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Fortify Your Walls

Old defense walls of Carcasson castle, FranceI’ve been reading a lot of George R. R. Martin books in the last year or so. He’s the author of the series that has been made into a very popular HBO television show, “Game of Thrones.” This Saginaw dentist can’t speak for the TV show, but the book series is enthralling!  The series of books is set in a middle age world of kings, knights and lords all scheming for power and status. Some of the most dramatic sequences of the book series take place during onslaughts against highly fortified castle walls. The lords can fend off most attacks in the comfort of their castle, so long as their castle walls hold up.

The enamel of your teeth is much like those castle walls. Many foods we eat either contain acid or are composed of nutrients that oral bacteria can convert into acid. These acids attack your teeth in the same way that Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons may some day strike at King’s Landing. The flame of the dragons’ breath will weaken the castle’s outer wall, making it more susceptible and eventually breaking holes into the wall.

The outer layer of your teeth is called enamel. It serves as the outer armor of the tooth, protecting the soft, vital parts of the tooth from harm. Your enamel is incredibly strong…in fact it’s the hardest substance in the human body. It’s made up of crystals of calcium phosphate called hydroxyapatite (HA). Enamel is very durable, but it’s not indestructible. It’s crystalline structure is susceptible to acid. The acid in our mouth can actually soak into the enamel crystals and eventually  break them down, which can form cavities. As long as the damage isn’t too great, you can repair these crystals by remineralizing them with calcium phosphate naturally found in saliva.

What if you could magically rebuild your castle’s walls with bricks that were much stronger than the ones it was originally built from? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could repair your enamel with something that made the already resistant crystals even stronger?  Well, you can! Actually, you probably already are but you just don’t realize it.

 

"All hail fluoride!"

“All hail fluoride!”

Topical fluoride found in toothpaste, mouth rinses and varnishes placed at your dental office is the magical ingredient we’re looking for. Using topical fluoride supercharges the natural process of remineralization (repair of acid attacked HA crystals). When the enamel incorporates fluoride into the HA crystals it’s actually stronger and more resistant to tooth decay than regular HA crystals. This is why most toothpastes contain fluoride and why dentists will often recommend prescription strength fluoride rinses and varnishes for patients who experience a lot of tooth decay or have reduced saliva flow. Each time you’re brushing your teeth or swishing a fluoride rinse, you should realize that you’re fortifying your defenses against the next siege!

Did you find this post fortified? Did it make you want to gargle with fluoride rinse? This dentist in Saginaw, MI would love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a Saginaw dentist, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

 

6 Months from Christmas

iStock_000020505277XSmallDental benefits make us do weird things. No, seriously. Because most dental benefits have a certain amount that they’ll allow each year, patients feel like they need to wait.

“I know I need a crown replaced on the upper right, but what happens if I break a tooth on some popcorn? Maybe I’ll just wait until the end of the year so I know I’ll have my dental benefits left then.”

Since Christmas is 6 months away today, here’s an gift to you. Four reasons why you shouldn’t wait until the end of the year to have your dental work done.

  • Most dental problems don’t get better on their own: It’s human nature to think maybe if we ignore the problem, it will get better. Acting like it’s no big deal that you can’t eat ice cream without almost crying doesn’t fix the problem. Also, broken fillings don’t miraculously replace themselves. You need to get these things taken care of.
  • Summer is pretty leisurely around here: Right now, we’ve got time for you. Lots of people are vacationing and spending time up north. So this dental office is more flexible with appointment times than we are from about October until the end of the year.
  • Most dental benefits are “use it or lose it”: Dental benefit companies understand human nature much better than regular folks. By only allowing a certain amount of benefit per year, they encourage you to wait on treatment. Because, you never know… “Maybe if I just get by until November I can be sure I won’t have an expensive dental emergency that I didn’t plan for.” So, a certain percentage of folks with dental benefits will wait. And some of them just keep waiting. The dental benefit companies love this, because they’ve already been paid their premium, and if you don’t end up using your benefits for the year because you’re waiting…they win!
  • We’re going to be closed between Christmas and New Year: Our office has prided itself on being open through the holidays for years. In fact, I even wrote a poem about it a couple years ago. We’ve been planning and working really hard on our new office this year, so we’re taking some time off in December. Which means our “end of the year rush” time just got shorter. It’s going to be a lot less likely that we can accomodate last minute “I need to use my benefits up” rush this year.

Jingle BellWhat I’m saying is…let’s take care of your dental stuff now. If it makes you feel any better I’ll wear a red and white hat and play holiday music.

Did you find this post merry? Did it make you think of jingle bells and holly? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

“root canals don’t work on me!”

Last week I was talking to a patient about a tooth they were having a problem with. The tooth was badly broken and the patient assumed that it would need to be removed. I explained to the patient that taking the tooth out was one option that would solve the immediate problem. Losing this tooth would create a new problem…what to do with the space created by losing the tooth. But that, my friends, is whole other blog post.

Tooth_Section for blogAnother option for that tooth is the most poorly named procedure in all of dentistry: the “root canal.” Root canal therapy (a.k.a.: root canal) is probably the most misunderstood dental procedure. So what is a root canal? It’s actually a description of part of your tooth. The tooth is made of 3 distinct layers. The outer layer is called the enamel on the crown of the tooth and the cementum on the root surface (below the gum line). This outer layer is great protection to the inner layers of the tooth, but it’s very brittle unless it’s attached to the next layer in, the dentin. The dentin is softer than the outer layers and it’s made up of small tubes going from the outside toward the center of the tooth. The third layer of the tooth is at the very center and is called the pulp. The pulp is made up of connective tissue and contains the blood vessels and nerve tissue of the tooth. The pulp is very aptly named because it’s a soft, smooshy mess of tissue that is contained by a space in the dentin called the “root canal.” 

The pulp is actually pretty well defended by the outer layers of the tooth, but if tooth decay invades deep enough into the tooth or the tooth is broken, the pulp can become infected with oral bacteria. Your immune system puts up a pretty good fight, but usually once the pulp has been invaded, the pulp tissue will eventually die. If this happens, the entire root canal space can become infected which is what we call an abscess

Root canal therapy is done when the pulp tissue is damaged or infected. The goal of root canal therapy is to clean out the damaged pulp tissue from the root canal, then disinfect the root canal space and seal it from top to bottom so that oral bacteria can no longer gain access into the space. A dentist does this by drilling a hole through the crown of the tooth and using tiny instruments to remove and clean this space. Then a filling material is packed into the space to seal the tooth up. Once this is completed the tooth must be restored with a filling or more likely a crown or an onlay.

So after explaining to my patient that she could opt to save the tooth with root canal therapy she told me, “root canals don’t work on me.” When I asked her what she meant she told me, “I’ve had 3 or 4 root canals and I ended up losing each one of them. Why should I go through that again when I’m just going to lose the tooth?” Whoa! That’s a pretty serious claim! Do root canals “just not work” on some people?

Root canal therapy can fail for many reasons. Most root canal failures are due to one or more of the following 4 things:

  • chronic infection: You’re likely to have a better root canal therapy outcome if the tooth hasn’t been infected for a long time. Occasionally a tooth can be traumatized and not have any symptoms for years, even decades! Often these teeth will become darker than surrounding teeth even though there is no pain or swelling associated with the tooth. These teeth usually have a low grade, chronic infection. Treating teeth that have been infected for a long time is much less predictable than a tooth that was never infected.
  • Doc with monitor lightenedmissed anatomy: Unfortunately, root canal systems are complex and variable. It’s difficult to find all the pulp in a tooth and even more difficult to make sure it’s all removed. At Mead Family Dental we use a dental operating microscope for all root canal procedures. This helps us find as much of the pulp tissue as possible. However, sometimes we can’t find all of it and if we’ve missed some of the pulp tissue sometimes people have problems like pain and reinfection. This is relatively rare, but not unheard of.
  • restoring the tooth: We don’t do all of these procedures at our office. Often we’ll refer to a specialist called an endodontist who does only root canal therapy procedures. Usually when an endodontist finishes this procedure they’ll place a provisional (temporary) in the tooth. Since root canal therapy can cost upwards of $1000 per tooth, often times people would prefer to wait to do a conventional restoration like a bonded filling or crown. This is the mistake that is the primary cause of the “root canals don’t work” myth. Temporary fillings are just that. Temporary! If this short term filling washes out, the sealed space that the dentist just meticulously disinfected becomes infected by oral bacteria again.
  • reinforcing the tooth: Every dentist that treats these problems has to walk a tightrope. The hole that they open into the root canal space has to be big enough so that you can see what you need to see, yet small enough to remove as little tooth structure as possible. Sometimes this access requires the removal of so much tooth structure that the tooth becomes weakened. Teeth that have had root canal therapy are often best treated with a partial or full coverage restoration like an onlay or crown. These teeth should be treated as soon as possible after the root canal treatment, otherwise they are at great risk of fracture.

