Dental plaque, that gritty bacterial film coating your teeth, is the top cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. You can see and feel a lot of it—but not all of it. Some deposits can lodge snugly between your teeth, and can cause dental disease just as much as what's out in the open.
The problem with between-teeth plaque is that even a solid brushing habit might not effectively remove it. That's why you flossing should also be part of your daily oral hygiene.
If the thought of flossing, however, causes you to let out an audible sigh, we understand. Flossing typically engenders less enthusiasm than brushing, mainly because many find flossing time consuming and difficult to do.
If traditional flossing isn't your bag, we may have a reasonable alternative. Oral irrigation is a hygiene method for removing plaque between teeth using a pressurized water spray. You direct the water spray between your teeth using a handheld wand (which somewhat resembles a power toothbrush) and small hose attached to a countertop pump appliance.
A mainstay in dental offices, oral irrigators (or water flossers) have been available for home use since the 1960s. They're ideal for people who have problems with manual dexterity or who may not want to contend with flossing thread. They also make it easier for patients wearing braces to clean between their teeth, a monumental task using regular floss.
As to effectiveness, oral irrigation appears to match that of regular flossing, especially for orthodontic patients. Clinical studies in the early 2000s compared patients with braces using oral irrigation with those who were brushing only. Those using irrigation were able to remove five times as much plaque as the other group.
There are a number of comparable oral irrigation brands on the market from which to choose, and your dentist can advise you on features to look for when purchasing one. Just be sure you're using some method, oral irrigation or traditional flossing, to remove disease-causing plaque from between your teeth—either will go a long way in keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on flossing methods, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
From birth to early adulthood, your child's teeth, gums and jaws develop at a rapid pace. And, for the most part, nature takes its course without our help.
But tooth decay can derail that development. The result of bacterial acid eroding enamel, tooth decay is the top cause for premature primary tooth loss in children. One particular form, early childhood caries (ECC), can rapidly spread from one tooth to another.
Many parents assume prematurely losing teeth that are destined to fall out soon anyway is inconsequential. But primary teeth play a critical role in the proper eruption of permanent teeth, serving as both placeholders and guides for those teeth developing just below them in the gums. A permanent tooth without this guidance can erupt out of alignment to create a poor bite that may require future orthodontics.
Being proactive about tooth decay lessens that risk—and the best time to start is when the first teeth begin to erupt. That's when you should begin their regular dental visits sometime around their first birthday.
Dental visits are an important defense against tooth decay. Besides routine dental cleanings, your child's dentist can offer various preventive treatments like sealants to stop decay from forming in the biting surfaces of back molars or topically applied fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel.
Daily home care is just as important in the fight against tooth decay. Oral hygiene should be a part of your child's daily life even before teeth: It's a good habit to wipe an infant's gums with a clean cloth after nursing. As teeth arrive, oral hygiene turns to brushing and flossing—perhaps the best defense of all against dental disease.
It's also important to watch their intake of sugar, a prime food source for bacteria that produce harmful acid. Instead, encourage a "tooth-friendly" diet of whole foods to keep teeth and gums healthy.
Even if they do develop tooth decay, there are effective treatments to minimize any damage and preserve affected primary teeth until they've served their purpose. By adopting these prevention strategies and prompt treatment, you can stay ahead of this destructive disease.
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum 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 “What are Furcations?”
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