Teeth are naturally strong and durable — if we can prevent or control dental disease like tooth decay or gum disease, they can last a lifetime. Still, teeth do wear gradually as we age, a fact we must factor into our dental care as we grow older.
Sometimes, though, the wear rate can accelerate and lead to problems much earlier — even tooth loss. There are generally four ways this abnormal wear can occur.
Tooth to tooth contact. Attrition usually results from habitual teeth grinding or clenching that are well beyond normal tooth contact. Also known as bruxism, these habits may occur unconsciously, often while you sleep. Treatments for bruxism include an occlusal guard worn to prevent tooth to tooth contact, orthodontic treatment, medication, biofeedback or psychological counseling to improve stress coping skills.
Teeth and hard material contact. Bruxism causes abrasion when our teeth regularly bite on hard materials such as pencils, nails, or bobby pins. The constant contact with these and other abrasive surfaces will cause the enamel to erode. Again, learning to cope with stress and breaking the bruxism habit will help preserve the remaining enamel.
Chronic acid. A high level of acid from foods we eat or drink can erode tooth enamel. Saliva naturally neutralizes this acid and restores the mouth to a neutral pH, usually within thirty minutes to an hour after eating. But if you’re constantly snacking on acidic foods and beverages, saliva’s buffering ability can’t keep up. To avoid this situation, refrain from constant snacking and limit acidic beverages like sodas or sports drinks to mealtimes. Extreme cases of gastric reflux disease may also disrupt your mouth’s pH — seek treatment from your medical doctor if you’re having related symptoms.
Enamel loss at the gumline. Also known as abfraction, this enamel loss is often caused by receding gums that expose more of the tooth below the enamel, which can lead to its erosion. Preventing and treating gum disease (the leading cause of receding gums) and proper oral hygiene will lower your risks of receding gums and protect tooth enamel.
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.”
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on dental 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Most of us have encountered something hot that’s burned or scalded the inside of our mouth—not a pleasant feeling. But what if you have a similar burning sensation without eating or drinking anything to cause it?
It’s not your imagination: It could be a condition called burning mouth syndrome (BMS), the feeling your mouth is burned or scalded without an apparent cause. It’s often accompanied by dryness, numbness, or tingling. You may feel it throughout the mouth, or just in “hot spots” around the lips, tongue or other mouth structures.
Researchers haven’t pinpointed exact causes yet for BMS. It’s most common in women around menopause, connecting it to a possible hormonal imbalance. It’s also been linked to diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, medication, acid reflux, cancer treatment or psychological issues. Because it can persist for years, BMS can contribute to irritability, anxiety or depression.
If you’re experiencing BMS, there are things you can do to diminish its effect. First, though, have your dentist give you a complete oral exam and take a thorough medical history. They can then give you specific treatment recommendations based on what they reveal.
For example, if symptoms seem to increase after brushing your teeth, you might be having a reaction to a toothpaste ingredient, usually the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate. Your dentist may recommend experimenting with other toothpaste brands.
Other treatment options include:
- Alleviating dry mouth symptoms by changing medications (as your doctor advises), drinking more water and using saliva-boosting products;
- Quitting smoking and reducing your consumption of alcohol, coffee and spicy foods;
- Chronicling your diet to look for connections between individual foods and BMS flare-ups—you may need to restrict these in your diet.
- And because it seems to aggravate BMS symptoms, reducing acute stress with relaxation techniques or therapeutic counseling.
If your dentist can’t fully diagnose your condition or the steps you take aren’t reducing your symptoms, you may be referred to an oral pathologist (a dental specialist in mouth diseases). The key is not to give up until you find a workable treatment strategy. Through a little trial and error, you may be able to overcome the discomfort of BMS.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth Syndrome, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”
$9.1 billion: That's how much we Americans spent in 2018 on Halloween festivities, according to the National Retail Federation. And a sizeable chunk of that was for candy—a whopping 600 million pounds worth. That, my friends, is a lot of sugary goodness. For kids, it's what Halloween is all about—scoring a sack full of sticky, gooey, crunchy candy. For parents, though, all that sugar raises concerns for their kids' dental health.
That's because of something that loves sugar as much as little humans: oral bacteria. The more these microscopic creatures consume, the more they reproduce, which consequently leads to more mouth acid, a by-product of their digestion. Elevated acid levels can dissolve the mineral content in enamel and create the conditions for tooth decay.
To cut to the chase, excessive candy consumption increases the risk of tooth decay. Short of banning candy and ruining your kids' holiday fun, what then can you do to lower that risk this Halloween?
Here are a few tips:
Limit candy to mealtimes. The mouth's acid levels tend to rise while we're eating. The body counters with saliva, which has the capacity to neutralize acid and restore lost minerals to enamel. But if your kids are snacking on sweets over a long period, saliva can't get ahead of the recurring waves of acid. So, try to limit your kids' candy consumption to a few pieces at mealtimes only.
Don't brush right after eating candy. The short period during and after eating of high acid levels can still soften tooth enamel. If your child brushes soon after eating candy, they could also remove tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before brushing to allow saliva time to remineralize the enamel.
Encourage alternatives to candy as Halloween treats. While candy is a huge part of Halloween, it needn't have a monopoly on all the celebratory fun. So, encourage your little tricksters to accept—and their treaters to provide—other kinds of treats like small toys, glow sticks, or other items that count as treasure to children (be sure they're age-appropriate, though).
Halloween is a great time of family fun, and candy may always play a prominent role in the merriment. Just be sure to practice moderation with sweet Halloween treats to avoid dental problems down the road.
If you would like more information about how to manage your family's sugar consumption for optimum dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” and “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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