Tartar – Why Should You Care?

You go to the dentist every six months to have your teeth cleaned. Well, hopefully you are getting regular dental visits. Right? But, just what is the dentist doing when he cleans them anyway?

We’ll get into that shortly. And maybe you can even recall the dentist pointing out places where you had some tartar. But if you are like many patients, you nodded your head and he went on cleaning.

On the other hand, possibly you were thinking: “Just what the heck is tartar anyway? Isn’t that a Russian thing? Or, maybe, it has something to do with that white sauce. No, that doesn’t make any sense. Oh well, I don’t want to embarrass myself by asking.”

And it went in one ear and out the other.

Let’s try to clear it up a little. Tartar is basically hardened plaque. And plaque is the sticky mix of bacteria, food particles and proteins that forms in your mouth — pretty much every day. It sticks to your teeth, it gets under your gums, and it builds up on your dental work. The trouble is that when plaque hardens, it builds up – actually, very much like a coral reef.

And like a coral reef it can spread out over a broad area. But the damage it causes hits you in two ways. Firstly, the bacteria that cover the tartar damage your gums from the toxins they secrete. This can cause the gums to become inflamed and to bleed. In its mildest form, this is called gingivitis. But secondly, the tartar acts as a foreign body. Get the idea of having something stuck in your teeth – say, a shell of popcorn. It won’t take long before the gums get puffy, red, and irritated.
27958874_ml
The thing is, if it’s popcorn, you notice it pretty much immediately. After all, one moment everything is fine, and the next you’ve got this thing stuck in your gums. And until you pick it out, your gum stays puffy and protests its presence with bleeding and, sometimes, pain.

The difference with tartar is that it generally forms more slowly. So, in most cases, people don’t even notice it growing. Nor do they notice what it is doing to their gums and the surrounding bone. Because when gingivitis is not gotten under control, it gets worse. Pockets form between your teeth and gums and get filled with more bacteria and more tartar. This leads to an infection called periodontitis.

Over time, your immune system kicks in, trying to use stronger methods to fight this problem that just isn’t going away. The result: it starts to work against you and breaks down your own bone. What’s more it usually does it painlessly. So many people don’t even realize they are losing bone until their teeth get loose. That’s why this is the number one cause of tooth loss worldwide.

So what is the dentist doing when he cleans your teeth? He’s removing the foreign body (the tartar) and what is basically a condominium for your harmful bacteria. But don’t feel too bad for your evicted bacteria. They will try squatting in a new home under your gums in less than twenty-four hours. And they are associated with such nasty effects as heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s, pancreatic cancer, and more.

For the sake of your health, when it comes to tartar, you should care. Steps you can take to get matters under control include brushing after meals, daily flossing, and eating a healthy diet. Oh, and if you smoke, chances are you will build more tartar as well. There’s one more reason to quit.

Once tartar has formed on your teeth, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it.
So, be sure to visit your dentist at least twice a year to remove any plaque and tartar that has built up and to prevent more serious, and costly, health problems.

Laser Dentistry

Lasers are familiar to many of us from science fiction (think of the Star Wars light saber) to comedy (remember Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil?).  The fact is that lasers surround us in every-day life.  For example, in the home you will find them in CD players, while industry uses them for high-speed metal cutting machines and measuring devices.  Hair replacement, tattoo removal, dermatologists, eye surgeons — they all use lasers.

So do dentists.  And so does our office."La-ser"

This begs the question, just what is a laser?  How is it different from any other kind of light?  “If Dr. Evil planned to destroy the world with one, why won’t it hurt me when you use it on my gums?!”  Actually, that’s three questions . . . .

Anyway, let’s try take them in order:

The word “LASER” itself is an acronym that stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.  This concisely describes exactly how a laser works.   The laser is a device which controls the way that energized atoms release photons (a quantum of electromagnetic energy).  When we say “radiation” however, we are not talking about ionizing radiation — such as would be produced by an x-ray.

