sleeping partner or family: Teeth gnashing together can be loud enough to disturb others’ sleep.
In treating adult teeth grinding, it’s best to first determine the underlying cause. One of the most prominent reasons is chronic stress: If you’re under high pressure from situations at work or at home, pent-up stress can vent through physical outlets like teeth grinding. You can manage high stress through relaxation techniques, biofeedback or group therapy, which could in turn reduce teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding could also be related to a sleep disorder, such as problems with shifting between nightly sleep cycles. Certain psychoactive drugs are often associated with teeth grinding too. And, because of alterations in brain chemistry, tobacco users are twice as likely to grind their teeth as non-users. So, receiving treatment for a medical condition or making certain lifestyle changes could help lessen a grinding habit.
Many of these approaches take time to alleviate teeth grinding. For immediate relief, your dentist can create a custom mouthguard you wear while you sleep to reduce the effects of teeth grinding. The guard prevents the upper and lower teeth from making contact while biting down, which reduces the forces against them.
The damage from teeth grinding is often cumulative. If diagnosed early, though, we may be able to stop or minimize the damage before it goes too far.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding.”
Tooth decay is a destructive oral disease, which along with periodontal (gum) disease is most responsible for tooth loss. And as you age, your disease risk goes up.
One form of decay older people often experience is root cavities. Unlike those occurring in the visible crown, root cavities often occur below the gum line and are especially destructive to tooth structure.
That's because, unlike the crown protected by ultra-hard enamel, the roots are covered by a thin, mineralized material called cementum. Although cementum offers some protection, it can't compare with the decay-resistant capacity of enamel.
The roots also depend on gum coverage for protection. But unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or recede, usually due to gum disease or over-aggressive brushing, and expose some of the root surface. With only the cementum to protect them, the roots can become highly susceptible to decay. If a cavity forms here, it can rapidly advance into the tooth's interior, the pulp, weakening the tooth and increasing its risk of loss.
To stop the decay, we must treat root cavities much like we do with crown cavities: by removing any decayed structure and then filling the cavity. But root cavities are often more difficult to access depending on how far below the gum line they extend. We may need to perform minor gum surgery to expose the cavity to treat it.
But as with any form of tooth decay, the best strategy is to prevent root cavities in the first place. Your first line of defense is a daily hygiene habit of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque, the main cause for tooth decay. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year (or more, if recommended) for more thorough cleanings and checkups. Your dentist can also recommend or prescribe preventive rinses, or apply fluoride to at-risk tooth surfaces to strengthen them.
You should also be on the lookout for any signs of gum disease. If you see swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist as soon as possible. Stopping possible gum recession will further reduce your risk of root cavities.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment 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: Tooth Decay Near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
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.”
For decades, dental x-rays have helped us accurately diagnose and treat a wide array of dental diseases and conditions. But even with recent advances in digital imaging, the traditional x-ray does have one drawback: its two-dimensional view doesn’t always provide the “big picture” that a three-dimensional viewpoint can provide.
But a new type of x-ray technology can do just that: known as cone beam computed tomography (CBCT), these machines record hundreds of digital images as a cone-shaped beam of x-ray energy is projected through a device that rotates around a person’s head. A computer then assembles the images into a single three-dimensional image that can be manipulated on screen to view from various angles. Not only does this provide greater context and detail, it does so with no more radiation exposure than a standard 20-film digital full-mouth x-ray series.
While CBCT hasn’t replaced the traditional x-ray, it’s making its mark in a number of specialized areas of dentistry. The following are just a few of the ways CBCT is improving both accuracy and treatment outcomes.
Orthodontics. CBCT can provide a much more detailed view of the entire jaw; this can help us determine the best locations for realigning teeth safely and effectively.
Dental Implants. With a CBCT scan we can precisely locate nerve canals, sinuses and adjacent teeth before implant surgery to locate the best position for the implant.
TMD Treatment. To help develop the best treatment approach for alleviating the pain and dysfunction of temporo-mandibular joint disease (TMD), a CBCT scan can provide us detailed information on how the disease is affecting a patient’s joints, teeth, sinuses and airway.
Impactions. An impacted tooth can exert damaging pressure against the roots of neighboring teeth. A CBCT scan allows us to observe the impacted tooth from various vantage points to determine the best treatment approach for neighboring teeth, nerve canals and sinuses.
If you would like more information on CBCT technology, 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 “Getting the Full Picture With Cone Beam Dental Scans.”
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”
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