Perhaps the earliest example of dental implants were seashells found in the jaw of an ancient Mayan skeleton from 1,300 years ago. While the Mayans were known for their surprisingly advanced dental knowledge Continue reading How Dental Implants Were Invented
Root canals have a bad reputation they don’t deserve and we think Hollywood is to blame. Movies and television shows often portray root canal therapy as a painful and frightening procedure. The truth is that most root canal procedures are quite painless Continue reading Why Hollywood Needs to Stop Hating on Root Canals
A dry mouth is a uniquely uncomfortable feeling and should not be dismissed as a trivial issue for one very important reason: a dry mouth can make it more likely that you’ll get tooth decay! The presence of saliva in your mouth is an important part of keeping your teeth healthy.
Dry mouth, which is called xerostomia by dental professionals, is sometimes just a temporary feeling caused by regular activities such as strenuous exercise of speaking aloud for a long period of time. However, some people experience chronic dry mouth, which can lead to big problems over time: in other words, tooth decay.
The saliva in your mouth helps wash away cavity-causing bacteria as well as the food debris that such bacteria might feed on. In addition, saliva contains minerals that help strengthen teeth and can ever re-mineralize weak areas that might be at risk for tooth decay. All of these benefits of saliva are what makes its absence in the case of dry mouth so troublesome.
One of the most common causes of dry mouth is medication. Many medications (some say over 400!) can cause dry mouth, such as anti-depressants, diuretics, and antihistamines. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of radiation treatment in cancer patients because it can interfere with the salivary gland’s ability to create saliva.
Whatever the cause of dry mouth, it’s important to start treating it right away to reduce the risk of tooth decay. One easy solution is to sip water throughout the day to keep your mouth moist. You should also talk to the dentist about your symptoms and see if you may need to use a special mouthwash or artificial saliva product.
If your dry mouth could be a side effect of a medication, you can also talk to your primary care doctor about changing the medication to something that might not cause dry mouth. You should also avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol, as these can make dry mouth worse. There are many alcohol-free mouthwashes that are just as tasty and effective.
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The modern toothbrush has only been around for about 90 years, but it is the latest in a long evolution of tools to fight tooth decay, stretching back thousands of years and involving a whole range of flora and fauna!
Pre-History – Chewing on Sticks
Long before our ancestors used toothbrushes to ward off tooth decay, people chewed on sticks or twigs to clean their teeth. The earliest chew sticks found date back to 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia and a tomb from 3000 B.C. in Egypt. Archeological finds also indicate that people used bird feather quills and porcupine spines to pick and clean their teeth.
Chew sticks are still around in the Middle East and northern Africa in the form of miswaks (also called siwaak or sewak). A miswak is made from twigs from the Salvadora persica tree (or arak in Arabic), which is easily frayed to form a brush-like tip at one end. In addition to being an alternative to the toothbrush for cleaning teeth, these sticks are part of pious ritual for many Muslims.
Bone & Bristle Toothbrushes
The next evolution in anti-tooth decay tools came from China, where the first actual toothbrushes were invented. During the Tong Dynasty around the years 600-900, the first bristled toothbrushes appeared. They typically had handles made from bone or bamboo and had bristles made from the stiff hair of northern hogs.
This Chinese invention of bristled toothbrushes eventually made it to Europe in the 1600s. Europeans changed the design by replacing hog hairs with horse hair, which were softer and therefore preferable.
The first mass produced toothbrush was designed by William Addis of England in 1780. (It was around this same time that being a dentist became a formally recognized medical profession, which some scholars correlate with the rise in sugar in European diets due to colonial trade.) Addis actually created the first prototype from a piece of bone when he was briefly in prison! After gaining his freedom, he started mass producing the toothbrush, eventually passing the business on to his son. Their Wisdom Toothbrush company was family owned until the 1990s and still produces modern toothbrushes in Europe.
20th Century Innovation
The next big innovation in toothbrushes came with the invention of nylon by the Du Pont chemical company in the 1930s. From then on, most toothbrushes were made with softer nylon bristles. Not only were they more pleasant to use and easier on the teeth, they were less likely to harbor bacteria like old-fashioned bristles made from animal hair.
The next big invention in toothbrush technology came with addition of electricity. The first electric toothbrush was invented in 1954 and became available in the United States in 1960. Like modern electric toothbrushes, the earliest ones involved a motor that vibrated the brush, supposedly enhancing the action of the bristles.
