Welcome to another chapter of our supplement exploration journey—Vitamin A! Beyond its renowned role in vision and immunity, let’s delve into the dental wonders this vitamin brings to the table.
🔍 The Basics of Vitamin A: 🔍
Vitamin A exists in two primary forms: retinoids (found in animal sources) and carotenoids (abundant in colorful fruits and vegetables). These compounds are superheroes for your overall health, but what about your pearly whites?
Dental Benefits of Vitamin A:
Gum Health Guardian: Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of your gums. It supports the integrity of mucous membranes, preventing issues like gingivitis.
Tooth Enamel Ally: Vitamin A contributes to the formation and maintenance of tooth enamel. Strong enamel is your first line of defense against cavities and sensitivity.
Immune Booster: A healthy immune system means your body, including your mouth, can ward off infections. Vitamin A strengthens your immune response, keeping oral infections at bay.
💊 Getting Your Dose: 💊
Natural Sources: Include foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, and liver in your diet.
Supplements: If needed, opt for Vitamin A supplements, especially if your diet lacks sufficient sources.
🌐 Connecting the Dots: 🌐
Maintaining optimal oral health is a holistic journey, and Vitamin A is your companion in this quest. From supporting gum health to fortifying tooth enamel, its benefits extend beyond skin-deep.
Stay tuned for our next supplement spotlight as we uncover more gems for your health and your smile! Because here at ToothWiz, we believe in the magic of a healthy smile. 😁🌿 #VitaminA #DentalHealth #OralWellness #SupplementSpotlight #ToothWizTips
Maybe you’re thinking: “Wow, Doc! We’re being a little dramatic here, aren’t we?” Well, read on.
No doubt, this title will elicit a few snickers and maybe even the occasional one-liner like “No, but I know someone whose breath could kill!” Nevertheless, the possibly shocking truth is that yes, bleeding gums can kill you.
As a practicing dentist, I see all levels of home care. There are patients who practice excellent hygiene and have firm, pink and healthy gums or teeth without cavities. Then there are those who probably wouldn’t recognize a toothbrush if it poked them in the eye and whose mouths have so much plaque it looks like they just finished eating cottage cheese.
The bottom line is – where along this spectrum do you fall – and what can it mean for your overall health?
As I write this, I recall a question posed to me by one of my patients just yesterday. He told me that one of his “lady friends” had recently passed away. According to his story, he had seen her a few weeks ago and then noticed she wasn’t around very much. When he asked about her, he learned she had died as a result of complications following a dental abscess. His question “is that possible?” reflected an incredulity that is typical when it comes to the effects of oral health on the body.
Again, my answer was “yes, it’s possible.” Severe sepsis, which is basically a systemic inflammatory response to infection, can lead to organ failure and death. His friend was forty-two years old.
Obviously, this is an extreme example of infection travelling from one site and affecting the entire organism, but there are more subtle examples that are no less significant. Take bleeding gums. There are probably few people who haven’t experienced this phenomenon at some point or another in their lifetimes. If you are a hypochondriac, you probably should stop reading right now. If, on the other hand, you are just interested in knowing what significant step you can take to reduce your risk for heart attack or stroke, read on.
If I were to speculate, I think that many physicians and dentists probably still don’t think of tooth-related infections as systemic risk factors. The science behind this concept, however, is clear. In fact, a number of studies have been completed which clearly show the following:
Tooth-related infection can cause death
Infection equates to heart attack and stroke
Periodontal diseases are a portal for systemic inflammation and disease
If you have a periodontal infection you are going to have elevated C-reactive proteins, and C-reactive proteins are four times more predictive of cardiovascular complications than cholesterol
References for these studies will be made available on my website. But that represents a relatively small sampling of the articles which conclude red gums represent a disease process unto itself. This observation is the critical point.
If red gums represent inflammation and infection, then bleeding gums are definitely not something you should ignore. Even if you are not worried about your health, you may be surprised to know that many clinicians believe that aging is caused by systemic inflammation. There are a few studies supporting this theory as well, but the point is simple: don’t ignore your oral health. You might even look younger if you take care of your teeth! One of the simplest ways to reduce inflammation is to control the bacteria in your mouth. Start by brushing after meals and flossing every day. Eat a proper diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Get enough rest. Exercise, and reduce stress.
Also, don’t forget to visit your dentist regularly. Because so many dental conditions are symptom-free in their early stages, patients can be hit hard by neglect. The perception of “no pain, no problems” is often misleading when it comes to dental problems. Couple this with the fact that in tough economic times, people tend to put off what they perceive as optional or unpleasant, and you can have a formula for disaster – financial, or otherwise….
I have been out of dental school for (cough) a few years now, so I wasn’t particularly curious about the subject of applying to dental schools for myself. But a friend raised the question recently, and it made me wonder – beyond the United States – what are the best dental schools in the world today?
If, like me, you would have expected the top five dental schools to include several in the U.S., then – just like me – you would have been wrong.
So how many U.S. dental schools made the top five? One.
And was it number one? Nope. It was number three. That’s not too shabby, but I was also a little surprised to learn that it the University of Michigan. Not because I have anything against that particular dental school at all, even if it’s not my alma mater.
