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By Thomas Leatherman, DDS
December 11, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: x-ray  
BitewingX-RaysSafelyRevealallAboutBackTeethtoPreventToothDecay

Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.

“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.

X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.

The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.

Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.

Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.

If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”

By Thomas Leatherman, DDS
December 01, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  
TheTaleoftheToothworm

Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.

Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.

While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?

Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.

If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.

We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.

If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”

By Thomas Leatherman, DDS
November 21, 2018
Category: Oral Health
AnyTimeAnyPlaceCamNewtonsGuidetoFlossing

When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?

For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.

Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.

Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:

  • It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
  • A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
  • Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
  • Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!

Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!

If you would like more information about flossing and oral hygiene, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Thomas Leatherman, DDS
November 11, 2018
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: dentures  
DenturesareStillaViableChoiceforToothReplacement

Edentulism, the loss of all of a person’s teeth, is more than an appearance problem. As one in four Americans over 65 can attest, total tooth loss can lead to emotional suffering, social embarrassment and a lack of nutrition caused by limited food choices.

But there are solutions like the removable denture, an effective dental restoration for more than a century. In its current advanced form, the removable denture is truly a functional, affordable and attractive way to restore lost teeth.

Creating an effective denture begins first by taking detailed impressions of a patient’s gum ridges. We use the measurements obtained from this process to create a plastic resin base colored to resemble the natural gums. ¬†Using old photos and other resources documenting how the patient looked with teeth, we choose the best size and shape of porcelain teeth and then position them onto the base.

Finally, we fine-tune the dentures the first time they’re in the patient’s mouth to make sure they have a secure fit and a balanced bite when the jaws come together. We also want to be sure the dentures are attractive and blend well with other facial features. The result: ¬†a new set of teeth that can do the job of the old ones and look nearly as real and attractive.

Dentures, though, do have one major drawback: they can’t stop bone loss, a common consequence of missing teeth. In fact, they may even accelerate bone loss due to the pressure they bring to bear on the gum ridges. Continuing bone loss could eventually cause their once secure fit to slacken, making them less functional and much more uncomfortable to wear.

But a recent innovation could put the brakes on bone loss for a denture wearer. By incorporating small implants imbedded at various places along the gums, a denture with compatible fittings connects securely with the implants to support the denture rather than the gum ridges. This not only relieves pressure on the gums, but the titanium within the implants attracts bone cells and stimulates their growth.

Thanks to this and other modern advances, dentures continue to be a solid choice for tooth replacement. Not only can they restore a lost smile, they can improve overall health and well-being too.

If you would like more information on dental restorations for missing teeth, 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 “Removable Full Dentures.”

By Thomas Leatherman, DDS
November 01, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: dry mouth  
GetControlofDryMouthtoProtectYourDentalHealth

As your mother used to say, “A moist mouth is a healthy mouth.” Well, maybe she didn't — but it's still true. Without the constant flow of saliva, your teeth and gums would be less healthy.

That's because among its many functions, saliva helps keep the mouth from becoming too acidic. Just after eating, your mouth's neutral pH level tips to the acidic side of the scale. Acid is enamel's number one enemy, and it takes little time for it to begin dissolving mineral content. But in thirty minutes to an hour, saliva neutralizes the acid; it also helps restore some of the enamel's minerals.

Without adequate saliva flow, acid quickly gets the upper hand. In time, this can greatly increase your risk for dental disease. And for many people, inadequate saliva — dry mouth — is a chronic problem.

There are a number of reasons why. Salivary glands may not produce as much in our later years. In addition, as we age, we may begin taking more medications, some of which can cause dry mouth. Treatments for certain kinds of systemic diseases, particularly cancer, can also inhibit saliva or even damage salivary glands.

If you feel your mouth is continuously dry, make an appointment to find out the cause, which will determine the best course of action to alleviate it. If it's related to your medication, we'll see if there's an alternative. If not, you may need to drink more water when you take your medication and more throughout the day.

There are other things you can do as well. Reduce your intake of acidic foods or caffeinated beverages. Run a cool-air humidifier at night to keep your mouth and nose membranes moist. And you can also try saliva stimulants available by prescription or even over the counter. Chewing gum with xylitol (an alcohol-based sugar) has also been shown to stimulate saliva flow.

Above all, be diligent about daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Keeping a watchful eye will help ensure dental disease doesn't take advantage of your dry mouth.

If you would like more information on managing dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”





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