Laser light is very different from normal light or radiation emitted by an x-ray.  Laser light has the following properties:

  • The light released is monochromatic. It contains one specific wavelength of light (one specific color). The wavelength of light is determined by the amount of energy released when the electron drops to a lower orbit.
  • The light released is coherent. It is “organized” — each photon moves in step with the others. This means that all of the photons have wave fronts that launch in unison.
  • The light is very directional. A laser light has a collimated (very tight) beam.  This makes it stronger and concentrated. A flashlight, on the other hand, releases light in many directions, and the light is very weak and diffuse.

Why won’t it burn you to a crisp when we use it on your gums?  Clearly, we’re using a controlled power setting (in our office we use a diode laser) — in fact, most patients tell us they don’t feel anything when we use it in conjunction with their dental cleanings.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective!

Watch the video below for a demonstration and explanation of how a dental laser is being used during a routine cleaning.

If you would like to read more about how we use a dental laser in our office and how it can benefit your health, check out the following article posted in the Services section of our website:

LASERS IN DENTISTRY

Oral Bacteria and General Health

Did you know that there are way more bacteria in your mouth than there are people on the planet? By some estimates: 120 BILLION bacteria can grow in 24 hours!

That’s really a lot of bugs!

Germophobes might get a little skittish reading this, so it may make you feel better to know that most of them are harmless.

Typically, the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care — such as daily brushing and flossing — can keep these bacteria in check. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.  After more than twenty years of practice I have also observed that oral health can act as a window to your overall health.

For example, your oral health might be affected by, may itself affect, or may contribute to, various diseases and conditions — including:

  • Cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
  • Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
  • Pregnancy and birth. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.
  • Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis — which causes bones to become weak and brittle — might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
  • HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. Tooth loss before age 35 might be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Other conditions. Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include Sjogren’s syndrome — an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth — and eating disorders.

Because bacteria can proliferate as quickly as they do, we now provide our patients with a way to minimize bacterial risks during their cleaning appointments.  We have the ability to use a laser decontamination process that dramatically reduces bacterial levels in your gum pockets painlessly, without the need for anesthesia, and in as little time as 5 to 10 minutes.  Better still, the lowered bacterial levels are expected to continue for six to eight weeks.

Unfortunately, dental insurance still tends to be a little behind the times in terms of their coverage for the procedure.  We have kept the cost low, however, in order that most patients can benefit from this exciting new technology.  You can read more about it by clicking HERE.

Don’t Bother Flossing

What?! Is the sky falling? What dentist would dare utter such blasphemy!

Stick with me for a moment. You may learn something about flossing.

Here are the facts as I see them after more than twenty years in dental practice:

Most patients don’t floss.
Most patients don’t like to floss.
Most patients won’t floss even if you explain the benefits of flossing at every checkup visit for ten years.
Most patients are convinced flossing makes their gums bleed and is uncomfortable to do.
Most patients will tell you they floss, but “probably not as much as I should.”
So really, why bother?

Another observation I have made about flossing regards what people think flossing is. I will sometimes hand a patient a piece of floss and ask them to show me how they floss.  Without exception, I have seen patients pass the floss between their teeth and then pop it back out.

That sounds right, doesn’t it? Special effects department please sound the buzzer. That’s not flossing.

Add to this the fact that most patients will only perform this routine once in a while. If you call that “flossing” I say don’t lose sleep over the fact that you are not flossing regularly. That can be effective at pulling food out from in between your teeth, though, so feel free to do so. But if that’s not flossing, just what is it, really?

Flossing is the action of taking a length of floss – either the conventional “string” kind or pre-threaded on a fork-like device – and then passing it between your teeth while holding it in a “C-shape” against the side of the tooth. You then take the floss and rub the edge of the tooth, sliding it all the way under the gum-line in an up and down motion. How often can one do this? After every meal would not be too much. But if people did this at least once a day, the average case would see dramatic results after an average of two weeks of daily flossing.