I just didn’t realize they performed that much research, and that was one of the key factors for which they were recognized.
Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), which bills itself as the world’s largest highest education network, rated the University of Michigan as the top dental school in the United States, for the fourth year in a row. With an emphasis on research, the school received more funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in 2017 than any other dental institution in the country. Funded projects totaling $16.3 million addressed cavity prevention in children, head and neck cancer, and regenerating lost tissue due to disease, injury or congenital disorders.
So, who topped the list? The University of Hong Kong Faculty of Dentistry took the top spot for the third year in a row. They were followed by King’s College London Dental Institute at number two. The University of Michigan slipped from their second place standing last year. Next the Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam and Tokyo Medical and Dental University rounded out the top five.
European schools dominated the top ten, but U.S. schools followed in force for the top twenty.
Harvard School of Dental Medicine, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, the University of Washington School of Dentistry, and the New York University School of Dentistry, took up the eleventh through fifteenth slots. The University of Pennsylvania, Penn Dental Medicine, came in eighteenth.
What I find interesting about these analyses, however, is that the criteria for what makes a top school are not necessarily what would be important to me as a prospective student – unless I planned on a career in dental research.
Now, I’m not saying that graduating from the University of Michigan Dental School or Harvard are only good if you are interested in research. I’m sure they graduate many excellent clinicians. But in my estimation, when you graduate, you want to feel prepared to deliver dentistry to your patients confidently.
Isn’t that what happens when one graduates from dental school? Apparently not in every case.
Years ago, I was faced with the same decision so many young dental students have to consider today. What school should I apply to? Geography, tuition, and reputation were all factors I took into account. At one point, I thought I had my choices narrowed down to two schools – both in the same city. One was an Ivy League school and the other one with a solid reputation.
As luck would have it, I was invited to a barbecue and met a dentist who had the good fortune to teach at both institutions at different times. So, I asked him, if you had the choice, where would you go? He reflected upon the question for a moment and answered this way: “If you want to learn how to talk about dentistry go to (the Ivy League) school. If you want to learn how to do dentistry, go to the other one.”
Basically, what he was saying was that while the first school was excellent, the other school prepared you for the real world of dentistry better.
How much better? I can answer that.
I knew I wasn’t inclined toward a career in research. I wanted to become a dentist and work with people on a day-to-day basis. I took his advice and chose the school that I felt would prepare me to do just that. I have to say, I was happy with my decision. When the time came for me to hang up my shingle, I definitely felt prepared. I wanted to start seeing my own patients. And I loved the next twenty-seven years of clinical practice. I honestly continued to love coming to work after all that time.
But let’s backtrack for a moment. While still a dental student I also had the good luck to have been elected a Trustee for the American Student Dental Association. As such, one of my responsibilities was to act as a liaison between students in the dental schools of my region and the part of the American Dental Association (ADA) dedicated to its future members. The ADA wanted to know what concerned new graduates and it was interested in seeing what could be done to help them.
My district included three Ivy League schools, as well as the two oldest dental schools in the country. I had a chance to travel a great deal while still a student and I spoke to many people about what they perceived as their greatest challenges upon graduation. The overwhelming majority of times, the conversation drifted in the direction of the student wanting to do a General Practice Residency (if they weren’t planning on a specialty) or, they told me they planned to work as an associate for a few years before starting their own practice.
By contrast, most of my classmates were ready to hang their shingles and get started upon graduation.
This spoke volumes to me and, in retrospect, I was grateful to that doctor from the barbecue.
If you are a prospective dental student, ask yourself, what do you envision doing when you get out. Do you love academia? There is definitely a place and a need for research. Dentistry is a dynamic field and both dental science and technology evolve at breakneck speeds. There are many aspects of dental research that one could pursue.
But if, like me, you know that you are going to become what we refer to as a “wet-fingered” dentist, research what your clinical experience will be like. What will you get to do? Just the basics, or will you have chance to learn about the growing needs of your patient base? Patients will want to see you deliver tooth whitening as well as replace missing teeth or stabilize loose dentures with implants. They will want to correct uneven or discolored teeth with veneers. And more. Much more.
Dentistry can be a lot of fun and very fulfilling. It can also be challenging. But if you do choose the profession, research your schools well, and do your best to do your best. Good luck!
Many people believe that since they aren’t experiencing dental symptoms – like tooth pain or bleeding gums – then all must be well.
Unfortunately, a sizable number of dental problems, including cavities and periodontal disease (bone loss around your teeth), just don’t produce obvious symptoms in their early stages. At least not symptoms that tend to be obvious to patients.
In fact, by the time people the average person experiences pain, his dental issue is typically pretty far along. And all too often, by then, the problem can also be quite expensive to handle.
It might amaze you to discover the types of problems your average dentist encounters every week, many of which you would expect to be painful, but they just aren’t. They can still result in tooth loss though.
Pretty much anyone who has ever worked in a dental office for any length of time will tell you this is so. And they will tell you that you can inform some people that they have a problem, but unless it is “real” to them, they just won’t do anything about it.
