A candy table at a recent graduation party

My assistant, a patient and I were reminiscing about the candy of our childhood years, such as Mary Jane’s, Sugar Babies, Slow Pokes, Turkish Taffy, Air Heads and others.  They seem to have been resurrected at some graduation parties.  We wound up joking about the fact that a lot of the candy from our youth could rip out your fillings or restorations.
Not all candies and sweets have the same impact on our teeth and dental work.  We all like to have sweets sometimes, but we should be selective on the types of sweets we have and the time we have them.  Candies that have to be sucked-on for a long time provide food for bacteria for a longer time and result in an increased exposure to acidity to the teeth.  Acidity leaches calcium out of the teeth.  Sweets that are really hard can break fillings and teeth.  At least once a year, a patient will bite into a frozen Snickers bar and break a tooth.  Teachers often will give Jolly Ranchers to young students as a reward.  The candy sticks in the grooves of the teeth so that the child who chews on these can pull out a sealant in their tooth or break a filling.

When you feel the craving for a sweet, be sensible about what you choose.  It is always best to have the sweet with your meal. Your saliva is already stimulated and can buffer the acidity of sugar more quickly.  Sweets like chocolate, which dissolve quickly, are not as detrimental to the tooth.  If you have fillings or crowns be careful or avoid sticky retentive candies.  My favorite recommendation for teachers, give your student a Hershey’s Kiss instead of a hard candy.  The child will be happier not to have me drill in their mouth, and the parent will be happier because they won’t have to pay for a filling.

Have you heard the old adage,  “A stitch in time saves nine”?  Getting problems corrected early applies to teeth, as well as sewing does for repairing clothing.   A year or so ago a new patient came to my office.  She had no fillings in her mouth.  Her mouth, to the untrained eye, looked perfect.  She was shocked when I told her that she needed a tooth restored.  I took a picture of the tooth with the stained pit before I drilled into it.

As you can see the tooth is just slightly stained.  I knew that that there was decay spreading below the surface because I could get a stick with my explorer, past the enamel (outer layer) and into the dentin (second layer) of the tooth. I removed the enamel to expose the decay in the dentin and took a picture.

As you can see, the decay had spread much more than the exposed pin hole in the enamel.  Dentin is softer than enamel and the decay can spread a lot faster.  This is not a large amount of decay and the tooth can be restored with composite (white) or amalgam (silver) at little cost or discomfort to the patient.  If the patient waits to fix this decay when it hurts, the patient will experience a lot more pain in their mouth and bank account.  A tooth that hurts frequently needs a root canal, build up, and a crown to fix the tooth, costing well over $2000.00

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, I would often sit on my mother’s lap.  She would occasionally push her dentures out of her mouth and then and suck them back in rapidly.  For some reason, this fascinated me and I would often exclaim, “I can’t wait till I can do that when I grow up”.  Her retort…”Not if I can help it”.

Many years later, I discovered that my mother had suffered from advanced stage gum disease.  Like many young adults, my mother had strong teeth and never had any problems with them.  With the responsibility and expense of raising five children, regular dental examinations were not a high priority. The fact that her teeth were very strong ended up being a disadvantage – she thought she didn’t need regular checkups.  Nothing hurt until it was too late.  By her mid-thirties, she had lost most of the bone that supported her teeth due to gum disease and had to have them extracted.

or, as in my mother’s case, result in the loss of teeth.  My mother always regretted ignoring her teeth until it was too late.  She thought she was making a sound financial decision – but the cost was greater than she anticipated.

As a child, I thought the dentures were cool – but she hated them.

For the small expense of an oral exam, you will receive a wealth of information concerning your dental health.  The dentist will check:

·         your teeth for decay, cracks, and abscesses
·         for signs of gum disease and bone loss
·         the mouth, face, and neck for signs of cancer
·         for tempero-mandibular dysfunction (TMJ)
·         alignment of the teeth and jaw (assessment of the need for orthodontics)

There are many ways to solve problems identified in an oral exam.  But if you don’t have the exam, you won’t have the information you need to make wise choices.  Having a regular oral exam is the best thing you can do for both your health and finances.

In my years practicing dentistry, I have found that:

  • There are no restorative materials as good or last as long as the natural tooth.
  • No fillings ever get smaller.
  • Children can now reach adulthood without ever experiencing tooth decay because preventative dental care has dramatically improved.

Currently, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children visit the dentist by one year of age.  Our hope is to prevent dental disease by changing habits and diets that cause cavities.

The main bacteria that cause tooth decay does not start colonizing in the mouth until teeth are present. If you prevent the colonization or reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth, the teeth will not decay.  Our goal is to reduce these bacteria in both the mother and the children through education.

The main way that infants get these bacteria is through the mother or main caregiver.  If the bacteria are reduced in the mother or main caregiver, they won’t be as likely to be passed along to infant.  The mother or caregiver should:
o   Brush with a fluoride toothpaste 2 or 3 times per day
o   Floss twice per day
o   Eliminate drinking soda pops and sugared drinks
o   Reduce amounts of carbohydrate and sugar snacks
o   Chew gum after meals (especially with xylitol)
o   Have regular dental checkups

Another way to prevent bacteria colonizing in the infant’s mouth is to prevent the transmission of the bacteria to the baby by:
o   Never taste the baby’s food with the same spoon used for the baby; the parent is transferring their germs to the baby.
o   Never put the pacifier in the mouth of the parent then give it to the baby.
o   Parents should never use their tooth brush in a child’s mouth.

Finally the last way to prevent cavities in the baby’s mouth is to reduce the amount of bacteria in the baby’s mouth, and this can be done by:
o   Wipe the baby’s teeth with a wash cloth or brush with a tooth brush as soon as teeth erupt.
o   Use a tooth brush by the time molars erupt.
o   Never put the baby to bed with a bottle.
o   Do not give the baby sugared drinks or juices all day long.
o   Have fluoride drops prescribed for breast fed infants.
o   Make formula with fluoridated water.
o   Have a dental exam by the baby’s first birthday.