Saliva probably doesn’t rate high on your amazement meter. You’re more likely to notice its absence and the dry irritation that results.
But you might be more impressed with this unsung bodily fluid if you knew all the things it does. It’s definitely a multi-tasker, performing a number of jobs (including aiding in digestion) that not only keep your oral health on track, but your general well-being too. And there are even new testing methods where saliva may even tell us when you’re not doing so well.
Here are 3 more tasks your saliva is doing for your mouth right now that truly makes it amazing.
Cleansing. Your teeth’s chewing action shreds food so it’s easier to digest. But that also leaves behind tiny particles in your mouth. Bacteria feast on these particles (especially carbohydrates like sugar) and produce acid as a byproduct, which can increase your risk of tooth decay. Saliva serves as a kind of “rinse cycle” for your mouth, helping to wash a good bit of these errant particles down your throat and away from hungry bacteria.
Defense. Speaking of bacteria, your mouth is home to millions of them. While most are harmless or even beneficial, a fraction can harm your teeth and gums. Saliva is your first line of defense, emitting an antibody known as Immunoglobulin A that targets these bacteria. Saliva also produces an antibacterial substance called lyzozyme that prevents bacteria from growing.
Enamel Protection. Although it’s the strongest substance in the body, your teeth’s enamel can’t withstand the effects of mouth acid, the by-product of bacterial feeding and growth. Acid levels naturally rise after eating; but even this sudden rise can begin the process of demineralization where minerals in enamel dissolve. Saliva saves the day by first neutralizing the acid and restoring the mouth’s normal pH in about thirty minutes to an hour. It also helps restore minerals in enamel, a process called remineralization. It’s all in a day’s work for this remarkable fluid.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to oral health, 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
Via a recent Instagram post, pop diva Ariana Grande became the latest young celebrity to publicly acknowledge a dental milestone: having her wisdom teeth removed. The singer of hits such as “Break Free” and “Problem” posted an after-surgery picture of herself (wearing her signature cat-eye eyeliner), with a caption addressed to her teeth: “Peace out, final three wisdom teeth. It’s been real.”
With the post, Grande joined several other celebs (including Lily Allen, Paris Hilton and Emile Hirsch) who have shared their dental surgery experience with fans. Will "wisdom teeth removal" become a new trending topic on social media? We aren’t sure — but we can explain a bit about the procedure, and why many younger adults may need it.
Technically called the “third molars,” wisdom teeth usually begin to emerge from the gums between the ages of 17 and 25 — presumably, around the same time that a certain amount of wisdom emerges. Most people have four of these big molars, which are located all the way in the back of the mouth, on the left and right sides of the upper and lower jaws.
But when wisdom teeth begin to appear, there’s often a problem: Many people don’t have enough space in their jaws to accommodate them. When these molars lack sufficient space to fully erupt (emerge), they are said to be “impacted.” Impacted teeth can cause a number of serious problems: These may include pain, an increased potential for bacterial infections, periodontal disease, and even the formation of cysts (pockets of infection below the gum line), which can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
In most cases, the best treatment for impacted wisdom teeth is extraction (removal) of the problem teeth. Wisdom tooth extraction is a routine, in-office procedure that is usually performed under local anesthesia or “conscious sedation,” a type of anesthesia where the patient remains conscious (able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli), but is free from any pain or distress. Anti-anxiety medications may also be given, especially for those who are apprehensive about dental procedures.
So if you find you need your wisdom teeth extracted, don’t be afraid to “Break Free” like Ariana Grande did; whether you post the results on social media is entirely up to you. If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
You’ve invested a lot of time and money in orthodontic treatment to improve your smile. If you’re not careful, though, your teeth could actually move back to their old positions. The reason why is related to the same natural tooth-moving mechanism we use to straighten teeth in the first place.
Teeth are held in place by an elastic, fibrous tissue called the periodontal ligament lying between the teeth and the jawbone and attaching to both with tiny collagen fibers. The periodontal ligament allows for incremental tooth movement in response to pressure generated around the teeth, as when we chew (or while wearing braces).
Unfortunately, this process can work in reverse. Out of a kind of “muscle memory,” the teeth can revert to the older positions once there’s no more pressure from the removed braces. You could eventually be right back where you started.