They may come back a few years later (or maybe sooner) – usually with an emergency – desperately wanting to save the tooth that you told them about earlier. Of course, by now, it may be too late. And very often they will have forgotten it was ever discussed at all, because it was never a realistic problem for them to begin with.
Human nature can be funny that way.
So, keeping that in mind, it’s generally a good idea to get checked out by a dentist. Regularly.
The best news you can hear is that everything looks great.
But sometimes getting a confirmation that you don’t have cavities or gum disease is not the only reason to get a dental exam. Over the years, I have detected cancer (not just oral cancer) – as well as a host of other non-dental problems – that might have been overlooked had the patient not scheduled an exam. Obviously, we refer patients to an appropriate specialist for treatment when we discover medical problems outside the scope of dental practice.
Other benefits of getting a dental exam: I can recall many patients who told me that what they thought were unrelated health problems simply resolved when their oral problems were gotten under control. These have included digestive problems, low energy problems, elevated blood cell counts, hypertension, and more.
Over the years, some people have told me they don’t want to get a dental exam because they don’t want to discover they have any problems. I guess that works.
Just maybe not too well.
Your overall health is connected to your oral health. Take a look at this infographic. Then think it over. . . .
Because tooth-loss so often creates long-lasting and generally negative effects for personal health and, not infrequently, appearance – the entire array of tooth replacement options has long been an important subject in the dental field. Dentists not infrequently discuss which options are best for their patients, given different circumstances. And if there is any debate in the profession at all, you can be sure the public will also question which options make the most sense for them.
The truth is there is no one right answer. Each person’s circumstances differ – whether the reasons are anatomic, functional, emotional, or financial.
But the question is still an important one to ask, because patients face new realities when they lose even one tooth. These changes include (but are not limited to):
And, then there are the secondary effects:
Poor health resulting from a changing diet
An inability to wear dentures
Financial challenges created by the need to address these problems
It is this last point that I want to touch upon here, because I have observed a good deal of confusion surrounding dental implants. As a dentist, I am obligated to review all options with an individual when discussing their tooth replacement options – regardless of affordability. I can’t, and don’t, pre-judge anyone financially when discussing their choices.
Commonly, though, when I raise the subject of dental implants, I get an immediate reaction along the lines: “Oh, forget it. I could never afford that. How about a bridge?”
Now, I’m not going to try to convince you that implants are cheap. Restore a full mouth with dental implants and it is likely to be costly. Nevertheless, cheap is relative. For some of my patients, even a small filling can be perceived as expensive. For my wealthy patients, they might be prepared to spend any price for what they perceive will serve them best. Lucky them. Right?
What I hope to do here, however, is to show you when an implant may make the most sense for a person. And — at least, when when it comes to replacing a single tooth — a dental implant may just be the way to go.
But first, permit me to remind you again – there is no one right answer for everybody. Your choices may be very different depending upon whether you are 25 or 85 years old, for example.
I’m sure you can fill-in still other reasons that affect your decision-making process. But for now, let’s consider the following scenario:
A patient loses one tooth.
For the sake of argument, we’ll call it a lower right first molar. Suddenly, the patient realizes this is annoying. Their bite is changing; their gums are sore. They feel the need to do something. Now.
Here are a few options. I’m just going to list the main ones, but there are sub-sets to some of these:
Do nothing anyway.
A removable denture.
A non-removable bridge,
A dental implant.
For the purposes of this discussion, the patient has already decided that doing nothing isn’t working for them.
So, the next option is a removable denture. I usually get “the face” on this one.
And with good reason. Food gets caught around partial dentures every time you eat. You will have to remove the appliance after EVERY meal and clean it separately from your own teeth. Certain foods will also cause it to dislodge as you eat, allowing some of the food to get caught between the denture and your gums. The cost – depending upon what kind of partial you have made – will typically range between $750 and $1,500.† The recommended replacement time: every 5 to 7 years. The reality – people replace them roughly every 15 years. Sometimes more. The longer they put off the replacement though, the more issues they may face with the replacement.
Bottom line: Removable dentures are potentially uncomfortable. Average lifetime replacement cost if you are 25 years old, (based on an average life expectancy of about 79 years, and an average 10-year replacement rate – not adjusting for inflation) is going to be nearly $7,000.
Next, we’ll take up considering a “bridge.” It’s called a bridge because it spans a gap (like a bridge spans a body of water) with a fake tooth, or teeth, in between the ones that are still there. The trouble is that you must shave down the supporting teeth to little stubs so that the result will look natural and be strong enough to take the force of daily chewing. For the most part, bridges look, and can often feel like, your natural teeth; but you do have to floss under the fake tooth after every meal. Food will get caught under there, whether you perceive it or not. If you don’t clean it regularly, the life expectancy of your bridge will be shorter.
Now, the cost on this option can really be widely variable, because some teeth need to have fillings replaced before they can be used as supports for the bridge. In other cases, the teeth may end up with root canals if the process of shaving them down results in lingering sensitivity. This doesn’t always happen, but it is a risk. If the tooth needs that additional treatment it will cost you more.
The average cost to replace a single tooth with a bridge is about $3,500. Again, that can be a little more, or less, depending upon what part of the country – or even what part of a city, you live in.
If, on the other hand, you also need to place or replace fillings on the teeth being used as supports, and you need to do root canals as well, it could be as much as $7,000.
The average lifetime replacement cost with the same parameters given above (25 years old with an average life expectancy of 79 years and a 10-year average replacement rate) is going to be: $31,500. And that assumes that the underlying teeth will be strong enough to survive that many replacements.
That brings us to dental implants.
Here is the breakdown: The average implant cost in many metropolitan areas is around $1,800 – $2,200. If you end up needing a bone graft before the implant can be placed, though, add another $550. (Basically, a graft is adding bone to your jaw when you don’t have enough for the implant.) So far, these costs are just for the implant. It doesn’t include the cost of the crown. Add about another $2,100 for the parts needed to make up what supports the crown above the gumline, and the crown itself. If your tooth is short, and there isn’t enough tooth height to which your crown can be easily cemented, you might need something called a UCLA abutment — it lets your dentist screw down the crown instead of cementing it. That could cost you more. How much depends upon the lab your dentist uses, but $500 more wouldn’t be unusual.
On the low end, one implant may cost $3,900. On the high end, let’s round up to $4,900.
So, what about the average lifetime cost?
That’s less than either partial dentures or bridges!
Because, unless you bite into a rock, grind your teeth uncontrollably, or have some serious illness that causes you to lose bone around the implant – any of which can happen to you with the other options as well – you will probably have your implant for life. Still, no one can guarantee this because, sometimes, plain ol’ dumb luck will factor into any equation.
But, you can’t get a cavity on an implant. On the other hand, you still can get a cavity on the teeth that support your partial denture, or bridge (and crowns, for that matter).
So, do the math. Look at your circumstances, and decide what is right for you. But when your dentist starts talking to you about dental implants, hear them out. It just might be more cost effective than you realize.
† [Note: The prices mentioned here are just averages in US Dollars at the time of this writing. Actual costs could be more, or less, depending upon where you live.]
So it’s always gratifying when a patient can leave my office joking and smiling after the experience, such as happened in my office two days ago.
In fact, another patient, actually gave me a big hug after her extraction the following day.
And that got me to thinking about this entire area. . . .
No one (usually*) wants to lose teeth. And we, as dentists, don’t want people to lose them either, but sometimes there is little choice if a tooth has been allowed to get bad enough, or if periodontal disease is so advanced that there is no hope of reversal. [*Though, I did have a young boy actually request a tooth extraction last week — but I’m pretty sure he was really hoping for a visit from the tooth fairy. ]
Nevertheless, I see many people really work themselves up over the thought of the procedure. In fact, the first patient I mentioned actually rescheduled her original appointment when she learned she needed the extraction. She had a hard time confronting the idea of removing her tooth.
Trust me. I get it.
But, to her credit, she did show up for her appointment and when we were done – as I have heard so many times before – she said: “I can’t believe I worked myself up for that.”
Even with her tooth being so badly decayed that there was barely anything to get a hold of, her experience was pretty quick and painless.
So, her worry was just stress on top of stress.
My first piece of advice on this point is try not to need an extraction. Toward that end, try to keep up with regular dental visits, eat a healthy diet, and don’t forget — you control your home care. But, if you do need to have a tooth removed, talk to your doctor about your concerns.
In most cases, your anticipation of what is to come will be far worse than the experience. Still, delaying the inevitable is seldom a good thing. It can make it harder for the doctor too. So why not just make it easier on everybody?
As long as you are healthy, your teeth have stopped growing and your dentist feels you are a good candidate, you can get dental implants whether you are 16 or 85.
Dental implants make your jawbone stronger.
Losing teeth causes you to lose bone. Bridges and dentures don’t preserve it – but implants do.
Dental implants are made of the same stuff used by NASA.
Believe it or not, the titanium used in most dental implants is the same type of metal used in rockets, space shuttles and guided missiles. Stronger and lighter than steel, implants can last a lifetime.
Dental implants have the highest success rate of any tooth replacement solution.
Bridges, crowns and dentures all need to be replaced over time. Five to fifteen years isn’t unusual for crowns and bridges. Dentures may need replacement or adjustment after about seven years on average. Even if it lasts longer, it may not be successful with respect to eating, drinking or speaking. Dental implants, by contrast, have a 95% success rate – often last a lifetime – and give you all the function and appearance of your natural teeth.
You will never get a cavity on your dental implant.
It is a highly biocompatible, but synthetic, material so it can’t decay. Ever. You still have to take care of your gums and teeth around the implant though.
Here’s yet another fact you may not know about implants. We both place and restore dental implants in our office! Call us if you want to find out whether you could become a candidate.
First of all, what the heck is vitamin P? First discovered around 1936, the term is hardly used anymore – except maybe euphemistically for Prozac (fluoxetine) – which you definitely don’t need, unless you like playing Russian roulette with your health. Prozac is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous drugs on the market. More about that some other time, perhaps.
But, real Vitamin P is better known today as a plant classification called flavonoids or bioflavonoids.
