The ongoing opioid addiction epidemic has brought together government, law enforcement and healthcare to find solutions. The focus among doctors and dentists has been on finding ways to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.
Opioids (or narcotics) have been a prominent part of pain management in healthcare for decades. Drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl can relieve moderate to extreme pain and make recovery after illness or procedures much easier. Providers like doctors and dentists have relied heavily on them, writing nearly 260 million narcotic prescriptions a year as late as 2012.
But although effective when used properly, narcotics are also addictive. While the bulk of overall drug addiction stems from illegal narcotics like heroin, prescription drugs also account for much of the problem: In 2015, for example, 2 million Americans had an addiction that began with an opioid prescription.
The current crisis has led to horrific consequences as annual overdose deaths now surpass the peak year of highway accident deaths (just over 54,000 in 1972). This has led to a concerted effort by doctors and dentists to develop other approaches to pain management without narcotics.
One that’s gained recent momentum in dentistry involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin work by dilating blood vessels, which reduces painful inflammation. They’re available over the counter, although stronger doses require a prescription.
NSAIDs are effective for mild to moderate pain, but without the addictive properties of narcotics. There are some adverse health consequences if taken long-term, but limited use for pain or during post-procedure recovery is safe.
Many dentists are recommending NSAIDs for first-line pain management after most dental procedures. Narcotics may still be prescribed, but in a limited and controlled fashion. As part of this new approach, dentists typically combine ibuprofen and acetaminophen: Studies have shown the two work together better at reducing pain than either one individually.
Still, many aren’t eager to move away from the proven effectiveness of narcotics to primarily NSAIDs. But as these non-addictive drugs continue to prove their effectiveness, there’s hope the use of addictive opioids will continue to decrease.
More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.
You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.
This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.
There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.
In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.
With only a few teeth now showing in your baby’s mouth, you might think it’s too early to schedule their first dental visit. But you should, and here’s why: tooth decay.
Although adults are more likely to contend with dental disease, the exception for children is tooth decay. One kind of decay, early childhood caries (ECC), can wreak havoc in children’s primary teeth. While your child may or may not be at high risk for ECC, it’s better to err on the side of caution and begin regular checkups by their first birthday.
Since primary teeth eventually give way for permanent teeth, it may not seem that important to protect them from decay. But despite their short lifespan primary teeth can have a long-term effect on dental health for one primary reason: They’re placeholders for the permanent teeth that will eventually replace them.
If they’re lost prematurely to decay, nearby teeth can drift into the resulting open space. This can crowd out the intended permanent tooth, which may then erupt out of place (or not at all, remaining impacted within the gums). Protecting primary teeth from decay—or treating them if they do become infected—reduces this risk to the permanent teeth.
Besides regular cleanings, dentists can do other things to protect your child’s teeth from decay. Applying a high strength fluoride solution to teeth can help strengthen enamel against acid attack, the precursor to decay. Sealants on the biting surfaces of teeth deprive bacterial plaque of nooks and crannies to hide, especially in back molars and pre-molars.
You can also help prevent decay in your child’s primary teeth by starting a brushing regimen as soon as teeth start appearing. Also, limit sugar intake by restricting sugary foods to mealtime and not sending a child to bed with a sugary liquid-filled bottle (including juices or breast milk). And avoid possible transfers of oral bacteria from your mouth to theirs by not drinking from the same cup or placing any object in your mouth that might go in theirs.
Tooth decay can have long-term consequences on your child’s dental health. But by working together with your dentist you can help ensure this damaging disease doesn’t damage their teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay in primary teeth, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
While out with friends one evening, you take a bite of ice cream. Suddenly, pain shoots through your teeth. It only lasts a second, but it's enough to ruin your good time.
This could be tooth sensitivity, a painful reaction to hot or cold foods. It often occurs when the enamel in prolonged contact with acid has eroded. Acid is a waste product of bacteria found in plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate brushing and flossing. Enamel normally mutes temperature or pressure sensation to the underlying dentin layer and nerves. Loss of enamel exposes the dentin and nerves to the full brunt of these sensations.
Sensitivity can also happen if your gums have shrunk back (receded) and exposed dentin below the enamel. Although over-aggressive brushing can often cause it, gum recession also happens because of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection also arising from plaque.
The best way to avoid tooth sensitivity is to prevent enamel erosion or gum recession in the first place. Removing accumulated plaque through daily brushing and flossing is perhaps the most essential part of prevention, along with a nutritious diet low in sugar and regular dental cleanings and checkups.
It's also important to treat any dental disease that does occur despite your best hygiene efforts. Gum disease requires aggressive plaque removal, especially around the roots. While receded gum tissues often rebound after treatment, you may need gum grafting surgery to restore lost tissues if the gums have receded more deeply. For enamel erosion and any resulting decay you may need a filling, root canal treatment or a crown, depending on the depth and volume of structural damage.
While you're being treated you can also gain some relief from ongoing sensitivity by using a toothpaste with potassium nitrate or similar products designed to desensitize the dentin. Fluoride, a known enamel strengthener, has also been shown to reduce sensitivity. We can apply topical fluoride directly to tooth surfaces in the form of gels or varnishes.
Don't suffer through bouts of tooth sensitivity any more than you must. Visit us for a full exam and begin treatment to relieve you of the pain and stress.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
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