If you haven’t been flossing regularly here is what you can expect: your gums will bleed when you start to floss. It is also likely to be a little uncomfortable at first. But over time, the bleeding should stop. If you haven’t had a dental checkup and cleaning for a while, it is a good idea to do so this first. Flossing against existing tartar will be an unending battle. Once the teeth are clean, however, daily flossing will usually result in pink, firm and healthy gums that don’t bleed. Other benefits? Fresher breath and reduced inflammation – which also means a lowered chance of heart attack and stroke.

If you only floss once in a while, though, inflamed gums will likely never get up to a point where the occasional activity makes any difference. So, if you don’t make it a discipline, why bother? But if you would like healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime, start flossing today!

Richard Walicki, EzineArticles Basic PLUS Author

The Most Affordable Dental Insurance

Recently, a great deal of attention has been placed on economizing in all different aspects of life. Some people have even considered cutting back in the area of health care by putting off routine maintenance care. While this is a little like playing Russian roulette when it comes to dental health — for reasons I’ll explain shortly — there may be a better way to dodge the financial bullet. And it may be a much simpler one.

After more than twenty years of practice I have seen people consider all sorts of ideas to deal with rising dental costs. Often, people become fixated upon dental insurance as the primary solution to the majority of their dental needs. Because dental insurance generally tends to be pretty expensive relative to what it pays out, especially if you are buying it yourself, patients that rely on it exclusively often end up worse than when they started. Dental insurance typically has waiting periods before it can be used, during which time existing conditions advance, becoming more expensive.

In these cases, you have to wonder – if the premiums are costing you more than what the company pays you back – what’s the point? Obviously, this arrangement is a much better deal for the insurance company than for the patient. Let’s also consider that when I first started practice, dental insurance maximums averaged $1,000 to $2,000 annually. Twenty years later, they average . . . $1,000 to $2,000 annually. If insurance kept up with inflation alone, the annual maximum should easily be over $5,000. Don’t hold your breath for that one though. Patients would be better off just setting aside the amount they pay for premiums. They usually come out better in the end.

Putting off dental care often becomes more costly to patients for several reasons. Firstly, many dental conditions are actually painless in the early stages. Periodontal disease is a prime example. This is a condition in which the bone surrounding the teeth becomes lost, leading to a variety of circumstances including bleeding gums, loose teeth, bad breath and, eventually, tooth loss. It is the number one reason that people loose teeth world-wide. For the most part, it doesn’t hurt. When it does, if it does, it is usually too late. The tooth or teeth have to come out.

Likewise, dental decay usually doesn’t hurt in the early stage. Actually, I’ve lost count of the number of times it didn’t hurt in the advanced stage either – but this is usually the point at which the patient becomes aware of a problem. A piece of the tooth breaks off, or they actually experience pain. The tragedy of this scenario is that when it reaches this stage teeth often end up requiring more expensive root canal therapy or extraction. Dental costs can very quickly escalate as much as ten times from the cost of a simple filling to what it costs to complete a root canal and crown.

So what do you do? Focus upon prevention.

Here is a true story I hope will leave as big impression upon you as it did me at the time:

When I was a dental student, I recall a lecture give by one of my professors in which he made a powerful point on the subject of prevention. The seminar dealt with the subject of prosthetics – more specifically, the fabrication of crowns and bridges. This professor, however, was one of those rare dentists who actually had two recognized specialties. He was a professor of prosthetics, but he was also a periodontist. While this was a crown and bridge lecture, he taught us a very valuable periodontal lesson.

Here’s what he did. The seminar was pretty informal at this point. The professor told us he was going to put up some slides of patients and have us guess their ages – just by looking at their x-rays and then at pictures of their gums. As a student, I remember thinking this was a refreshing little game and most of the class was doing quite well calling out the ages. Looking at the x-rays, we would evaluate bone levels, tooth eruption patterns, tooth wear, number of restorations and similar factors to make our “guess.” Then we would look at the color and texture of the gums and appearance of the smile and offer up our estimate. The professor would then show us the face of the patient and tell us their age. This went on for a while and we all did pretty well.

