Posts for: April, 2013
Your teeth are under constant attack from bacteria that normally live in your mouth. When these bacteria thrive, they create acid that begins to dissolve the minerals in your enamel (the outer layer of your teeth). In your defense, your saliva protects against these bacteria and adds minerals back to your enamel. Let's take a look at this ongoing battle, and what you can do to sway it in a positive direction.
The outer covering of your teeth, the enamel, is made mainly of the minerals calcium and phosphate. The enamel protects the interior layer of your teeth, the dentin, which is similar in composition to bone. Although it is the hardest substance in your body, the enamel is still vulnerable to attack.
Your mouth is normally full of saliva, which washes over your teeth and maintains a balance between acids and bases. The terms “acids” and “bases” refer to a scientific measurement, the pH scale. Your mouth's pH is usually in the middle of the scale — neither acidic nor basic, but neutral. This is important in controlling the bacteria in your mouth.
You may be surprised to know how many bacteria live in everyone's mouth. More bacteria live in a single mouth than the number of people who have ever lived on earth. Some of these bacteria can cause tooth decay. Let's call them “bad bacteria.”
When the bad bacteria attach themselves to dental plaque — a film that builds up on your teeth every day — they begin to consume sugars that are in your mouth from foods that you have eaten. As the bacteria break down these sugars and turn them into energy, acid is produced as a by-product. This turns the saliva from neutral to acidic.
At a certain level of acidity, minerals in your enamel start to dissolve. This is called “de-mineralization.” It means that more calcium and phosphate are leaving the tooth's surface than are entering it. Early de-mineralization of the enamel shows up as white spots on a tooth.
Fortunately, healthy saliva can return calcium and phosphate to the enamel, or re-mineralize it. De-mineralization and opposing re-mineralization are constantly battling in your mouth. However, if too much enamel is de-mineralized, bacterial acid can go on to attack the next layer of your teeth, the dentin. As this process continues, you develop a dental cavity.
How can you protect your teeth? The first level of defense is regular removal of plaque, so that the bad bacteria do not get a foothold. In an office visit we may also recommend products such as sealants, antibacterial agents, topical fluoride, calcium and phosphate supplements, pH neutralizers, special toothpaste and rinses, which may help your particular situation.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about tooth decay. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World's Oldest & Widespread Disease.”
Singer Olivia Newton-John's daughter Chloe is now a lovely, grown woman, but Olivia recently recounted to Dear Doctor magazine a rather creative method she found to sooth Chloe's teething troubles many years ago.
“When Chloe was a baby and teething I remember using a frozen bagel for her sore gums,” Olivia said. “She loved it!”
Cold is often very soothing to a teething child's gums. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends using a clean, chilled, rubber teething ring, or cold wet washcloth. Chilled pacifiers can also be helpful. Be sure not to freeze teething rings or pacifiers as ice can actually burn sensitive mouth tissues.
Older teethers can sometimes find relieve from cold foods such as popsicles (or bagels!) but make sure your child eats these sugar-containing foods only at mealtimes so as not to promote tooth decay.
If your baby has not yet begun the teething (or tooth-eruption) process, you can expect it to begin usually between six and nine months. It may, however, start as early as three months or as late as twelve months.
Teething symptoms vary among children, as does the length of time it takes for a tooth to make its appearance. But many parents notice the following signs:
- Biting and gnawing
- Gum swelling
- Chin (facial) rash
- Disrupted sleeping patterns
- Ear rubbing
- Decreased appetite
These symptoms are usually most bothersome during the week that the tooth is breaking (erupting) through the gums, starting about four days before and lasting about three days after the tooth appears.
Occasionally, teething discomfort can be considerable. If that is the case with your baby, you can give her or him acetaminophen or ibuprofen in the appropriate dose (check with your pharmacist if you're not sure what that is). The medicine should be swallowed — not massaged into the gums, as this can also burn. Numbing agents should not be used for children under 2, except under the advice and supervision of a healthcare professional.
If you would like to learn more about teething or any other child-related oral health issue, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. If you would like to read Dear Doctor's entire interview with Olivia Newton-John, please see “Olivia Newton-John.” Dear Doctor also has more on “Teething Troubles.”