To avoid this, we have to employ measures to hold or “retain” the teeth in their new positions for some time after the braces come off. That’s why we have you wear a dental appliance called a retainer, which maintains tooth position to prevent a relapse. Depending on what’s best for your situation, this could be a removable retainer or one that’s fixed to the teeth.
Patients typically wear a retainer around the clock in the immediate period after braces, and then eventually taper off to just nighttime wear. Younger patients must wear one for several months until the new teeth positions become more secure and the chances of a rebound diminish. For older patients who’ve matured past the jaw development stage, though, wearing a retainer may be a permanent necessity to protect their smile.
Retainer wear can be an annoyance, but it’s an absolute necessity. Think of it as insurance on your investment in a new, more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on improving your smile through orthodontics, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Major league baseball player Aaron Judge made news in July by breaking Joe DiMaggio's record for most home runs scored by a New York Yankees rookie. Then he made news again, this time for breaking something else. Following their game-winning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 11th inning, the Yanks met for a spontaneous victory celebration at home plate. It was all fun and games… until an errant helmet accidentally slammed into Judge's mouth, breaking off half his left front tooth. Ouch!
Even if you're not playing big-league baseball, accidents sometimes happen. So what's the best dental treatment if you chip or break a tooth? It all depends on how much is broken off.
When a tooth has a small chip in it, dental bonding may be sufficient. Layering on tooth-colored bonding material results in a natural look, and it can be completed in one dental visit. However, bonding material in time will discolor, and it is not as strong as real tooth structure, so eventually it may need re-treatment.
Dental veneers or crowns may be used to restore more seriously damaged teeth. Veneers, thin porcelain shells that cover the front surface of teeth, can be used to restore minor to moderate chips. A crown (“cap”) is used when the damage is greater and more structural support is required. A crown replaces the visible part of the tooth above the gum line.
When the soft pulp tissue inside the tooth is damaged, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. Despite the outdated rumors some people have heard, root canal procedures don't cause pain — they actually relieve it. During the procedure, exposed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is sealed. Then a lifelike crown is placed so the tooth looks as good as new.
If the tooth cannot be saved — for example, it breaks off below the gum line — a dental implant may be your best option. Dental implants are small titanium posts that are surgically inserted and then capped with an artificial crown. Implant-supported teeth can last a lifetime and are usually indistinguishable from natural teeth.
So what happened with Judge's tooth? Thanks to a Friday morning visit to the dentist, he was smiling again with a temporary crown — and smiling over the fact that his tooth garnered more attention than the Yankees' dramatic 11th inning win.
If you have questions about cosmetically-pleasing tooth restorations, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. (If you have a dental injury, call us immediately!) You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “A Step-by-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Dental implants to replace teeth are a popular choice as much for their durability as their life-likeness. Most implants last for decades, which can result in lower long-term maintenance costs than other replacement options.
But to achieve this longevity, you must take care of your implants. You should brush and floss them daily right along with your remaining natural teeth — and continue regular semi-annual dental visits for cleanings and checkups.
You may be wondering, though: if they're made of inorganic materials, why worry with brushing them? It's true that bacterial plaque, the thin film of food particles most responsible for dental disease, doesn't affect them.
Your implants, though, don't exist in a bubble: they're imbedded in real bone, surrounded by real gum tissue and placed next to real teeth. All these other living tissues are susceptible to infection caused by plaque, even from plaque on non-organic implants.
The bone and tissues around an implant can even have a higher susceptibility to infection. This is because an implant's attachment in the jaw differs from that of natural teeth. An implant is imbedded directly into the bone; a natural tooth, on the other hand, maintains its hold through an elastic gum tissue between it and the bone called the periodontal ligament. Tiny fibers from the ligament attach to the tooth on one side and to the bone on the other.
Besides holding the tooth in place, the ligament also contains blood vessels that supply the tooth and surrounding tissues not only with nutrients but also antibodies that help fight infection. Due to the absence of a ligament connection, an implant doesn't enjoy the same level of protection from infection. Â It's much easier for tissues and teeth around an implant to become infected, and harder to stop it.
That's why prevention through daily hygiene is so important. So, be sure to brush and floss all your teeth — including implants — every day, and keep up your regular dental visits. And at the first sign of a possible infection — swollen, red or bleeding gums — see us as soon as possible for an examination.
Consider your implants a long-term investment in both your smile and dental health. Taking care of them will pay dividends for many years to come.
If you would like more information on taking care of your dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
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