Who knows what the future of toothbrushing holds (maybe toothbrushing robots!). What every dentist (and patient) knows is that if you stick to using a soft bristled toothbrush (replaced every 3 months) to brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, there are healthier smiles in your future!
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Laughing gas is the common name for an inhaled sedative, used in dental care and in medical care. Laughing gas gets its name from the feeling of well-being and giddiness that it can cause. It also causes a reduction in the sensation of pain, which can be helpful if you are in need of serious dentistry, such as a crown or the removal of a tooth.
The active ingredient in laughing gas is nitrous oxide gas (also known by it’s chemical formula: N2O). Nitrous oxide is colorless and odorless, though some dentists will add pleasant scents like vanilla or fruit to the gas to encourage inhalation, especially in children. Laughing gas is required to include at least 30% oxygen. The most common mix of gases in a dental practice is 30% oxygen and 70% nitrous oxide. Dentists can vary this mix upward if necessary to get the desired sedation effect.
The gas is given to you using a rubber mask that fits over your nose so the dentist can still access your mouth. The gas is inhaled continuously throughout the procedure, and the dentist will ease you onto it and ease you off of it by varying the concentration of nitrous oxide. Most patients report the affects of laughing gas as a feeling of well-being, almost like a “happy drunk”, though nitrous oxide has none of the affects on judgment or coordination that being drunk has. Many patients also report physical sensations, such as a warm or light vibration sensation in the body. Most also feel a reduction in pain sensations, and any pain they might feel they don’t seem to mind. If the dental procedure requires local anesthetic administered by an injection, many patients won’t even notice the needle prick. If you experience nausea or dizziness while on laughing gas, tell the dentist right away or simply remove your mask: this is a sign that the concentration of nitrous oxide is too high for you.
Laughing gas is unique compared to other dental sedation techniques (such as a sedative pill or I.V. medicines) because it starts working very quickly and wears off almost immediately once you stop inhaling it. Most patients feel the effects within 20-30 seconds of inhalation and will become very relaxed within 3-5 minutes. Once the dentist finishes treatment and gradually switches the patient back to oxygen, the effects will wear off within about 5 minutes. That means that unlike other kinds of sedation, there’s no “hangover” period of drowsiness afterward, and most patients can drive themselves home (after being evaluated by the dentist, of course).
Laughing gas lives up to its friendly name as a very safe but also very effective form of sedation. If you or a family member is in need of a dental procedure and are interested in nitrous oxide, please don’t hesitate to ask us about whether it’s right for you.
We all know that drinking too much sweet sugary soda pop can cause tooth decay. Sodas should only be an occasional treat (like a cupcake or a candy bar), not your main source of hydration or caffeine. To get around this issue and still enjoy a sweet drink, many people turn to sugar-free varieties. The only problem is that sugar-free sodas can cause tooth decay too!
Sodas sweetened with real sugar or high fructose corn syrup are bad for your teeth because they feed bacteria. This bacteria processes the sugar and creates acids, which sit on your teeth in the form of plaque and cause dental erosion.
Sugar-free sodas don’t feed decay-causing bacteria. They skip that step altogether. Many sugar-free sodas are acidic on their own, meaning the soda itself can cause dental erosion. Tooth decay occurs when dental erosion eats away at the hard protective outer layer of teeth, leaving the softer dentin underneath exposed. This is how cavities eventually form.
While diet sodas can be a great choice when it comes to reducing the amount of sugar or calories you consume, it’s good to keep in mind that there’s no “easy way out” when it comes to good dietary choices. In other words, soda pop of any kind should only be consumed in moderation (including “energy drink” varieties). Nearly any dentist you ask will agree that a balanced diet that includes a minimal amount of sugar, processed foods, and acidic foods is the best way to maintain your oral health. Think of your balanced diet as the best possible kind of dental insurance (and the cheapest)!
We know that a soda habit can be hard to kick. Often it’s the sensation of cold, crisp bubbles that makes soda hardest to give up. Believe it or not, many people find they get the same satisfaction and refreshing sensation from plain carbonated water. Just keep in mind that fizzy water contains carbon dioxide, which turns into carbonic acid in your mouth, so it’s more acidic that still water and therefore more risky for your tooth enamel. When you’re seeking refreshment, regular water is always your best choice!
If you have any questions or concerns about how your favorite drinks affect your teeth, please feel free to start a conversation with the dentist or the dental hygienist. We’d be happy to share our advice!