[Because of my interest in natural health, I subscribe to a number of health-related newsletters. One of them (and I recommend this newsletter to anyone interested in sensible health and nutrition) recently reminded me of a subject I have already written about on a number of occasions. Namely, the importance of controlling inflammation, actions one can take to do so, and the nutrients that can assist with this problem. The newsletter I’m referencing here is called Health Alert, by Dr. Bruce West. Much of what follows in this posting comes from that source. If you are interested in subscribing, their number is 831-372-2103. I receive no financial benefit by recommending them. It’s just good information.]
Nevertheless, here’s why real vitamin P is important to your health, and yes, even more specifically – to your dental health:
The cells that line your blood vessels are truly amazing in terms of all the functions they provide. Their end-result have a great deal to do with how you heal. But they can’t do their job without the adequate nutrition that they need. And the prime nutrient required by these cells is vitamin P. Originally, vitamin P was named for an extract of paprika. Today, we know it better as bioflavonoids.
But if you are deficient in vitamin P, you are likely suffering from sub-clinical scurvy.
At one time, scurvy was considered deadly. Today, it is looked upon as an old disease that has been pretty much eradicated. But the less deadly version – sub-clinical scurvy – can be found in much of the American population. It’s even possible you may have it.
And while you probably won’t die quickly from scurvy as people did centuries ago, your odds of dying from damage to your blood vessels and the resulting strokes and/or heart attacks are significantly increased. If you notice your toothbrush looks a little pink when you brush, or if you have outright bleeding gums, or possibly blood stains on your skin as a result of leaking blood (Schamberg disease), or you have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, blood clots, plaque, stroke, heart attack, deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, and most other circulatory problems – you are suffering from sub-clinical scurvy and you need vitamin P.
Vitamin P feeds the lining cells of your blood vessels – called endothelial cells – and can restore your health after they have been suffering from a vitamin P deficiency. That makes vitamin P a natural anti-stroke, anti-clot, and anti-heart attack nutrient. It will help regenerate your endothelial cells to heal your blood vessels properly. It will even help to keep your blood flowing better (by making them less stick and sludgy) without the many side effects of poisonous blood thinners.
As a dentist, I know that vitamin P is also helpful in your fight against gum disease and tooth loss. More teeth are lost (worldwide) due to periodontal disease (bone loss around the teeth) than to any other factor. Vitamin P deficiency has a lot to do with this. But it doesn’t end there. Because of its direct effects on collagen, vitamin P can also help you with ulcerative colitis, frostbite, arthritis, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and more. It is even protective against radiation damage.
But, by far, its main benefit is to the linings of your blood vessels. And when it comes to your gums that’s crucial.
All kinds of products claim to be able to heal your blood vessels. Frankly, most of them don’t work. If you truly want to heal your blood vessels, then the most effective source of vitamin P, by far, is the juice of deep green buckwheat leaves harvested at the time of their peak nutritional content. Possibly, the most powerful bioflavonoid in buckwheat juice is called rutin. Now, most of us aren’t going to start an organic garden to grow buckwheat — that we then harvest at the optimal time — and then make juice from the leaves. And, fortunately, we don’t have to.
One company – Standard Process – does that all for us. They make the supplement Cyruta-Plus in a tablet that contains all the life force, nutrients, and bioflavonoids of the juice itself. If you have gum problems, or any of the other problems listed above, 2-4 tablets of Cyruta-Plus 3x daily, would be a good place to start. Give it one to two months to help repair the damage already caused by what has probably been a long-term deficiency.
If you are not easily convinced and need additional proof (other than observing the results for yourself), you can ask your doctor to have your CRP (C-reactive protein) level checked. Most people with blood vessel inflammation will have an elevated CRP in their blood. If this is you, this is an inflammation marker, and your chance of having a heart attack or stroke becomes significantly higher.
You might be tempted to try one of the advertised “super-potent, artery scrubbing” anti-oxidants which are advertised, like reservatrol or ascorbic acid. Go ahead and try it. Then have your doctor order a new CRP blood test. After that treatment fails, try Cyruta-Plus (9 – 12 daily for 30 days) and get one more blood test. See what happens. Chances are you will be both shocked, and happy.
Not only will you have helped your gums and teeth, but you will have lowered your risk of heart attack and stroke, you will have helped your joints by improving arthritis, your gut will enjoy better digestion, your skin will thank you, as will your legs. Plus, the potential for living longer is not a bad result either.
Common sense. Does it seem to you that this has become a rare commodity nowadays? Possibly, then, it is really uncommon sense that we should be talking about.
The latest example of an affront to logic – at least for me – lies in the latest media challenge to oral health. This morning various news agencies including The New York Times, suggested that maybe flossing is really overrated. Apparently, “officials” have never researched the effectiveness of regular flossing.
Now, millions of people are likely to jump on this as a justification for not flossing. But, in reality, the new media sensation is probably not going to change very much at the end of the day. Why? Because I can confidently tell you – based on more than 25-years of personal experience – most people don’t floss anyway. About all this latest “research” will promote is the possibility that some people will feel just a little less guilty about what others with any sense (common or uncommon) already understand is a pretty good idea.
But, it makes for good press. Doesn’t it?
Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that flossing doesn’t remove plaque. Heck. Some people fail to remove plaque with a toothbrush. That doesn’t mean either fails to benefit the patient, if done properly. I can think of several reasons why flossing helps, though:
Passing floss between the teeth sweeps out the contact point between them – meaning the points where they touch. That’s a source of about 30% of all tooth decay. Your toothbrush typically doesn’t reach those areas, unless you have gaps between your teeth. Floss does reach those areas.
Flossing stimulates blood flow in the gums. One of the body’s first-line mechanisms of defense is to increase blood flow to an affected area. You are effectively helping your body do this in a controlled manner by flossing.
A number of the bacteria under your gums are anaerobic bacteria. That means they don’t grow in room air. So what is a person introducing into the gum pocket when they pull back their gums by flossing? Could it be . . . air? Is it possible that the oxygen in the air could kill some of those bacteria as well?
Think about it.
If we can set aside this newly created question of doubt for just a moment, I would propose that you ask yourself the following question:
“Have I ever flossed consistently?”
By this, I mean every day, and it would have to have included doing so for at least two weeks.
This question is particularly directed to someone if they ever had a gum problem like gingivitis or periodontal disease. Sure, one needs to get rid of tartar and control bacteria as well, but for patients that make the effort to floss (and with only a few qualifications that I can think of), it is almost a sure bet that their gums got better as a result of the daily exercise. First of all, the gums probably bled less afterward. Not in the beginning – to be sure – but after about two weeks of flossing every day, we typically see positive change. Breath improves too. An overall sense of well-being is not out of the question either.
When it comes to flossing sporadically, I agree. It doesn’t help much. It’s kind of like exercising once or twice a month. And let’s face it, that’s where most of the population lives when it comes to flossing — once in a blue moon. Is regular exercise effective, though? What does your common sense tell you?
Why would I hold on to this idea in the face of “new evidence”? Well, I have seen flossing help too many times to just call it a coincidence. Hard core scientists might say “Oh, well, that’s just anecdotal evidence. It doesn’t stand up to real scientific scrutiny.” OK. Then survey practicing dentists. Let’s see if I’m the only one with that observation and experience. I doubt it.
I’m not saying flossing is the only thing you need to do to have healthy gums. It isn’t. Diet and good nutrition are paramount. A healthy immune system doesn’t hurt either. But for Pete’s sake, flossing is cheap, really not all that hard to do once you have practiced it for a while, and it can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run. With health care costs being what they are, I can’t think of too many actions a person can take that bear as much fruit and keep money in their pockets.
But, if the media has just succeeded in making you feel better about not flossing, then OK. Bully for them. (Heaven knows, they do a top notch job spending most of their time getting people to feel less than great.)
And, I suppose there are other ways to handle tooth loss – which, by the way, happens a lot more from gum disease than tooth decay.
I have little doubt that some patients who visit a dentist and are told they have decay, but don’t experience any symptoms, are convinced that someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. There are probably several reasons for this. Possibly, they had been to some unscrupulous person in the past who suggested they had a problem, when they really didn’t.
I can see how that might create skepticism. I mean, it’s conceivable that sort of thing could happen.
But even if that were the case, I sincerely don’t believe it represents the behavior of a majority of dentists. Most of the dentists I know genuinely care about what they do and the people they treat. So maybe these skeptics are just people who don’t trust anyone. I don’t know.
The reality, though, is that these patients will eventually be in for a big surprise when the you-know-what hits the fan. Or – and let’s keep this a family column — when the decay hits the nerve.
But that could take a while.
And I believe that could be where some of the problem lies. A patient tries to use this to their advantage — they want to buy some time. After all, it’s not really being a “problem” for them in that they don’t perceive anything as being different. When the problem eventually does occur, I usually hear: “I never thought it would happen to me.”
A doctor detecting treatable decay usually recommends that the patient handle it at their earliest opportunity.
Why? Well, the patient can catch the problem when it is small, when it is less likely to cause post-operative discomfort, and when it will generally cost them a lot less.
But, first, let’s back up a little and explain why it’s possible to have a cavity – several in fact – and have absolutely no symptoms.
Most decay starts on the outer surface of the tooth called the enamel. It’s roughly 97% mineral in consistency and does not contain nerves. That means it has no feeling. Practically zero. Your dentist could DRILL on that part of the tooth and most of the time you won’t feel it.
Notice that in the earlier paragraph I mentioned “treatable” decay. Well, when would decay not be treatable right away? I can’t speak for other dentists, but I typically won’t treat decay when it is confined to the enamel. Why? It has the potential to re-mineralize. In other words, it has the capacity to fix itself – that is, if you don’t continue to do the things that led to the cavity in the first place. Usually, this is related to your diet, but it can be affected by hormones, or even medications.
Why not mention home care first? Isn’t that important too? Of course it is. It just may not be the most important factor.
Another time a dentist might not treat a cavity could relate to the age of the patient. For a much older patient, there are times when the pain or infection are not likely to come up before the patient passes. Of course, your dentist doesn’t have a crystal ball on that point. (Well, probably not.) But, it wouldn’t make sense to recommend treatment in the majority of those cases.
