Posts for tag: tooth decay

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
July 14, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  
StayAheadofDecay-SpreadingRootCavities

Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.

Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).

A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.

In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.

But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.

Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.

If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.

Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.

If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of 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 “Root Cavities.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
October 18, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  
HowtoKeeptheCavityMonsterAwaythisHalloween

Watching your kids dress up in cute, spooky costumes and go out trick-or-treating can be a real thrill. But thinking about the dental damage caused by eating all those sweets might just give you the chills. So is it best to act like a witch and take away all the candy from those adorable little ghosts and goblins?

Relax! According to experts like the American Dental Association, it’s OK to let kids enjoy some sweet treats on special occasions like Halloween—especially if they have been taking good care of their oral hygiene all year long, by brushing twice each day and flossing once every day. But to help keep cavities away from those young smiles, there are some things parents (and everyone else) should understand.

Cavities—small holes in the tooth’s outer surface that result from the decay process—get started when bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and produce acids. The acids eat away at the hard enamel coating of teeth. If left untreated, decay will eventually reach the soft inner core of the tooth, causing even more serious damage.

There are several ways to stop the process of tooth decay. One is to take away the sugar that decay bacteria feed on. Because this ingredient is common in so many foods, it’s hard to completely eliminate sugar from the diet. Instead, it may be more practical to limit the consumption of sweets. For example, if kids are only allowed to eat sugary treats around mealtimes, it gives the mouth plenty of “downtime,” in which healthful saliva can neutralize the bacterial acids. It also helps to avoid sweets that stick to teeth (like taffy or gummy bears) and those that stay in the mouth for a long time (like hard candy).

Another way to help stop tooth decay is by maintaining top-notch oral hygiene. Decay bacteria thrive in the sticky film called plaque that clings stubbornly to the surfaces of teeth. Plaque can be removed by—you guessed it—effective brushing and flossing techniques. While it’s a good start, brushing alone won’t remove plaque from the spaces between teeth and under the gums: That’s why flossing is an essential part of the daily oral hygiene routine. Helping your kids develop good oral hygiene habits is among the best things you can do to fight cavities.

And speaking of habits, there are a few others that can help—or hurt—your oral health.  For example, drinking plenty of water keeps the body hydrated and benefits oral health; but regularly drinking soda and other sweetened or acidic beverages greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. And seeing your dentist on a regular basis for professional cleanings and routine checkups is one of the most beneficial habits of all. Working together, we can help keep tooth decay from turning into a scary situation for kids—and adults too.

If you have questions about cavity prevention or oral hygiene, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay—How to Assess Your Risk.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
August 19, 2018
Category: Oral Health
ActorDavidRamseyDiscussesBabyBottleToothDecay

Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.

“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?

Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.

While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods.  Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.

This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”

Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:

  • Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
  • Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
  • Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.

Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.

“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”

If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
January 18, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  
RootDecayinYourLaterYearsCouldEndangerYourTeeth

As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.

We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.

But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum.  Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.

But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.

That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.

There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.

The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.

If you would like more information on preventing and treating tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
January 21, 2017
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  
LessisBetterthe21stCenturyApproachtoToothDecayTreatment

For over a century dentists treated tooth decay by removing both diseased portions of the tooth and healthy structure deemed at risk for future decay. In the 1970s, though, a new approach emerged, known as Minimally Invasive Dentistry (MID). This practice protocol attempts to preserve as much of the healthy structure as possible.

Before MID, dentists followed a decay treatment protocol developed in the 19th Century. A part of this became known as extension for prevention calling for dentists to remove healthy structure considered vulnerable to decay. Besides reducing the tooth's volume, this practice also resulted in, by today's standards, larger than necessary fillings.

It was thought that removing this additional material would make it easier to clean bacterial plaque, the source of decay, but later, research showed the practice couldn't guarantee the teeth wouldn't be reinfected.

Since then we've learned a lot more about teeth and have developed new ways to detect decay at earlier stages. X-ray imaging, for example, has transitioned largely from film to digital technology, providing more detailed images at greater magnification. This, along with laser fluorescence and infrared cameras, has made it easier to detect the first tiny stages of decay.

We can also limit tooth decay damage by boosting enamel strength with fluoride applications and sealants or reducing decay-causing bacteria with anti-bacterial rinses. We've also seen advancement in techniques like air abrasion that remove decayed tooth material while leaving more healthy structure intact better than using a traditional dental drill.

Restoring teeth after treatment has also improved. While dental metal amalgam is still used for some fillings, the main choice is now composite resin. These new tooth-colored dental materials require less tooth preparation (and thus less material loss) and bond well to the remaining structure, resulting in a stronger tooth.

Following a MID protocol leads to less intervention and less time in the dentist's chair. It also means preserving more of a natural tooth, an important aim in promoting long-lasting dental health.

If you would like more information on minimally invasive dentistry, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.