He then put up the next slides and guesses rang out: “twenty-five,” “thirty,” “twenty-seven,” went the typical guesses. I don’t think I can remember seeing a single filling on those slides, though there could have been. Nothing changed when he showed us a picture of the gums. They looked like a teen-ager’s. Then he put up a picture of the face. The person pictured was obviously in their late seventies, maybe even early eighties.

Dead silence. Then there was a small commotion and most of the class pointed out that the slides got mixed up.

The professor paused, and said “No. This is correct. Let me tell you how I can be sure. This is a picture of my father. Those are actual x-rays and a recent picture of his gums. How is it that he has such excellent oral health?”

He then went on to tell us how when his father was a younger man, he had a visit with his dentist and he complained to him that whenever he ate, he would get food stuck between his teeth. His father wanted to know if there was anything he could do about it, because it was pretty annoying.

The dad’s dentist thought about it for a second and told him: “Well, I’ll tell you what I do when that happens to me. I go over to my wife’s sewing kit and take out a piece of silk thread and just pass it between my teeth.” As a student, I wondered when floss became invented. Evidently, it just wasn’t popular back in those days.

In any case, our professor went on to explain that his father did exactly that after every meal since he was a young man. His gums, teeth and bone levels were almost unchanged. That’s what he had to show for his efforts.

I filed the image in the back of my mind, but I have to be honest – I didn’t exercise the same level of commitment – just yet.

Oh, sure, I brushed, watched what I ate, and took vitamin and mineral supplements. But my flossing was sporadic. That is, until I really started looking at what happened to my patients and how those who flossed performed against those who didn’t. If you asked me today: do I floss regularly? Absolutely. You can’t buy cheaper dental insurance.

Flossing benefits your gums, your breath, your teeth, your lungs, your heart – in short, you.

Do you know that probably up to a third of the cavities I treat happen between the teeth? This is why regular exams are so important. You simply can’t see this area. For that matter, without x-rays, neither can I in most cases. But my point here is simply this: even if you brush after every meal and snack, without flossing this area never gets cleaned. Why would anyone become surprised that an area that never got cleaned could decay over time?

There are all sorts of reasons people don’t like to floss, but the reasons to do it are actually pretty compelling and very cost-effective. Think it over. Maybe floss is the most affordable dental insurance. . . .

Richard Walicki, EzineArticles Basic PLUS Author

Tooth Loss and Replacement

When we are born we come into the world without teeth. Some of us leave the same way, but that really isn’t what nature intended.

When you are on a liquid diet having teeth doesn’t appear to be vital, since there is obviously nothing to chew. Nature pretty much handles a baby’s nutritional needs with mother’s milk. As we grow and begin to eat solid food, however, having and maintaining healthy teeth becomes an entirely different matter.

Tooth LossSo when teeth become lost due to cavities, periodontal disease or trauma, the consequences for good health can become significant. Let’s not forget that digestion begins in the mouth. There are actually two forms of digestion – mechanical and chemical.

Mechanical digestion is the grinding and tearing of food, as in chewing, in order to increase its surface area. Creating a greater surface area means that there is a better chance that chemical digestion can do its job. In chemical digestion, enzymes react with the food to help break it down into simpler substances which can either be absorbed in the bloodstream as nutrients or passed out of the body as waste. This process of breakdown and assimilation occurs within the digestive tract – but it starts in the mouth with your teeth, tongue, and saliva.

Because a full set of adult teeth numbers thirty-two, it seems many people feel the occasional loss of a tooth is a relatively insignificant event. And while it is true that a person can still function with thirty-one, the long-term consequence of losing just one tooth can be more significant than most people realize.

