In the first part of this article (“A Patient’s Guide to Extending the Longevity of Your Restorations
Part I: Why Your Oral Hygiene Is Key”) we talked about the important role quality oral hygiene plays in the preservation of dental restorations.
As I pointed out in that part of the article, a patient could receive a perfectly crafted and placed restoration at the hands of an expert dental professional, and still not be assured of long-term success. That’s because, as I have come to discover, the number-one enemy of dental restorations is dental disease and the dental decay that causes it. Which is why removing harmful bacteria from your teeth, gums, and mouth is key to extending the life of a restoration.
So, while part one focused on establishing good habits, this, the second part of this two-part article will explore the importance of breaking a few not-so-good habits.
Stop being a creature of bad habits
Regardless of your mouth’s current state of health, there are certain habits and behaviors that can determine the long-term success of a restoration. These eight questions could help determine the prognosis for any type of restoration you may receive:
1. What types of foods do you like to snack on most? Frequent snacking on cariogenic (tooth-decay causing) foods can be detrimental to the health of your mouth, and there for your restoration. Obviously, that means sugary treats such as cake and candy. However, other foods, such as starchy, refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta and crackers) should be considered as well.
2. What’s the consistency of these snack foods? Another major issue of snacking is the consistency of the food itself. Hard foods such as almonds, pretzels, and candies place an enormous strain on teeth, especially those with fillings. I advise my clients to avoid eating these foods in large quantities, and to take care even when consuming them in single servings. That’s because when, let’s say several almonds, come in contact with a tooth that has a large filling the tooth will flex, thus increasing the likelihood of a fracture. Repeated stress and flexure weakens the tooth significantly and may cause the tooth to break, even when eating something softer in consistency.
3. When do you snack? Are you grabbing a bite just once or twice, or more consistently throughout the day? The answer to this question is important because snacking between meals, without brushing, enables bacteria to form plaque around your teeth. This starts the process of bacterial metabolism, which produces acids, that then causes the demineralization of your tooth structure and makes your tooth more susceptible to cavities. I make sure my clients understand that special care should be taken to clean the region where the dental filling and the tooth structure meet, as this is the area most vulnerable to new tooth decay.
4. What, other than water, do you drink on a regular basis?
In addition to sugary foods, it’s important to consider the impact of sugary beverages (soda, sport drinks, some juices) on your dental health. Most sodas have citric acid and high quantities of sugar, which when consumed on a regular basis, are very destructive to the tooth structure. Specifically, these drinks contribute significantly to premature deterioration of restorations along their margins.
5. Do you like to chew gum? Chewing gum often will have similar results to eating hard candies. For that reason, I suggest chewing gum only for five to ten minutes, after a meal, and only when you’re not at home or don’t have immediate access to a toothbrush.
6. Do you grind or clench your teeth? If you have a habit of clenching or grinding your teeth, your best bet is to wear a protective oral appliance, called a night guard, to protect your teeth and the investment you’ve made in your oral health.
7. Do you bite your nails? Are you a nail-biter? A pencil-chomper? What about using your teeth instead of scissors – to cut the plastic strings of price tags, fishing line, or worse? Do you sometimes open things with your teeth, like cardboard envelopes, nuts, bottles?! Using your teeth for anything other than chewing is an almost certain way to place undue stress and damage on your teeth. And that goes for any teeth, restored or otherwise.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to make dental restorations last forever. However, I let my patients who are at high risk for dental decay and tooth fracture know that I can help them to extend the lifespan of not just their restorations, but of all their teeth. Committing to careful oral hygiene and correcting behavior that’s detrimental to your teeth are really all it takes to make a restoration perform its best and last as long as possible. So, now when I am asked the question, “How long will this restoration last?” I have a good answer: “Well, that all depends on how well you take care of your teeth.”
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