Preventing tooth decay is mostly about the basics: daily brushing and flossing followed by regular dental cleanings and checkups. But there’s also a bigger picture: your own personal risk profile for decay based on factors you can modify directly — and those you can’t.
The first type of factor usually involves habits and behavior that either work with your mouth’s natural defenses to fight decay or against it. Besides regular hygiene, your diet is probably the most important of these you can modify for better dental health.
A diet rich in fresh vegetables, protein and dairy products boosts strong, healthy teeth resistant to decay. Conversely, bacteria thrive on the sugar in many snack foods, while sodas, sports or energy drinks elevate acid levels that soften and erode the minerals in your teeth’s enamel.
Lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption also increase your decay risk. Not only do they promote plaque buildup (the thin film of bacteria and food particles that feeds the decay process), but tobacco especially can impede the body’s natural prevention and healing properties.
Conscientious hygiene practices, a dental-friendly diet and modified lifestyle habits all can help you prevent decay. But diligence may not be enough — there are other possible factors you can’t control or may find difficult to change. For example, you may have a genetic propensity toward certain bacteria that cause decay. You may have a condition like gastric reflux that increases the mouth’s acid level. You may also be taking medications that reduce saliva flow, the mouth’s natural acid neutralizer.
But if we know which of these indirect risk factors affect you, we can compensate with extra measures. If enamel strength is a problem we can topically apply fluoride; we can also reduce chronic bacterial levels with prescription rinses. If you have restricted saliva flow, we can attempt to modify your prescriptions through your doctor or prescribe aids that increase saliva.
The key is to investigate your complete risk factor profile through a thorough dental examination. Once we know everything about your mouth, life and health that increases your decay risk, we can put in place a balanced strategy of prevention and treatment just for you. Doing so will greatly increase your chances for keeping your teeth decay-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating dental 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Dental caries (tooth decay) is a leading cause of tooth loss. But with prompt diagnosis and care we can often stop it before it causes too much damage.
The traditional treatment approach is simple: remove all diseased tooth structure and then restore the tooth with a filling. But this otherwise effective treatment has one drawback: you may lose significant healthy structure to accommodate a suitable filling or to make vulnerable areas easier to clean from bacterial plaque.
That's why a new treatment approach called minimally invasive dentistry (MID) is becoming more common. The goal of MID is to remove as little of a tooth's natural enamel and dentin as possible. This leaves the treated tooth stronger and healthier, and could reduce long-term dental costs too.
Here's how MID could change your future dental care.
Better risk assessment. MID includes a treatment protocol called caries management by risk assessment (CAMBRA). With CAMBRA, we evaluate your individual tooth decay risk, including oral bacteria levels, the quality of saliva flow to neutralize mouth acid, and sugar consumption. We then use our findings to customize a treatment plan that targets your areas of highest risk.
New detection methods. The real key to fighting tooth decay is to find it before it can destroy tooth structure with the help of new diagnostic technology. Besides advances in x-ray imaging that provide better views with less radiation exposure, we're also using powerful dental microscopes, lasers and infrared photography to show us more about your teeth than we can see with the naked eye.
"Less is More" treatments. In contrast to the dental drill, many dentists are now using air abrasion rather than a dental drill to remove decayed tooth material. Air abrasion emits tiny material particles within a pressurized air stream that leaves more healthy tooth structure intact than with drilling. We're also using new filling materials like composite resin that not only resemble natural tooth color, but require less structural removal than other types of fillings.
Using MID, we can treat tooth decay while preserving more of your natural teeth. This promises better long-term outcomes for future dental health.
If you would like more information on new treatments for 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
Since the late 19th Century, dentists have used established protocols to successfully prevent and treat tooth decay. But there've been changes to this approach the last few years to improve its effectiveness, changes we now refer to as Minimally Invasive Dentistry or MID.
The older approach for treating dental caries (tooth decay) follows the protocols established by Dr. G.V. Black, considered the father of modern dentistry. Black advocated removing not only decayed structure but also some of the healthier but vulnerable portions of a tooth, to avoid further decay and make the tooth easier to clean. This resulted in larger fillings, although they've become smaller as dental techniques have advanced.
MID, on the other hand, aims to remove as little tooth structure as possible while still effectively treating and preventing future decay. To achieve that goal we begin first with a complete assessment of a patient's individual decay risk, known as Caries Management By Risk Assessment (CAMBRA).
With CAMBRA, we're looking at other factors besides individual tooth health: a patient's hygiene, lifestyle and dietary habits; the types and amount of bacteria present; and the quality of saliva flow, needed to neutralize mouth acid. With these the results we develop a customized prevention and treatment strategy.