Keystone

While all of our teeth are important, structurally, the loss of certain teeth will bring about more change than the loss of others. Think of this in terms of the walls of your house. If you take down a non-supporting wall, the house will still stand. Take out a supporting wall, however, and you have a much bigger problem. Teeth are constructed much like an arch, though. If you have ever seen a stone arch, you know it has a keystone at the top that keeps the arch together. Remove that one stone, and the whole thing collapses. In your dental arch, you can think of your canines as a keystone. Lose them, and the ensuing change can be rapid. You can lose several teeth – even all – over time. But it’s not just the loss of canines that creates a problem.

Losing a first molar, for example, can create a domino effect of changes in your mouth that can affect your ability to chew easily. It can cause shifting of the teeth in a manner that even affects the appearance of your front teeth. Or, it can lead to periodontal problems and the formation of cavities on portions of the teeth that might not have been otherwise affected before the loss.

The point is that if you lose a tooth, you should consult your dentist about what tooth replacement options are right for you. Today, we have many ways of providing functional replacements that can improve your ability to chew your food, maintain your good appearance, and keep you from losing still more teeth. Depending upon your circumstances and financial considerations, these replacements may include removable dentures, bridges (which are non-removable, cemented tooth replacements), or dental implants (think of them as artificial tooth-roots that have crowns, bridges, or dentures attached to them).

If you are missing a tooth, speak with your dentist about what tooth replacement options are right for your situation. Replacing a lost tooth early is often much less involved (and costly) than when you begin to experience the problems resulting from long-term neglect.

 

Richard Walicki, EzineArticles Basic PLUS Author

Basic Oral Prevention Saves Lives

Do you put on a seat belt when you drive?

If so, why?

My guess is that it is either because you are compelled to do so by law, or (if you live in the U.S.) you believe the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), who claim that seat belts save about 13,000 lives a year, nationwide.

The few seconds it takes you to snap on your seat belt buckle reduces the chance of dying in a car crash by 45%, and of being injured by about half.  Nevertheless, seat belts are not likely to play a big role in saving your life, because chances are you won’t find yourself in a serious automobile accident.  Let’s face it, fortunately, most people never find themselves in that circumstance.

On the other hand, gum disease (either gingivitis or periodontal disease) affects up to 80 percent of the population.

In other articles, you may have heard that periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults.  The shocking reality is that this is probably the least notable consequence of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is a significant risk factor for stroke, heart disease, certain respiratory problems, low birth-weight infants, and some forms of cancer.

While very few people will die in a car crash, a great deal more will die from a heart attack, stroke, or cancer.  Addressing periodontal disease via preventive techniques can significantly reduce your chances of dying from any one of these afflictions.

If this simple logic is not enough to convince you of the need to brush after meals, floss daily and eat a healthy diet, it may help you to know that over the past few decades, there have been hundreds of peer-reviewed medical studies published in journals showing periodontal disease to be a risk factor for heart attacks.

While periodontal disease is certainly not the only factor in the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases or cancer, there is definitely a link.  The modern thinking regarding the connection has to do with the long-term inflammatory nature of gum disease.  In simple terms, periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the gums and bone supporting the teeth.  As with most any infection in the body, this leads to inflammation.
Toothbrushes

Often having no symptoms that are detectable by the patient, bacteria from periodontal disease can affect blood vessels on the walls of your heart.  If you have gum disease, the bacteria can easily invade the blood stream through one of many open portals.  Let’s face it, it is a relatively short trip from the mouth to the heart after all.

Bacteria in the blood may also stimulate liver production of C-reactive proteins and fibrinogen.  Both these substances have been linked to heart attacks.

Persons who successfully treated their periodontal disease have also been shown to experience improved cholesterol levels and demonstrated lowered blood pressure.  Most readers will recognize these as factors frequently associated with cardiovascular disease.

The bottom line:  while we generally don’t hesitate to snap on a seat belt because it may save our lives, not enough of the population understand that oral health basics save more lives than buckling-up!  Added benefits?  Saving teeth (which leads to better digestion and less need for heartburn medications), fresher breath, and avoiding painful toothaches or complicated dental procedures — which also translates to more dollars in your pocket.

Richard Walicki, EzineArticles Basic PLUS Author