And this takes us back to the nature of a cavity. They often take a long time to get bigger. (But not always…. Again, no crystal ball here.) The reason has to do with the hardness of the enamel itself. Enamel, for you trivia lovers, is the hardest substance in your body. It’s harder than bone, and that property, along with the lack of sensation, can be problematic.
Here’s why: a cavity is often quite small on the outside of the tooth. It’s actually difficult for decay to work its way through that hard enamel. Most of the time it burrows a narrow channel down to the dentin (only a couple of millimeters away) and then it really starts to spread. Because dentin is softer than enamel, it’s just easier for it to spread more quickly there. By the way, this additional, and deeper, decay – very often still doesn’t hurt – as long as it is far enough away from the nerve.
Meanwhile, your enamel is, for the most part, continuing to hold its form. That stuff is hard. But things are generally hollowing out on the inside of the tooth now — out of sight and out of mind — as the decay continues to spread. Painlessly.
Eventually, your tooth can become very much like an eggshell.
Then one fine day you bite on something, and the hard enamel that was still doing its job holding the form of the tooth caves into the hole below. It just got too thin.
Now, at this point, does the skeptic understand that he got a cavity? Sure. Some of them finally get it. But for others –no! It’s more like: “Hey that blowhard dentist was obviously wrong because he talked about me having cavities years ago, and look – I did fine until now. In fact, I probably just lost a filling! Jeez, this hole just came out of nowhere. It’s probably the fault of some earlier dentist.” (Um, Mr. Skeptic never got the filling though. Remember?)
“Hey doc, how much is this going to cost me? $2,400?!!! (For a root canal, buildup and crown.) Are you insane? Just pull it.”
Now you are going to be missing a tooth, and may lose even more teeth as a result. Yet, when the doc first mentioned it, that cavity was only going to cost $150. How can it suddenly become sixteen times more expensive?!
“Rip-off artist. Seems you can’t trust anyone. . . .”
The idea that losing teeth is an inevitable part of aging is a common misconception. While it’s true that tooth loss occurs more frequently among older adults, it’s not a foregone conclusion. With proper oral care and preventive measures, you can keep your natural teeth healthy and strong well into your later years.
Why Tooth Loss Occurs
Tooth loss can be caused by various factors, including:
Gum disease: This is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Gum disease is an infection that affects the soft tissues around the teeth, eventually destroying the bone that supports them.
Tooth decay: This is caused by bacteria that build up on the teeth and form plaque. Plaque produces acids that can erode the enamel, the hard outer covering of the teeth. If left untreated, tooth decay can lead to cavities and eventually tooth loss.
Trauma: Injuries to the mouth or teeth can also cause tooth loss.
Other health conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis and diabetes, can increase the risk of tooth loss.
The good news is that you can take steps to prevent tooth loss and maintain healthy teeth for a lifetime. Here are some key strategies:
Practice good oral hygiene: This includes brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time, flossing daily, and using a mouthwash.
Visit your dentist regularly: For professional cleanings and checkups.
Eat a healthy diet: Limit sugary foods and drinks, which can contribute to tooth decay.
Quit smoking: Smoking increases the risk of gum disease and other oral health problems.
In addition to these general recommendations, there are some specific things you can do to protect your teeth as you age:
Use a toothbrush with soft bristles: Hard bristles can damage your gums and enamel.
Consider using an electric toothbrush: Electric toothbrushes can be more effective at removing plaque and bacteria than manual toothbrushes.
Get regular fluoride treatments: Fluoride can help strengthen your teeth and prevent decay.
Myths about Tooth Loss and Aging
There are several common myths about tooth loss and aging. Here are a few of the most prevalent:
Myth: Losing teeth is a natural part of aging.
Fact: While tooth loss is more common among older adults, it’s not inevitable. With proper oral care, you can keep your teeth healthy for a lifetime.
Myth: You don’t need to see the dentist as often as you get older.
Fact: It’s important to continue seeing your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings, even as you get older. Regular dental care can help detect and prevent problems early on.
Myth: There’s nothing you can do to prevent tooth loss.
Fact: There are many things you can do to prevent tooth loss, including practicing good oral hygiene, eating a healthy diet, and quitting smoking.
Losing teeth doesn’t have to be a part of aging. With proper care and preventive measures, you can enjoy a healthy smile for a lifetime. Talk to your dentist about ways to keep your teeth healthy and strong as you age.
I haven’t written anything to the blog for some time now. Like so many people I know, I have been busy with other projects. Every now and then, though, something will come up and I find I tell myself, “I need to write about that”. Recently, an exchange with a patient prompted me to write on the subject of how much time a patient might expect from a crown or a bridge.
What I found interesting was this patient’s viewpoint about something that was happening with her relative. It seems that this relative was experiencing a problem that required she/he have a crown re-made. My patient, made an off-hand comment to me along the lines that her relative’s dentist might not have been so great because the crown was having to be redone.
I’m thinking: Oh, it must have just been placed recently.
She’s thinking: After about twenty years.
Granted. My patient has not (yet) had to replace any of her dental work and she has been with me nearly twenty-five years.
But here’s the thing: as a dentist when I hear that a crown lasted twenty years, I think – “Sounds like that dentist did a pretty good job.” It seemed to me, my patient had an entirely different impression.
