It depends on how much you want to keep your teeth. The standard timeframe of professional cleanings and exams by the team at Centennial Dental Center isn’t arbitrary. Six months is about the length of time that tartar forms and begins to make its inexorable move under your gumline. No matter how good a brusher and flosser you are, everyone forms some degree of tartar in areas such as the inside of the bottom incisors. As this tartar grows, it begins to extend under the gumline. This begins to irritate the gums, a process known as gingivitis. Left unattended, gingivitis turns into periodontitis, otherwise known as gum disease. Gum disease means infection, tooth loss, and serious oral and other health concerns.
Or, you can keep your twice-yearly cleanings and exams and keep a healthy mouth.
When we see you every six months, we also are able to see signs of oral cancer or gum disease before they really take over. Plus, if we catch decay in a tooth early, it’s much easier to remove and fill than when a tooth has extensive decay that’s been left for months.
The basics of good home oral hygiene are usually sufficient to prevent most cavities from forming. Cavities form when decay penetrates the enamel of a tooth and makes its way into the dentin or even the pulp. All cavities start with simple plaque, the sticky film that covers your teeth all through the day. Plaque has different types of bacteria in it. When we eat and drink, these bacteria create acids, which begin to eat away at the enamel, the outer layer of the tooth. This is tooth decay, and it eventually becomes a cavity.
When you brush and floss, you remove the plaque, which immediately starts forming again. That’s why you need to brush twice daily and floss once a day. If the plaque is left on your teeth, due to missed brushing or cursory ineffective brushing, it leads to decay and the formation of tartar.
You can help your teeth out by eating and drinking fewer sugary foods and beverages, particularly sodas and juice “cocktails,” which usually are only 10 percent juice. Certain types of bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars you eat and create acids. These acids are what lead to tooth decay.
Our hygienists at Centennial Dental Center always ask every patient, “Do you floss?” Of course, they usually know the answer from looking at your teeth and gums.
There is some debate about the value of flossing due to a questionable study that came out a few years back. Who knows what the point of conducting that study was? At Centennial (and any other dentist for that matter), we know the value of daily flossing.
If you don’t floss between your teeth, plaque gathers and builds there. You may be the best tooth brusher on the planet, but your toothbrush can’t get to all of the tooth surface between your teeth. That’s why you floss — it scrapes away the plaque between your teeth and under the edges of your gums. If you don’t remove the plaque between your teeth, the bacteria multiply and create acids that begin to attack the enamel on your teeth and your gums. That is the start of tooth decay and gum disease.
X-rays are an important diagnostic tool because they allow us to:
- Find cavities
- Look at the tooth roots
- Determine if your gum disease has affected the jawbone
- See developing teeth
- Track the path of descending wisdom teeth
- Check all the bony areas of the mouth
- Monitor the alignment of your teeth
It’s trendy these days to question the value of fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in all water sources, including the oceans. It also occurs in all kinds of foods, from spinach to carrots, Russet potatoes to chicken. Since the 1940s, it has been added to most municipal water supplies as a way to help prevent tooth decay, especially in children. Yet, not unlike those denigrating the value of vaccines, there are those who claim fluoride is bad for your health.
There couldn’t be a bigger lie out there. Fluoride has been proven in dozens of studies to strengthen teeth, even reversing decay in early stages, and to strengthen our bones. Originally it was thought that fluoride only had benefits for developing teeth in children, helping them fight off decay. However, more recent studies on adults show that fluoride still benefits adult teeth.
Fluoride strengthens your teeth by fighting demineralization. Your teeth have minerals going in and out of them all day; this is called demineralization and remineralization. Demineralization is the problem. Minerals are lost from a tooth’s enamel layer when acids, formed from the bacteria in plaque and sugars in the mouth, attack the enamel. Fortunately, when you eat foods and drink water, minerals such as fluoride, calcium, and phosphate remineralize the teeth. The balance is what’s important. Too much demineralization without remineralization results in tooth decay.
Fluoride is proven to help remineralize and strengthen the teeth. It helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth enamel more resistant to those acids from bacteria and sugars in the mouth. Fluoride also has the amazing effect of reversing early cases of decay. For kids under 6, fluoride becomes incorporated into the development of permanent teeth. This makes the teeth resistant to the assault of acids trying to demineralize the teeth. For children and adults, fluoride speeds remineralization and disrupts acid production in the mouth.
Your teeth are filled with blood vessels, nerves, and other material. Without tooth enamel, anything hot or cold you ate would send the nerves in your teeth into a tizzy. But enamel is very hard and very strong and it covers all of your teeth above the gumline, so the nerves don’t react to the hot and cold of a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone. You can eat and drink whatever you like without worrying.
But when the enamel thins or if the tooth root is exposed (tooth roots are not covered by enamel because they are usually covered by the gums), the tooth now will be sensitive to hot and cold. This is clinically known as dentin hypersensitivity. Sensitivity can also occur if a tooth is cracked or has decay in its interior. Tooth roots can become exposed by brushing too aggressively, which causes the gums to recede. Tooth sensitivity affects over half of the population.The first step in addressing tooth sensitivity is to come see us at Centennial Dental Center. We will get to the cause of your tooth sensitivity, and we may take any of these steps to address it:
- If decay has invaded a tooth, we can remove it and place a filling.
- If decay has reached the pulp of the tooth, we can perform a root canal.
- If your tooth is cracked or fractured, we can place a crown over the tooth to allow you to keep the tooth, rather than extracting it.
- We may cover exposed root surfaces with sealant to protect them.
- We may bring the gums back down if they have receded.
- We may apply fluoride varnish directly to the sensitive areas of your teeth to strengthen the enamel.
- We may recommend various desensitizing toothpastes.
You can also try to limit acidic foods and drinks, such as carbonated drinks, citrus fruits, wine, and yogurt. These can remove tooth enamel.
If you’ve lost all of your natural teeth and have full dentures, it’s easy to think you no longer need to regularly see the dentist. After all, dentures don’t get cavities! The problem with this line of thinking is that the stability and comfort of your dentures depends on the gums and jawbone beneath them. Your oral health isn’t just your teeth; it includes your gums and jawbone. Plus, without natural teeth transferring bite force energy down into the jawbone, that jawbone begins to erode and resorb. That’s the reason why many people who have lost all of their teeth appear as if their mouth area is collapsing backwards.
As a denture wearer, when you come in to see us at Centennial Dental Center, we check the changes in your gums and jawbone. We’ll check the fit of your dentures, and see how those changes have impacted it. We’ll check for sore spots on your gums, and we can adjust the fit of your dentures to alleviate them. We’ll check for oral cancer.
Also, you may not realize it, but if the fit of your dentures has changed you may be avoiding eating certain foods. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
The bottom line is this — regular preventive care, even for denture wearers, can lengthen the life of the denture and it will keep your jawbone and gum foundation in good shape.