Brushing and flossing daily, and dental visits at least twice a year: These are the essential things you should be doing to protect your teeth and gums against dental disease. But you're also getting an automatic assist from your body through saliva, that humble fluid swishing around in your mouth, to protect your oral health.
It's more than simply “mouth water”: Without saliva and its various components, your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease would be much higher. Here are 4 ways saliva helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Cleansing. Chewing prepares your food for digestion, but in the process produces tiny particles of food debris. Settling on tooth surfaces, these bits become part of the dental plaque that forms on your teeth and develops the ideal breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps rinse away much of this debris—particularly sugar, the primary food source for bacteria.
Protection. Saliva is the first line defense against disease-causing microorganisms entering the mouth. The primary source of this protection is a protein-based antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which directly fights infection-causing organisms. Another protein in saliva, lactoferrin (also found in tears), interferes with bacterial growth.
Buffering. The main enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid, produced by oral bacteria and the foods that we eat. Saliva neutralizes acid to help the mouth maintain its normally neutral pH range. And it works fast: Saliva can buffer acid and restore balance within thirty minutes to an hour after eating.
Re-mineralization. It's normal for acid to build up after eating, and for it to quickly remove minerals from surface enamel, a process called de-mineralization that can soften and weaken the enamel. But saliva helps restore some of these lost minerals as it's neutralizing acid. This re-mineralization re-strengthens enamel against tooth decay.
Saliva is so important for maintaining a healthy mouth, it's worth your efforts to protect it. Diminished saliva production not only produces an unpleasant dry mouth, it may increase your risk for disease. If this is a constant problem, speak to your dentist about causes and remedies. You'll be doing your teeth and gums a favor.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in maintaining oral 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
The subject of allergies covers a wide swath in medicine. Among other things, people have allergic reactions to animal fur, various foods and plant pollen. The effects are equally wide-ranging, anything from a mild rash to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening shutdown of the body's vital systems.
Approximately 5% of people are also allergic to various metals including nickel, cobalt, chromium and gold. Reactions to metal can occur when an allergic person comes in contact with items like jewelry, clothing or even mobile phones. There's even a chance of a metal allergy reaction from certain kinds of dental work.
It's unlikely, though, that you should be concerned if you're considering dental treatment or cosmetic work to upgrade your smile. Although allergic reactions like inflammation or a rash have been known to occur with amalgam “silver” fillings, it's quite rare. It's even less of a concern since “tooth-colored” materials for fillings are now outpacing the use of amalgam fillings, which are used in out-of-sight back teeth.
Of course, metal is used for other dental treatments besides fillings, including the most popular of tooth replacement systems, dental implants. An implant is essentially a metal post, usually made of pure titanium or a titanium alloy, which is imbedded into the jawbone. Even so, there's little chance you'll develop an allergic reaction to them.
For one thing, titanium is highly prized in both medical and dental treatments because of its biocompatibility. This means titanium devices like prosthetic joints and implants won't normally disrupt or cause reactions with human tissue. Titanium is also osteophilic: Bone cells readily grow and adhere to titanium surfaces, a major reason for dental implants' long-term durability.
That's not to say titanium allergies don't exist, but their occurrence is very low. One recent study detected a titanium allergy in only 0.6% of 1,500 implant patients who participated.
At worst, you may need to consider a different type of tooth replacement restoration in the rare chance you have a titanium allergy. More than likely, though, you'll be able obtain implants and enjoy the transformation they can bring to your smile.
If you would like more information on allergic reactions and dental restorations, 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 “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”
Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
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.
There have been vast improvements over the years in various methods to restore diseased, damaged or missing teeth. A lot of this is due to better restorative materials that are stronger and more life-like.
But given the mouth's hostile environment and the forces generated from chewing, even the most durable restorations could fail. You can, however, improve their durability through proper care and good protective practices.
Here are 3 ways to preserve your dental work and keep it functioning for years or even decades to come.
Daily oral hygiene. Although the bacteria in dental plaque doesn't affect non-living dental materials, it can infect and weaken living tissues around fillings, crowns or implants. Because these tissues often support restorations, an infection could cripple your dental work's survivability. You can prevent this by practicing daily brushing and flossing, and getting regular dental cleanings, to remove plaque and decrease your risk of dental disease.
Dietary choices. You can further prevent dental disease by restricting your consumption of sugar and eating foods rich in calcium and other nutrients. But there's one other thing to keep in mind about what you eat: Some foods can stain veneers and other restorations, as well as natural tooth enamel. If staining occurs at different rates, your dental work could stand out from your natural teeth and look out of place. You can help avoid this by limiting items in your diet known to stain (like wine or coffee) and practicing good oral hygiene.
Poor habits. Many of us have nervous habits like nail-biting or ice-chewing, or an unconscious habit of grinding teeth. Habits like these can damage restorations like composite bonding or veneers. To prevent the chances of this happening, take steps to stop habits and practices that involve biting down on hard objects (including foods like fruits with hard skins). You should also talk to your dentist about solutions to reduce teeth grinding, especially if it's occurring while you sleep.
Above all, keep up your dental visits to regularly monitor the condition of your dental work and obtain repairs or enhancements as needed. By taking care of these valuable restorations, you can help them continue to function and serve your needs for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on maintaining your dental restorations, 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 “Extending the Life of Your Dental Work.”
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