I asked her: “Did you realize that the average life for a crown or bridge is only between 5 and 15 years?” My patient seemed a little alarmed by that, but acknowledged she did not realize it.
There are so many factors that can go into how long a crown or bridge may last, that this can be really difficult to predict. The five- to fifteen-year figure often cited by dentists is based upon university studies and insurance company estimates of how frequently they need to be replaced. Most insurance companies will pay for a new crown after five years, although, a number of them have recently extended that replacement date to 7 or even 8 years.
In all fairness, sometimes crowns can fail due to manufacturing errors. But the reality is that this is very seldom the case. More often it is the patient that fails the crown.
How so? There are two main reasons: decay under a poorly maintained crown and tooth clenching and grinding.
But here are a few other ways a crown can break –
Removing bottle caps
Cracking crab claws
Holding roofing nails
Tearing open cellophane packages
Inappropriate use can cause porcelain that is veneered onto a metal base to break off. Using common sense is important.
Provided a crown is manufactured to high standards, after choosing the right material for you, and having it fitted correctly to your bite it has the potential to last a lifetime.
Home care has something to do with it too.
In my twenty-five years of practice, I have seen this repeatedly. For me, two cases have illustrated it best:
Earlier in my career, I had a patient who needed a lot of dental work. He already had a lot done, but much of it was pretty old and, frankly, it didn’t look very good. It’s actually uncommon for me to see work that I believe wasn’t done carefully, but if any situation fit that bill, this was it. His crowns fit like “socks on a goose.” I don’t know where he had it done and, at this point, it really isn’t the moral of this story. The important thing is that this work was, apparently, what he could afford at the time. What amazed me was that these crowns were still functioning after more than twenty years. There was no reason they should have. They fit that badly. So, why were they working? This patient’s home care was excellent. He brushed and flossed after every meal. He knew that getting new dental work was going to be costly for him, so Mr. Flosser he made sure that what he had lasted him. I was impressed.
Not too many years thereafter, I saw a different patient for a new patient exam. This man had bridgework from ear to ear. Honestly, it looked great. Pretty much everything about his crown and bridge work was technically correct. The bite was good, they were esthetic, and when I took his diagnostic x-rays, I noticed that the critical areas fit perfectly. Someone obviously took a great deal of care to make sure that they delivered a great product to this patient. I would have gone to that dentist.
But another thing that I observed when I reviewed the films was that there was decay all over the place. So much, in fact, that the only way to correct it would have been to remove the bridges, clean out the decay and replace everything.
The likelihood that his dentist would have left behind that much decay is nearly zero. No one who took that much care into crafting his work would have allowed it. But the real reason I know that is this: during the course of my exam, I observed that this patient has so much plaque and garbage in his mouth, I doubt he ever brushed his teeth. It looked like he had just finished eating cottage cheese before he came in. The plaque was that heavy.
This man’s dental work was only between two and three years old. He probably paid a small fortune for it. It was that extensive.
Now, I had the unpleasant task of telling him my findings. To make a long story short, I never saw him again. Mr. Cottage Cheese probably thought I was trying to put one over on him. Nothing bothered him (yet!), and it was most likely inconceivable to him that he should have anything wrong in so short a time. And yet, it was not a promising scenario.
Today, however, an equally common cause of crown or bridge failure is tooth clenching and grinding. I have written about this epidemic elsewhere. But, if you grind or clench your teeth, things are just going to wear out a lot faster. It’s just common sense. If you had a choice of parking your car in the middle of a golf driving range or outside of the driving range, under which conditions is your car likely to end up with the better paint job?
Some people can place amazing forces on their teeth. When they do, if a tooth was in really bad shape before it was restored, the crown probably won’t survive the weak tooth. You need something of a substrate to support and retain the crown. The cement can’t be relied upon to do the entire job.
Also, to put things into perspective, the average force on a back tooth is typically around 75 pounds per square inch. When we chew, that goes up a little – maybe, to 80 or 90 pounds per square inch. Remarkably, some people have been recorded as having applied as much as 3,000 pounds per square inch on their teeth while sleeping. That can crack a virgin tooth, let alone one that has had any work done to it.
In the end, there really isn’t a simple answer as to how long a crown should last. It can vary. With all other factors being equal, I would hope for no less than seven years and consider anything beyond fifteen years “good.”
Many of my patients who are still with the practice after 25 years and that I still have the opportunity to examine, continue to have their original crown and bridge-work. But some have moved to other states, and others have passed away in their older years. Yet, much of what I can see looks pretty good. Some old crowns and bridges could use a face-lift. That usually means replacing it.
Every now and then, I wonder about those two patients I mentioned above: Mr. Flosser and Mr. Cottage Cheese.
Mr. Flosser may still be running around with those old crowns.
Mr. Cottage Cheese is probably wearing dentures by now. . . .
Dr. Richard Walicki is a dentist practicing general and cosmetic dentistry. While we hope you find the information contained herein interesting and useful, this blog is for informational purposes and is not intended to diagnose any oral disease. Dental conditions should be evaluated by your dental health professional or a qualified specialist.
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