Root canal therapy is usually quite successful. I don’t believe that there’s a certain kind of person that just shouldn’t have root canal therapy. I do believe that there are some people that have had catastrophically bad luck with root canal therapy and other dental treatments, but I firmly believe an honest talk with a trusted dentist can help get to the bottom of past dental treatment failures. Understanding why we sometimes see bad outcomes with the treatment can help you decide if it’s right for you!

Did you find this post scary? Did it make you want to run out and have a root canal? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

Mead Family Dental participates in Michigan’s first dental Mission of Mercy

MoM-LogoOur office will be closed Thursday, June 6th and Friday June 7th because we will be participating in the Michigan Dental Association’s “Mission of Mercy.” This amazing project will be held at Saginaw Valley State University on Friday and Saturday of this week. The goal of the Mission of Mercy is to provide dental treatment to 2000 people in two days…for free! Dentists, dental hygienists and assistants from all over the state will converge on Saginaw to volunteer their time and abilities to provide dental treatment at no cost! This is Michigan’s first Mission of Mercy and the MDA has been planning it for more than a year!

Please spread the word! If you are interested in being a patient you can read more information at the Michigan Dental Association’s FAQ page. Registration for volunteering at the Mission of Mercy has closed, but you can be put on a waiting list by emailing the coordinator here. Include your name, volunteer type (dentist, hygienist, general volunteer, etc.), email address and a phone number so the MDA can contact you at if any cancellations occur.

We’ll be back to normal on Monday, June 10th! Thanks for your understanding!

there’s a roller coaster in your mouth

"I don't see a thing about pH here..."

“I don’t see a thing about pH here…”

Click click click click click click..click…click…click…..click……click……..AHHHHHHHHH!

The sudden drop, the wind racing through your hair, the speeding around the curves and some loop the loops. You’re on a thrill ride of a lifetime! If you’re a fan of roller coasters, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Most coaster fans really like the giant drop at the beginning more than any other part.

Did you know that you have a kind of roller coaster in your mouth every single day? The pH of your mouth is constantly going up and down all throughout the day.

“pH?” you say. “What’s that?”

pH is a measure of the relative acidity of an aqueous (water based) solution. In this case, it’s the moisture in your mouth. A more acid solution has a lower pH and a less acidic (alkaline) solution has a higher number. A completely neutral solution (not more acid or more alkaline) has a pH of 7. Acidic solutions are less than 7 and alkaline solutions are greater than 7.

Ideally, your mouth is at a pretty neutral pH, around 7. When you consume something that the bacteria in your mouth can eat, they will metabolize this into an acid. Have you ever noticed after eating a candy bar or something else really sweet that you get a sour taste in your mouth for awhile? “Sour” is the taste that detects acidity. When you notice that sour taste in your mouth, you should realize that there has been a drop in your mouth’s pH. If the pH in your mouth drops below the critical pH (about 5.5 or so), you are at risk for tooth enamel and dentin to start dissolving!pH graph adjust

When you draw the drop in pH against time on a graph, it looks like a very steep roller coaster. Once this roller coaster drops past a pH of 5.5, your teeth are at risk for cavities! How quickly does the roller coaster rise past that critical pH again? Well, that depends. In a healthy person with normal saliva flow it’s somewhere around 25-30 minutes. Someone with xerostomia (dry mouth) might stay below this critical pH for significantly longer. Saliva has the ability to buffer the pH in your mouth. A buffer solution keeps the pH more stable and helps to restore the pH in your mouth to a neutral level. So, if you have a healthy saliva flow, you’re at less risk for cavities due to the pH roller coaster!

So, let’s say you want to make this roller coaster ride a little more predictable and a lot less bumpy for your teeth. What should you do?

  1. avoid sweets and acidy foods: sweets and acidy foods (like pop) cause a steeper and deeper roller coaster drop. Whenever possible, avoid these foods. When you are going to eat or drink them, do it along with regular meals.
  2. avoid lots of snacking: you jump on the pH roller coaster every time you eat or drink something. The less often you do, the less time your mouth spends below the critical pH.
  3. chew sugarless gum after meals and snacks: chewing sugarless gum will stimulate saliva flow, and saliva flow can bring a low pH back up to a safe level more quickly than without.

Roller coasters in real life are a blast. The pH roller coaster that goes on in your mouth isn’t as much fun. But, you can take control with these simple rules and you’ll reduce your risk of cavities!

Did you find this post thrilling? Did it make you scream out loud? I’d love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!

 

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