Since their introduction over three decades ago, dental implants have evolved into dentistry’s premier tooth replacement choice. While their primary purpose is to replace missing teeth and rejuvenate a patient’s smile, they’re also regarded for another important benefit: they can slow or stop bone loss accelerated by the loss of teeth.
Like all living tissue, bone has a life cycle. Older bone dissolves and is absorbed by the body, a process called resorption. New bone forms and grows to replace the resorbed bone in response to stimuli occurring within the body. In the jaw, this stimulation comes from the forces the teeth receive when we bite or chew.
When a tooth is lost, however, it no longer transmits these force stimuli to the adjacent bone. This results over time in less new growth to replace resorbed bone, and the overall bone mass shrinks. In fact, about a quarter of the normal bone width will diminish in the first year alone after tooth loss. Other serious problems follow, like gum recession or chewing and speaking difficulties. A person’s appearance may also suffer, because as resorption continues unchecked, the underlying foundational bone will continue to shrink. As more teeth are lost, a decrease in the distance between the nose and chin may result causing the lower third of the face to become smaller in size.
Dental implants can interrupt this process by encouraging bone growth around the implant. Implants are made of “osseophilic” titanium, meaning the metal has a natural affinity with bone. After implantation, bone cells will begin to grow and attach to the titanium post. The enhanced growth stabilizes bone loss by providing stimulation to the bone as teeth once did, thereby maintaining bone levels and minimizing potential effects on the patient’s appearance.
Ironically, too much bone loss could make the installation of implants more difficult, since they require a minimum level of bone mass for anchorage. Receiving an implant as soon as is practical once a tooth is lost will minimize the chances of that occurring — and a better chance of improving bone health overall.
If you would like more information on how dental implants improve bone 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
In our constant battle against infectious disease, the “enemy” is often too close for comfort: hospitals and other medical facilities must be ever vigilant against opportunistic infections their patients may contract while in their care.
Dental offices are no exception. Because even the simplest procedure — a dental cleaning, for example — may result in exposure, providers and patients alike face a possible health risk. We must be especially concerned with blood-borne viral infections — spread by person to person contact through blood — the most serious being hepatitis B and C, and HIV/AIDS.
Hepatitis is a viral inflammatory disease that disrupts the critical functions of the liver, particularly as it cleanses and regulates the blood, and cause serious bodily impairment or death. The virus can be transmitted when the blood from an infected person makes its way into the bloodstream of another person, mainly through cuts or a needle injection. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can lead to the chronic condition AIDS that destroys the body’s immune system; it spreads mainly through sexual contact, as well as through person to person blood contact.
The best defense against the spread of these diseases in dental offices or other healthcare settings is to eliminate as much as possible any opportunity for blood-to-blood contact. To accomplish this, all healthcare providers, including dentists, are mandated by federal, state and local authorities to incorporate and follow routine safety precautions. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues regularly updated comprehensive guidelines for protocols and procedures to disinfect and sterilize equipment and facilities.
We dentists and our clinical staffs are also mandated by state licensing boards to refresh our knowledge of infection control procedures through continuing education. Such procedures cover every aspect of infection control, from barrier protection — by way of gloves, masks or gowns — to instrument disinfection.
Protecting patients as well as providers from the spread of infection is one of our profession’s highest standards. As a result, incidents of infection among the 170,000 practicing dentists in the United States are rare. You can be assured, then, that we’re taking every precaution to keep you and your family safe from disease when you visit our office.
If you would like more information on dental office procedures to prevent the spread of infection, 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 “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
Tooth decay is a primary cause of tooth damage and loss, with annual treatment costs in the billions of dollars. It arises mainly from oral bacteria, which proliferates in the absence of effective oral hygiene. There are, however, other risk factors besides poor hygiene that could make you more susceptible to this disease.
Many people, for example, have genetically inherited deeper grooves (fissures) and depressions (pits) than the average tooth anatomy. These may be harder to reach with a toothbrush and can become havens for bacterial plaque. Others may have health conditions that indirectly affect the mouth: bulimia or anorexia, psychological conditions that involve self-induced vomiting, or GERD, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, in which stomach acid could regurgitate into the mouth. These conditions could result in a highly acidic mouth environment.
Some medical and — ironically — dental treatments could also increase your tooth decay risk. Some medications can reduce saliva flow, which inhibits acid neutralization and re-mineralization of enamel. Retainers, braces, bite guards or other dental appliances may also reduce the saliva wash over teeth, and can make brushing and flossing more difficult.
There are also risk factors that result from our lifestyle choices. Eating a lot of foods rich in sugars and other carbohydrates, for example, or acidic beverages like soda, energy or sports drinks contributes to the rise of bacteria in our mouths.
There are ways to reduce the effects of these risk factors. In addition to a daily habit of effective brushing and flossing, you should also include semi-annual cleanings and checkups at our office a part of your routine. If you have genetic, medical or dental issues that are out of your control, we can discuss solutions, such as alternatives to medications or different techniques for cleaning around dental appliances. For lifestyle-related factors, you should consider removing the habit or modifying it: for example, snacking at specific times or drinking acidic beverages only at mealtime.
While tooth decay is a serious, destructive disease, it is highly preventable. Addressing all your risk factors, not just hygiene, will reduce your chances of having it.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention, 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 Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
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