MID also focuses on detecting dental caries as early as possible. Besides traditional x-rays, we're beginning to use other methods like dental microscopes, laser fluorescence, infrared photography or optical scanning. Early detection leads to early intervention, and with techniques that are much less invasive than the traditional approach.
The new approach also changes how we repair decayed teeth. We're increasingly using air abrasion, a technology that uses fine particles in a pressurized air stream to remove softer decayed tooth material and less healthy structure than the traditional dental drill. We're also using composite resin and other advanced materials for filings: these tooth-colored materials are stronger than previous versions and are quickly taking the place of metal amalgam, requiring less structural removal to accommodate them.
MID's core principles are early disease detection, proactive prevention and treatment with less structural removal. With this enhanced approach to effective dentistry, we're keeping your teeth healthy with minimal discomfort, lower costs and less long-term impact.
The basics for treating tooth decay have changed little since the father of modern dentistry Dr. G.V. Black developed them in the early 20th Century. Even though technical advances have streamlined treatment, our objectives are the same: remove any decayed material, prepare the cavity and then fill it.
This approach has endured because it works—dentists practicing it have preserved billions of teeth. But it has had one principle drawback: we often lose healthy tooth structure while removing decay. Although we preserve the tooth, its overall structure may be weaker.
But thanks to recent diagnostic and treatment advances we’re now preserving more of the tooth structure during treatment than ever before. On the diagnostic front enhanced x-ray technology and new magnification techniques are helping us find decay earlier when there’s less damaged material to remove and less risk to healthy structure.
Treating cavities has likewise improved with the increased use of air abrasion, an alternative to drilling. Emitting a concentrated stream of fine abrasive particles, air abrasion is mostly limited to treating small cavities. Even so, dentists using it say they’re removing less healthy tooth structure than with drilling.
While these current advances have already had a noticeable impact on decay treatment, there’s more to come. One in particular could dwarf every other advance with its impact: a tooth repairing itself through dentin regeneration.
This futuristic idea stems from a discovery by researchers at King’s College, London experimenting with Tideglusib, a medication for treating Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers placed tiny sponges soaked with the drug into holes drilled into mouse teeth. After a few weeks the holes had filled with dentin, produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t new, but methods to date haven’t been able to produce enough dentin to repair a typical cavity. Tideglusib has proven more promising, and it’s already being used in clinical trials. If its development continues to progress, patients’ teeth may one day repair their own cavities without a filling.
Dr. Black’s enduring concepts continue to define tooth decay treatment. But developments now and on the horizon are transforming how we treat this disease in ways the father of modern dentistry couldn’t imagine.
Other than the common cold, tooth decay is the most prevalent disease in the world. And while a cavity or two may seem like a minor matter, tooth decay’s full destructive potential is anything but trivial. Without proper prevention and treatment, tooth decay can cause pain, tooth loss and, in rare cases, even death.
This common disease begins with bacteria in the mouth. Though these microscopic organisms’ presence is completely normal and at times beneficial, certain strains cause problems: they consume left over carbohydrates in the mouth like sugar and produce acid as a byproduct. The higher the levels of bacteria the higher the amount of acid, which disrupts the mouth’s normal neutral pH.
This is a problem because acid is the primary enemy of enamel, the teeth’s hard protective outer shell. Acid causes enamel to lose its mineral content (de-mineralization), eventually producing cavities. Saliva neutralizes acid that arises normally after we eat, but if the levels are too high for too long this process can be overwhelmed. The longer the enamel is exposed to acid, the more it softens and dissolves.
While tooth decay is a global epidemic, dental advances of the last century have made it highly preventable. The foundation for prevention is fluoride in toothpaste and effective oral hygiene — daily brushing and flossing to removing plaque, a thin film of food remnant on teeth that’s a feeding ground for bacteria, along with regular dental visits for more thorough cleaning and examination. This regular regimen should begin in infancy when teeth first appear in the mouth. For children especially, further prevention measures in the form of sealants or topical fluoride applications performed in the dentist office can provide added protection for those at higher risk.
You can also help your preventive measures by limiting sugar or other carbohydrates in your family’s diet, and eating more fresh vegetables, fruit and dairy products, especially as snacks. Doing so reduces food sources for bacteria, which will lower their multiplication and subsequently the amount of acid produced.
In this day and age, tooth decay isn’t a given. Keeping it at bay, though, requires a personal commitment to effective hygiene, lifestyle choices and regular dental care. Doing these things will help ensure you and your family’s teeth remain free from this all too common disease.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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 “Tooth Decay.”