While it may not be one of your favorite features in the dental office, the dental drill is nevertheless necessary for treating problem teeth. It’s used primarily for removing decayed or damaged structure and preparing a tooth for fillings or other restorations.
Dental drills have been used for decades and are quite effective — but they have their drawbacks. Their rotating burrs often remove portions of healthy tooth structure along with decayed material. Friction from the drill action can cause discomfort, so local anesthesia is usually needed. Drills can also emit a high-pitched machine noise that’s unsettling to many patients.
There’s a growing alternative to the drill, known as air abrasion. Although the technology has been around since the 1950s, the development of new suction pumps that capture the resulting dust from its use has made it more palatable as an option to the traditional drill.
Also known as particle abrasion, the technique uses a pressurized stream of fine particles (usually aluminum oxide, an abrasive powder) directed at teeth to wear away (abrade) the tooth’s structural surface. We can be quite precise in the amount of surface material removed, so it’s useful for diminishing stains or roughing the surface for bonding materials like composite resin. We’re also able to remove decayed material with very little impact on surrounding healthy structure, and you may not need anesthesia during the procedure.
While this quiet alternative to the noisier drill is quite versatile, it does have its limitations. It’s not that efficient for preparing larger cavities for restoration or for removing older amalgam fillings. The teeth to be treated must be carefully isolated to prevent the fine particle dust produced from being swallowed by the patient or spread into the air. High-volume suction equipment is a must or the procedure will create a “sandstorm” of particles in the room.
Still, for situations suited to it and with proper isolation measures, air abrasion can be effective and comfortable. If the technology continues to improve, the dental drill may soon become a relic of the past.
If you would like more information on procedures using air abrasion, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
If your child begins complaining of tooth pain without an accompanying fever or facial swelling, it’s likely not an emergency. Still, you should have us check it—and the sooner the better if the pain persists or keeps your child up at night. There are a number of possible causes, any of which if untreated could be detrimental to their dental health.
Before coming in, though, you can do a cursory check of your child’s mouth to see if you notice any abnormalities. The most common cause for a toothache is tooth decay, which you might be able to see evidence of in the form of cavities or brown spots on the tooth’s biting surfaces. If you notice swollen or reddened gums around a tooth, this could be a possible sign of a localized area of infection known as an abscess. You should also ask your child if they fell or were hit in the mouth and look for any signs of an injury.
If you don’t see anything unusual, there may be another cause—stuck food like popcorn or candy lodged and exerting painful pressure on the gum tissue or tooth. You may be able to intervene in this case: gently floss around the affected tooth to try to dislodge any food particles. The pain may ease if you’re able to remove any. Even so, if you see abnormalities in the mouth or the pain doesn’t subside, you should definitely plan to come in for an examination.
In the meantime, you can help ease discomfort with a child-appropriate dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. An ice pack against the outside jaw may also help, but be careful not to apply ice directly to the skin. And under no circumstances rub aspirin or other painkiller directly on the gums—like ice, these products can burn the skin. If these efforts don’t help you should try to see us the same day or first thing the next morning for advanced treatment.
The main thing is not to panic. Knowing what to look for and when to see us will help ensure your child’s tooth pain will be cared for promptly.
If you would like more information on handling dental issues with your child, 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 “A Child’s Toothache.”
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.”
Thanks to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, your chances of surviving cancer are greater than ever. These treatments, however, often produce unwelcome side effects. Treating throat or oral cancer, for example, could damage your mouth's salivary glands or bone.
Saliva is essential to oral health, providing antibodies to curb the growth of disease-causing bacteria and neutralizing acid, which can erode enamel. But salivary glands damaged during cancer treatment may not be able to produce enough saliva. The resulting “dry mouth” creates an environment conducive to bacterial growth and elevated acid levels.
You can help reduce the effects of dry mouth during your treatment (and after, if the damage is permanent) by drinking more water or by using substances that stimulate saliva. Cutting back on acidic foods and beverages will also help lower your mouth's acidity. And be sure to keep up daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
The more ominous threat to oral health during cancer treatment, though, is osteoradionecrosis. This occurs when radiation targets specific areas of bone. The bone can lose blood supply and living cellular tissue, which inhibit its ability to heal or replenish itself. If this occurs in the jawbone of teeth that may be lost, the bone tissue could be adversely affected during healing.
Depending on your treatment needs, your risk for osteoradionecrosis might be unavoidable if teeth are to be lost. It's important we discuss that risk because it could impact future dental treatment. In the worst case, before cancer treatment, we may not be able to save affected teeth and your restorative options might be limited.
If your risk of osteoradionecrosis is minimal, though, we may be able to restore any resulting damaged or missing teeth with a wide range of options like dental implants or crowns before or after your cancer treatment.
As with other aspects of health, taking care of your teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment can be challenging; some problems may be unavoidable. But with a proper dental treatment plan during and after chemotherapy and radiation, we can minimize those problems and help to eventually restore your smile.
Your diet can play as important a role in your dental health as brushing and flossing. What you eat (particularly sugar) could increase your risk of tooth decay despite your hygiene habits. And vice-versa: a nutritious diet may help boost your preventive efforts even more.
Let’s look at two very different approaches to diet and see how your dental health is likely to fare under each.
A High Sugar/Low Fiber Diet. Modern western diets heavy with processed foods are inundated with two particular types of refined sugars. The first is sucrose, which comes mainly from either beets or sugar cane. Foods (and beverages) may also contain a refined sugar from corn known as high fructose corn syrup. Refined sugars are added for taste to thousands of products like cake, candy, soft drinks or even condiments like catsup. These “free” sugars are easily processed by bacteria into acid. Combine that with fewer fibrous vegetables in the diet and you have a recipe not only for obesity and other health issues, but tooth decay as well.
A High Fiber/Low Sugar Diet. Fruits and vegetables make up a large part of this kind of diet, while added free sugars much less so. That doesn’t make this diet sugar-free: all plant products contain simple sugars produced by photosynthesis. The difference, though, is that these sugars — glucose, fructose and sucrose (natural, not the refined versions) — are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion because of the fiber content of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also receive other nutrients like vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Eating this kind of diet will help decrease the risk of tooth decay.
So there you have it: eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and restrict your intake of processed foods and sweets. You may also want to fine-tune a few items to maximize decay prevention: for example, eat starches in their natural form (whole grains, beans or certain fruits) as much as possible rather than refined or in combination with added sugar (cakes, cookies, etc.). And while fresh fruits with their naturally occurring sugars aren’t a significant factor in tooth decay, dried fruits (especially with added sugar) might.
If you would like more information on proper diets for better oral 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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