Rotten teeth affect millions of men, women and children the world over. People become susceptible to the factors causing rotting teeth virtually the moment that their first baby teeth appear. And while the primary cause of rotting teeth is as complex as it is pervasive, one thing is clear: left untreated, a rotting tooth is destined to become a dead tooth.
Rotten teeth are the result of the demineralization of tooth enamel by the acid-producing bacteria that normally grow the human mouth. The erosive power of this chemical process is why cavities and rotting teeth appear discolored and translucent. In so-called “best-case” scenarios, the acid responsible for rotting teeth will create a small dental cavity. In worst-case scenarios, the acid will eat through the enamel and dentin into the pulp of the tooth producing first a toothache and then a dead tooth.
The Sugar Connection
Research shows the consumption of sugar and starchy foods creates the perfect environment for the growth of the acid-producing bacteria responsible for rotting teeth. This partially explains the alarming number of children who experience decayed or rotten teeth. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 6 out of 10 children in the U.S. will have a least one cavity filled by age 5. Studies link this alarming statistic to three things: 1) the omnipresence of sugary snacks; 2) giving little ones pacifying bottles of juice, milk, or formula to drink during the day or overnight; and 3) inconsistent oral hygiene.
Preventing rotten teeth takes a little common sense and a lot of dedication. The key to avoiding rotting teeth is reducing the amount of cavity-causing bacteria and dental plaque in your mouth. This requires a real commitment to good oral hygiene, including
- Brushing your teeth 2-3 times a day
- Using tartar-control toothpaste with fluoride
- Flossing daily
- Rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash
- Cutting back on starchy and sugary foods
- Increasing saliva flow by chewing xylitol gum
- Regular dental cleanings by a dentist DDS, DMD or dental hygienist
What to Do in a Dental Emergency
Accidents happen all the time and not all of them require immediate care. But if you’ve had an injury to your teeth, mouth or jaw, you should see a dentist right away. If you’re not sure your problem is an emergency, here’s a list of the most common ones — plus a few things you can do to minimize pain and damage before seeing your dentist:
Broken Tooth — Save any pieces of the broken tooth and rinse your mouth out with warm water. Apply a cold compress to the area to decrease swelling and pain until you can be seen by the dentist.
Broken Jaw — Apply a cold compress to limit swelling and see your dentist right away.
Knocked-Out Tooth — Gently rinse off the knocked out tooth without removing any attached tissue. If possible, hold the tooth in place in the socket. Otherwise, put the tooth in a glass of milk and get to your dentist right away.
Something Stuck in Your Teeth — Carefully try to remove the object with dental floss. (Don’t try using a sharp instrument!) If you’re unable to dislodge the object with dental floss, contact your dentist.
Toothache — Rinse your mouth out with warm water. Then use dental floss to make sure there isn’t any food or other debris causing the pain. If the pain persists, call the dentist.
Lost Dental Filling or Dental Crown — For dental fillings, seal the area with a piece of sugarless gum or over-the-counter dental cement. If a dental crown has come loose, try to put it back in place with dental cement. If that doesn’t work, bring it with you to the dentist.
Dental Abscess — If you notice a painful, pimple-like swelling on your gums, rinse with salt water and immediately contact your dentist. Dental abscesses can lead to more serious infections if not promptly treated.
Even Seniors Get Cavities
As we entered the new millennium, it was discovered that seniors were getting more dental cavities than children. Today, children and seniors are still the two highest at-risk groups for tooth decay. Aging puts us at greater risk for dental problems. The wearing away of tooth enamel, receding gums and loss of jawbone are signs that our mouths are aging along with our bodies.
Fortunately, there are now dental technologies and treatments to keep our smiles intact longer. That’s great news for seniors. The bad news is anyone with natural teeth can get dental cavities. And the longer we have our teeth, the more we expose them to the elements that can cause tooth decay.
Unfortunately, geriatric teeth are less able to handle the normal wear and tear of those in younger generations. There are several reasons why seniors may be prone to more dental cavities:
- Difficulty brushing & flossing
- Not enough fluoride
- Gum disease
- Dry mouth
- Poor diet
There are several ways seniors can stay cavity-free. A diet low in sugar and high in calcium promotes tooth health. Fluoride toothpastes, mouth rinses or tablets can help. Drinking water, sucking on sugar-free candy or chewing sugarless gum promotes saliva production and reduces dry mouth.
For seniors with mobility or dexterity problems, wrap tape or an elastic bandage around the toothbrush. If a wider grip is needed, try taping a tennis ball, sponge or rubber bicycle grip to the handle. An electric toothbrush may also be helpful for those who cannot maneuver a manual toothbrush easily. And daily flossing should not be forgotten, either — floss holders and waxed floss may make it easier for seniors to continue their oral hygiene routine.
Because of the special dental needs of seniors, regular dental visits are still essential. We use this time to check for the dental problems that affect older patients, including cavities, gum disease, root decay and oral cancer.