When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
Today's dental restorations are truly amazing. Not only are they life-like and functional, they can endure for many years a hostile environment of bacteria, acid and heavy biting forces.
Even so, you'll still need to take care of your restorations to help them last. Here's how to extend the life of 3 common forms of dental work.
Fillings. We use fillings, both metal amalgam and tooth-colored materials, to repair holes or cavities in teeth caused by tooth decay. Although strong, dental fillings can break if you subject them to abnormally high biting force (like chewing ice). There's also a chance that if a slight separation occurs between the filling and tooth, bacteria can take up residence and reignite the decay process. To prevent this, practice a daily regimen of oral hygiene to clean away bacterial plaque—and reduce sugar in your diet, a prime food source for bacteria.
Veneers. Usually made of thin porcelain, veneers are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other blemishes. But although they're strong, veneers aren't immune to damage. Habits like biting nails, the aforementioned ice chewing or unconsciously grinding your teeth could cause a chipped veneer. And if periodontal (gum) disease causes your gums to recede, the exposed part of the tooth may look noticeably darker than the veneer. To protect your veneers and their appearance, avoid habits like ice chewing, and seek treatment for teeth grinding and dental disease.
Bridgework. Bridges are used to replace one or more missing teeth. Traditional bridges use the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge; for a single missing tooth, implants are a preferable option because they don't require permanently altering the neighboring teeth to support it. With either option, though, you should brush and floss around the restoration to reduce the risk of dental disease. Infections like gum disease or tooth decay could eventually weaken the bridge's supporting teeth or gum disease can damage an implant's gum and bone support.
With any dental restoration, be sure to practice daily oral hygiene, eat a nutritious, low-sugar diet, and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. Taking care of your dental work will help it take care of you for a long time to come.
Placing a dental implant within the jawbone requires a surgical procedure. For most people it’s a relatively minor affair, but for some with certain health conditions it might be otherwise. Because of their condition they might have an increased risk for a bacterial infection afterward that could interfere with the implant’s integration with the bone and lead to possible failure.
To lower this risk, dentists for many years have routinely prescribed an antibiotic for patients considered at high-risk for infection to take before their implant surgery. But there’s been a lively debate among health practitioners about the true necessity for this practice and whether it’s worth the possible side effects that can accompany taking antibiotics.
While the practice still continues, current guidelines now recommend it for fewer health conditions. The American Dental Association (ADA) together with the American Heart Association (AHA) now recommend antibiotics only for surgical patients who have prosthetic heart valves, a history of infective endocarditis, a heart transplant or certain congenital heart conditions.
But patients with prosthetic joint replacements, who were once included in the recommendation for pre-surgical antibiotics, are no longer in that category. Even so, some orthopedic surgeons continue to recommend it for their joint replacement patients out of concern that a post-surgical infection could adversely affect their replaced joints.
But while these areas of disagreement about pre-surgical antibiotics still continue, a consensus may be emerging about a possible “sweet spot” in administering the therapy. Evidence from recent studies indicates just a small dose of antibiotics administered an hour before surgery may be sufficient to reduce the risk of infection-related implant failure with only minimal risk of side effects from the drug.
Because pre-surgical antibiotic therapy can be a complicated matter, it’s best that you discuss with both the physician caring for your health condition and your dentist about whether you should undergo this option to reduce the infection risk with your own implant surgery. Still, if all the factors surrounding your health indicate it, this antibiotic therapy might help you avoid losing an implant to infection.
If you would like more information on antibiotics before implant surgery, 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 “Implants & Antibiotics: Lowering Risk of Implant Failure.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Surgical treatment for periodontal (gum) disease can go a long way toward restoring your mouth to good health; however, it does not change your susceptibility to the disease. That’s why we recommend that you come in regularly for periodontal cleanings after your treatment. Here are some frequently asked questions about keeping your mouth healthy after gum disease treatment.
How often do I have to come in for periodontal cleanings?
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer to that question: It really depends on your individual situation. For example, some individuals may have a more aggressive form of periodontal disease that requires more frequent periodontal maintenance (PM) treatments to maintain control. Others may have greater success controlling the buildup of disease-causing plaque with at-home oral hygiene measures, and therefore need PM less often. However, for people with a history of periodontal disease, getting PM treatments at a three-month interval may be a good starting point.
What happens at a periodontal maintenance appointment?
A thorough cleaning of the crown and root surfaces of the teeth, aimed at removing sticky plaque and hardened dental calculus (tartar), is a big part of PM treatments — but there’s much more. You’ll also receive a thorough clinical examination (including oral cancer screening), a review of your medical history, and x-rays or other diagnostic tests if needed. The status of any ongoing periodontal disease will be carefully monitored, as will your success at maintaining good oral hygiene. Decisions about further treatment will be based on the results of this examination.
What else can I do to keep gum disease at bay?
Keeping your oral hygiene in top-notch condition — which includes effective brushing and flossing every day — can go a long way toward controlling gum disease.Â In addition, you can reduce risk factors by quitting tobacco use and eating a more balanced diet. And since inflammatory conditions like diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease can make periodontal disease worse (and vice versa), keeping these conditions under control will greatly benefit both your oral health and your overall health.
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