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.”
Before implants, people often turned to a removable appliance to replace multiple missing teeth. Known as a removable partial denture (RPD), this appliance could restore both appearance and function at an affordable price.
But although implants may have diminished their use, RPDs haven't gone extinct. They're still a viable option for patients who can't afford implants or fixed bridgework, or who can't obtain implants due to the state of their dental health.
Although replacing only a few teeth rather than an entire arch, RPDs are similar in basic concept to full dentures. The prosthetic (artificial) teeth are anchored in a resin or plastic that's colored to resemble the gums, precisely placed to fit into the missing gaps. This assembly is further supported by a frame made of vitallium, a lightweight but strong metal alloy. The appliance fits upon the arch with the missing teeth, supported by vitallium clasps that grip adjacent natural teeth.
Each RPD must be custom designed for each patient to fit perfectly without excessive movement during chewing. Too much movement could warp the fit, reduce the RPD's durability or damage other teeth. To achieve this secure fit, dentists must take into account the number and location of missing teeth to be replaced, and then apply a specific construction pattern to balance the appliance.
There are RPDs that are meant to be used short-term, as with a teenager whose jaw isn't yet mature for dental implants. But the metal-framed RPDs we've described are designed for long-term use. There is, however, one primary downside: RPDs have a propensity to collect dental plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease that could further deteriorate your dental health.
To avoid this, you'll need to keep both the RPD and the rest of your teeth and gums as clean as possible with daily brushing and flossing, and appliance care. And like dentures, it's best to remove the RPD when you go to bed at night to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
To see if an RPD to replace your missing teeth is an option for you, visit us for a complete dental exam. From there, we can advise you further as to whether an RPD could affordably restore your missing teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on RPDs, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures.”
Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence is a highly paid actress, Oscar winner, successful producer and…merry prankster. She's the latter, at least with co-star Liam Hemsworth: It seems Lawrence deliberately ate tuna fish, garlic or other malodorous foods right before their kissing scenes while filming The Hunger Games.
It was all in good fun, of course—and her punked co-star seemed to take it in good humor. In most situations, though, our mouth breath isn't something we take lightly. It can definitely be an unpleasant experience being on the receiving end of halitosis (bad breath). And when we're worried about our own breath, it can cause us to be timid and self-conscious around others.
So, here's what you can do if you're concerned about bad breath (unless you're trying to prank your co-star!).
Brush and floss daily. Bad breath often stems from leftover food particles that form a film on teeth called dental plaque. Add in bacteria, which thrive in plaque, and you have the makings for smelly breath. Thorough brushing and flossing can clear away plaque and the potential breath smell. You should also clean your dentures daily if you wear them to avoid similar breath issues.
Scrape your tongue. Some people can build up a bacterial coating on the back surface of the tongue. This coating may then emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give breath that distinct rotten egg smell. You can remove this coating by brushing the tongue surface with your toothbrush or using a tongue scraper (we can show you how).
See your dentist. Some cases of chronic bad breath could be related to oral problems like tooth decay, gum disease or broken dental work. Treating these could help curb your bad breath, as can removing the third molars (wisdom teeth) that are prone to trapped food debris. It's also possible for bad breath to be a symptom of a systemic condition like diabetes that may require medical treatment.
Quit smoking. Tobacco can leave your breath smelly all on its own. But a smoking habit could also dry your mouth, creating the optimum conditions for bacteria to multiply. Besides increasing your disease risk, this can also contribute to chronic bad breath. Better breath is just one of the many benefits of quitting the habit.
We didn't mention mouthrinses, mints or other popular ways to freshen breath. While these can help out in a pinch, they may cover up the real causes of halitosis. Following the above suggestions, especially dental visits to uncover and treat dental problems, could solve your breath problem for good.
If you would like more information about ways to treat bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
Do you remember when one of your baby teeth began to wiggle? You knew it wouldn't be long before it came out, followed by a little something from the “tooth fairy” under your pillow.
Those were the days! But a loose permanent tooth is something else entirely: Often a sign of advanced periodontal (gum) disease, you may be on the verge of losing the tooth forever.
This sad affair begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm found on tooth surfaces and the ideal haven for oral bacteria that can trigger a gum infection. You might not notice such an infection in its early stages, other than a few initial signs like gum redness, swelling, or bleeding. If these occur, it's imperative you seek treatment promptly.
Without treatment, the infection can spread below the gum line, weakening gum attachments to teeth (which actually hold teeth in place) and eventually doing the same to underlying bone. All of this damage can lead to a tooth becoming loose and eventually falling out.
But it's not inevitable a loose tooth will eventually be lost, though it may require long-term efforts to save it. We may first need to do a bite adjustment, which will often allow a tooth to decrease its mobility. If the mobility has not been reduced enough, we may recommend stabilizing the teeth through splinting: These are techniques used to join the loose tooth to more stable teeth, usually with a thin strip of metal or other dental material.
We'll also need to treat the underlying cause, which in the case of gum disease requires aggressive plaque removal. Our goal is to manually remove all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) deposits, particularly below the gum line. It may also require surgery to fully access deep pockets of infection. But once we remove the offending plaque, the gums can begin to heal.
The best strategy, though, is to avoid gum disease altogether. You can substantially lower your infection risk by brushing and flossing daily and getting a dental cleaning every six months. Dental visits also allow us to check your gums for any signs of infection that might require prompt action.
A loose tooth for a kid is a cause for celebration. It's the exact opposite for an adult loose tooth. Taking care of your gums with daily hygiene and receiving prompt treatment for any emerging infection could help you avoid it.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
The humble squirrel—darlings to some, bird feeder-robbing nuisances to others—has its own month. Since 1995, the Squirrel Lovers Club of Chicago has celebrated October as Squirrel Awareness Month to pay tribute to this diverse family of rodents with over 270 species. It's also an opportunity to indulge in our favorite “squirrelly” fact: Squirrels' teeth don't stop growing.
And we do mean grow. A squirrel's four front incisors increase about 6 inches a year—a good thing since squirrels put those teeth through their paces gnawing through hard-shelled nuts and seeds. If they didn't keep growing, you'd see plenty of squirrels with worn-to-nothing front teeth.
We humans have some cause to be envious because, unlike squirrels, our permanent teeth stop growing by the time we reach adulthood. That could be a problem since nearly all of us encounter tooth wear as we age.
And it could be even worse. Bad habits like crunching ice, biting into hard foods or using our teeth as tools can contribute to accelerated wear. Some people also involuntarily clench or grind their teeth, creating higher than normal pressure that can wear down teeth.
Suffice it to say, it's worth the effort to quit conscious bad dental practices to prevent your teeth from wearing faster than normal. A teeth-grinding habit, though, may require more than willpower: We'll need to look at other ways to reduce its effect on your teeth.
First, you may want to try to reduce chronic stress, the top contributor to adult teeth grinding. Better stress management with the help of counseling, relaxation techniques, biofeedback or group therapy can all help reduce the occurrence of this destructive habit.
Such efforts, though, can take time. In the meantime, we may be able to help you reduce the effect of a grinding habit with a custom-made mouth guard. This plastic guard worn in the mouth prevents teeth from making hard contact with each other during grinding, and so it reduces the damaging forces that can wear down teeth.
By the way, if you've already experienced excessive tooth wear, not all hope is lost. We may be able to restore your teeth to normal length with the help of bonded porcelain veneers or crowns. After a thorough evaluation, we can give you options for turning back the “age clock” on your smile.
Our teeth may not continuously grow like squirrels', but we can still protect them from the effects of excessive wear. Good dental practices and habits—and restorative measures when necessary—can keep your smile looking as young as ever.
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