When it comes to our children’s safety, there isn’t much nowadays that isn’t under scrutiny. Whether food, clothing, toys and more, we ask the same question: can it be harmful to children?
That also includes tried and true healthcare practices. One in particular, the routine x-ray, has been an integral part of dental care for nearly a century. As a means for detecting tooth decay much earlier than by sight, it has without a doubt helped save billions of teeth.
But is it safe for children? The reason to ask is because x-rays are an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. As with other forms of radiation, elevated or frequent exposure to x-rays could damage tissue and increase the future risk of cancer.
But while there is potential for harm, dentists take great care to never expose patients, especially children, to that level or frequency of radiation. They incorporate a number of safeguards based on a principle followed by all healthcare professionals in regard to x-rays called ALARA, an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable.” This means dentists and physicians use as low an exposure of x-ray energy as is needed to achieve a reasonable beneficial outcome. In dentistry, that’s identifying and treating tooth decay.
X-ray equipment advances are a good example of ALARA in action. Digital imaging, which has largely replaced film, requires less x-ray radiation for the same results than its older counterpart. Camera equipment has also become more efficient, with modern units containing lower settings for children to ensure the proper amount of exposure.
Dentists are also careful how often they take x-ray images with their patients, only doing so when absolutely necessary. As a result, dental patients by and large experience lower dosages of x-ray radiation in a year than they receive from natural radiation background sources found every day in the environment.
Dentists are committed to using x-ray technology in as safe and beneficial a way as possible. Still, if you have concerns please feel free to discuss it further with your dental provider. Both of you have the same goal—that your children have both healthy mouths and healthy bodies for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety for children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Your family uses fluoride toothpaste and your drinking water is fluoridated too. So with the fluoride your child already takes in, is it really necessary for topical fluoride treatments during their regular dental visits?
The answer is most definitely. Fluoride has a unique ability to strengthen enamel, your teeth’s protective cover against decay and other diseases. It does this by infusing itself in the enamel structure and making it that much more resistant to acid attack and decay.
This infusion occurs in two ways. First, growing teeth obtain it through the bloodstream as they incorporate other minerals that make up the enamel structure. The very small amount of fluoride added to drinking water — as low as one part per million (ppm) — imparts sufficient fluoride to developing teeth. In the absence of fluoridated water, dietary fluoride supplements can achieve the same effect.
The second way is just after the teeth have erupted and are still quite young. In this case, fluoride coming in direct contact with the enamel surface is absorbed, resulting in changes to the enamel’s crystalline structure that will create added strength. This can occur to a limited degree through fluoride toothpaste or other dental products. The concentration of fluoride in these products, though, is relatively low (850-1500 ppm) as mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety.
Professional applications, on the other hand, are much higher — 12,300 to 22,600 ppm depending on their form. They’re applied, of course, under strict clinical guidelines to cleaned tooth surfaces, usually as a gel, foam or varnish. The latter form will often continue leaching fluoride into the enamel for a month or more.
These topical applications can greatly strengthen the teeth of children who don’t have the benefit of fluoridated water or may be at higher risk for dental disease because of socio-economic conditions. But they can still be helpful for children with adequate fluoride exposure and low risk factors for disease. At the very least, fluoride treatments can give your child an added boost of protection as their teeth continue to develop.
If you would like more information on topical fluoride treatments for children, 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 “Topical Fluoride.”
Tooth decay is a highly destructive dental disease, responsible along with periodontal (gum) disease for most adult tooth loss. And we become even more susceptible to it as we get older.
One form of decay that’s especially prominent among senior adults is a root cavity. Similar to a cavity in the crown (visible tooth), this form instead occurs at or below the gum line in the roots. They happen mainly because the roots have become exposed due to gum recession, a common consequence of periodontal (gum) disease and/or brushing too hard.
Exposed roots are extremely vulnerable to disease because they don’t have the benefit of protective enamel like the tooth crown, covered instead with a thin and less protective mineral-like material called cementum. Normally, that’s not a problem because the gums that would normally cover them offer the bulk of the protection. But with the gums receded, the roots must depend on the less-effective cementum for protection against disease.
Although we treat root cavities in a similar way to those in the crown by removing decayed structure and then filling them, there’s often an added difficulty in accessing them below the gum line. Because of its location we may need to surgically enter through the gums to reach the cavity. This can increase the effort and expense to treat them.
It’s best then to prevent them if at all possible. This means practicing daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the thin, built-up biofilm on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and advanced prevention methods like topical fluoride to strengthen any at-risk teeth.
You should also seek immediate treatment at the first sign of gum disease to help prevent gum recession. Even if it has occurred, treating the overall disease could help renew gum attachment. We may also need to support tissue regeneration with grafting surgery.
Root cavities are a serious matter that could lead to tooth loss. But by practicing prevention and getting prompt treatment for any dental disease, you can stop them from destroying your smile.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root cavities, 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: Tooth Decay near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
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.”
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