Posts for: June, 2021
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
There's still much about the underlying nature of chronic jaw joint dysfunction we have yet to unravel. Treating these conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs) may therefore require some experimentation to find what works for each individual patient.
Most TMD therapies are relatively conservative: eating softer foods, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers or undergoing physical therapy. There have been some surgical techniques tried to relieve jaw pain and dysfunction, but these have so far had mixed results.
Recently, the use of the drug Botox has been promoted for relieving jaw pain, albeit temporarily. Botox contains tiny amounts of botulinum toxin type A, a poisonous substance derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause muscle paralysis. It's mainly used to cosmetically smooth out small wrinkles around facial features.
Because of these properties, some physicians have proposed Botox for TMD treatment to paralyze the muscles around the jaw to reduce pain and discomfort. While the treatment sounds intriguing, there are a number of reasons to be wary of it if you have TMD.
To begin with, the claims for Botox's success in relieving jaw pain have been mainly anecdotal. On the other hand, findings from randomized, double-blind trials have yet to show any solid evidence that Botox can produce these pain-relieving effects.
But even if it lived up to the claims of TMD pain relief, the effect would eventually fade in a few weeks or months, requiring the patient to repeat the injections. It's possible with multiple Botox injections that the body will develop antibodies to fight the botulinum toxin, causing the treatment to be less effective with subsequent injections.
Of even greater concern are the potential side effects of Botox TMD treatment, ranging from headaches and soreness at the injection site to more serious muscle atrophy and possible facial deformity from repeated injections. There's also evidence for decreased bone density in the jaw, which could have far-reaching consequences for someone with TMD.
The best approach still seems to lie in the more conservative therapies that treat TMD similar to other joint disorders. Finding the right combination of therapies that most benefit you will help you better manage your symptoms.
If you would like more information on treatments for TMD, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”
You could have an unattractive smile because of a chipped tooth or one slightly out of alignment. Or, it could be both of the above, plus some heavy staining to boot. Correcting each flaw individually might require a combination of different methods like orthodontics or porcelain crowns, which can take an extended period of time to complete.
But you may be able to correct numerous smile flaws with just one method—and in no more than a couple of treatment visits. It's called direct veneers.
Unlike regular veneers, direct veneers don't require a dental technician to craft a thin porcelain shell to bond over teeth. Rather, a dentist applies a tooth-colored material called composite resin to the problem teeth and "sculpts" an entirely new look that can correct multiple dental flaws at one time.
The dentist usually begins the process by creating a model ("wax-up") of proposed changes based on physical impressions of the jaw and teeth. Both dentist and patient can study the model and modify it if necessary, when finalizing the treatment plan.
At a subsequent appointment, the dentist prepares the tooth surface for bonding by removing a thin layer of tooth enamel, then shapes the teeth to better accommodate the composite resin. This tooth prep is similar to that done with traditional veneers, so it's permanent—the teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
After applying an etchant and a bonding agent, the dentist applies the composite resin in small amounts, hardening each layer with a special light before applying the next one. With each subsequent layer, the dentist sculps the composite material to eventually resemble the wax-up model.
After completing the composite application, the dentist then uses hand tools and a dental drill to complete shaping, as well as an abrasive strip between teeth to aid future flossing. After just a few hours, the transformation is complete.
Direct veneers are durable, but not to the same extent as regular veneers or other cosmetic enhancements. They can also pick up stains over time, and may require re-treatment at some point. Still, direct veneers are a cost-effective way to improve the appearance of teeth with multiple flaws that could radically change your smile for the better.