conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


The Tooth Time Line
Preventive dental care can help ensure a good set of teeth for life


December 2013

Our teeth are overutilized and underappreciated, so give your pearly whites a little love. Here are a few tooth basics to help you through any stage of life.

In the dental world, acid is the enemy. It eats away at your teeth and gums. Acid in your mouth usually comes from the breakdown of bacteria, but soft drinks and acid contribute to high pH levels. Saliva is your ally. It helps rinse your teeth and remineralize the enamel.

Brushing, rinsing, flossing, a healthy diet and going to the dentist will help keep you on a good track.

Babies and Youngsters

The American Dental Association has a new recommendation that parents bring babies to the dentist by the childís first birthday.

Dr. James Michaels from Oconomowoc Dental Care is comfortable seeing children for the first time between the ages of 1 and 3. But he says new parents need to be aware of what is known as Baby Bottle Syndrome before then. "Itís when parents leave the bottle in the childís mouth overnight and it leads to horrible cavities. If you put water in the bottle thatís fine, but anything else will cause decay since the teeth are bathed in the liquid over a long period of time."

Also, baby teeth serve as placeholders for your childís adult teeth so if your little girl loses a back tooth too early from decay, she could have crowding when her adult teeth come in.

Teenagers and Young Adults

Teenagers and young adults are more prone to tooth decay than any other age group.

"Diet is questionable, oral hygiene is lacking and the tooth structure has yet to mature. Over time, the enamel gets harder but at this point the tooth structure is still quite soft and less resistant to decay," says Dr. Ralph Pamenter, Brookfield Dental Care.

This is also a period when braces are important if needed. The muscles and bones supporting your teeth are still in the process or have just finished developing. Pamenter says unaddressed alignment issues cause more than crooked teeth. "Patients may end up with joint dysfunction or TMJ, breathing problems or spaces between teeth where food can accumulate and lead to more decay."

The Middle Years

Gum disease often rears its ugly head during your middle years, and it could be a direct result of poor oral hygiene as a young adult. "Think of gum disease like hard water that builds up around your sink. Now imagine that build-up around your tooth. Itís been going on under the surface for a decade or more and eventually the gum and tooth move away and you lose support for your tooth," explains Dr. Matthew Smith of Stone Ridge Dental in Waukesha. You may need deep cleaning, a laser assisted procedure or even surgery to correct it.

Besides gum disease, tooth restoration is a possibility for middle-aged people. Teeth start to crack from wear and tear and fillings start to fail. These cracks and fissures become excellent areas for bacterial growth so brush, rinse and floss.

The Older Adult

After the age of 55, you may not be producing as much saliva. Add to that, certain medications for high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, diarrhea and allergies can cause dry mouth. Now youíre dealing with a double whammy.

"Itís one of the biggest dental problems that a lot of people donít know about," according to Dr. Timothy Hart, who practices dentistry in Shorewood. "A person can go his entire life without any tooth decay and overnight develop significant problems." Hart says using prescription toothpaste with extra fluoride will help.

In fact, prescription toothpaste and mouthwashes can be a big help at any age. "Some patients are simply dealt unlucky cards when it comes to body chemistry. They may take great care of their teeth but have naturally higher acid levels in their mouths," Pamenter says. "We can test their saliva for pH levels and prescribe different products that can really help them keep their teeth healthy."


This story ran in the December issue of: