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Teeth, Bones—What’s the Difference?

January 25th, 2023

They’re often mentioned together, and that’s understandable. After all, they’re the strongest parts of the body, they’re made of many of the same elements, they both require a diet rich in vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, a pirate flag wouldn’t be the same without them–so, what makes teeth and bones different? Glad you asked!

It’s Elementary

Teeth and bones are so strong because of their mineral composition. They have the highest concentration of calcium and phosphorus in the body, and these minerals combine to create sturdy structures which support our bodies, protect our organs, and help break down and digest our food. And they work well together—healthy teeth maintain jawbone density, and healthy jaws hold our teeth firmly in place.

But there are important differences in the anatomy of teeth and bones as well. Bones contain living cells, blood vessels, and nerves. They grow larger as we grow. As we age, old bone tissue breaks down and is constantly replaced with new bone tissue. This process enables our bones to stay strong throughout our lives. And bones heal.

When you break a bone, your body begins working right away to protect and heal the damaged area. Blood cells help with clotting around the break. After a few days, collagen proteins work to replace the clotted cells and form a soft callus. Within weeks, calcium phosphate deposits strengthen the collagen framework. Over time, the bone hardens and reshapes.

And while tooth enamel is the hardest substance in our bodies—harder even than bone—it is not indestructible. Our enamel is basically composed of minerals rather than living tissue, so it can’t regenerate. The enamel covering our teeth doesn’t replace cells as they age, and it can’t create new tooth cells if a tooth is injured through damage or decay. This means that a cracked or broken tooth can’t knit itself together, and enamel lost to decay won’t grow back.

Dr. Bill Whitley can restore your smile with fillings, or crowns, or even implants if necessary, but preventing injury to your teeth is always best.

Protecting Teeth and Bones

You can make sure your teeth and bones are their safest and strongest by being proactive.

External bone injuries can be avoided with the use of proper safety equipment. Helmets, padding, work boots—if your work or play recommends protective gear, use it! Fortunately, there’s also protective gear for teeth.

  • Helmets

Helmets not only protect against brain injury and concussion, they are often designed to protect the face, mouth, and jaw as well.

  • Mouthguards

Mouthguards protect the teeth, lips, tongue, and jaw from damages caused by physical contact and falls. They’re available over-the-counter, or ask Dr. Bill Whitley to fabricate a custom guard for the most comfortable and secure fit. A custom guard is an excellent option for people with braces, bridgework, or other dental appliances.

  • Night Guards

Grinding and clenching the teeth at night can lead to loose and cracked teeth, headaches, jaw pain, and other unhappy consequences. Protect your teeth from the damage caused by bruxism (tooth grinding) by wearing a night guard.

Finally, one big difference between tooth and bone design: bones are safely hidden away inside the body, while our teeth are exposed to harmful plaque, bacteria, sugars, and acidic foods every day. Give your teeth the preventive care they deserve with twice-daily brushing, flossing, and regular visits to our Dallas office. After all, your beautiful, healthy smile was never designed to be hidden!

When Is a “Cavity” Not a Cavity?

January 11th, 2023

Is this a trick question? After all, you probably already know quite a lot about cavities:

  • It all begins when bacteria-filled plaque sticks to teeth and starts to attack enamel. How?
  • Because the bacteria in plaque use the sugars and other foods we eat to produce acids.
  • These acids gradually weaken teeth by dissolving minerals which help make up our enamel (a process called demineralization).
  • Over time, a hole, or cavity, develops in the tooth surface.
  • Left untreated, bacterial decay can spread to the inside of the tooth, creating a more serious cavity.

Some cavities aren’t discovered until you visit our Dallas office, but sometimes there are clear signs that there’s a problem.

  • You have tooth pain or sensitivity.
  • Your tooth changes color in spots where the enamel has decayed.
  • You might even notice enamel loss when a cavity is large enough.

So, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s a cavity, right? It might be—but it might not. Sometimes, because the symptoms are similar, what we suspect is a cavity is really enamel erosion.

The bacteria-created acids weaken enamel. But it’s not just bacteria that subject our teeth to acids—we do it ourselves with our choice of food and drink. Acidic foods are one of the leading causes of tooth erosion.

Our normal saliva pH level is around a 7, which is neutral. Any number lower is acidic; any number higher is alkaline. Acidic foods have a low pH (the pH of lemon juice, for example, measures between 2 and 3), and can reduce our normal, neutral pH level. When saliva pH levels drop to 5.5 or lower, tooth enamel starts to demineralize, just as it does when exposed to the acids from oral bacteria.

Regularly snacking on citrus and other acidic fruits, wine, fruit juices, flavored teas, sour candies, and other acidic foods can cause enamel erosion. Especially erosive are sports drinks, energy drinks, and colas, because they contain some combination of citric acid, phosphoric acid and/or carbonation.

The symptoms of tooth erosion and damaged enamel can be very similar to those caused by cavities:

  • You suffer tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Your teeth appear discolored, as the enamel thins to reveal the yellowish dentin underneath
  • You notice missing enamel—your teeth become rounded or have little pits known as cupping

You call Dr. Bill Whitley right away if you suspect a cavity. Be just as proactive if you suspect erosion. Even though your symptoms may not have been caused by plaque and bacteria, acidic erosion from your diet leaves weakened enamel just as vulnerable to cavities and decay.

How to avoid erosion?

  • Enjoy acidic foods sparingly, or as part of a meal. This helps your saliva pH stay in the neutral zone.
  • Balance acidic foods with low-acid choices to help neutralize acids and restore a normal pH balance. (A good reason to pair wine or fruits with cheese.)
  • Use a straw! This simple solution keeps erosive drinks from bathing your teeth in acids.
  • Drink water instead of an acidic beverage, or drink it afterward to rinse your mouth. The pH of pure water? A perfect, neutral 7.
  • And what about brushing right after eating or drinking something acidic? Ask Dr. Bill Whitley if you should rush for your brush. We may recommend waiting 30 minutes or so after an acidic treat to give teeth time to remineralize after acids weaken them. Otherwise, brushing might cause more wear and tear on your enamel.
  • Finally, while foods are often the source of acid erosion, medical conditions can cause erosion as well. Talk to us about ways to minimize erosion while addressing your medical needs.

There’s no trick to it—watching your diet, brushing and flossing as recommended, using a fluoride toothpaste, and visiting Whitley Family Dental for regular checkups will help prevent tooth erosion. We can restore eroded enamel with bonding, veneers, or crowns if the erosion is serious. Better still is to catch erosion before symptoms appear to keep your teeth their strongest for a lifetime of healthy, beautiful smiles.

Make this the Year You Stop Smoking

January 4th, 2023

It’s a new year, and it couldn’t come fast enough for many of us! Let’s do our part to make this a better year in every way—and you can start by making this the year you quit smoking once and for all.

You know that smoking is very damaging to your body. Smokers are more likely to suffer from lung disease, heart attacks, and strokes. You’re at greater risk for cancer, high blood pressure, blood clots, and blood vessel disorders. With far-reaching consequences like this, it’s no surprise that your oral health suffers when you smoke as well.

How does smoking affect your teeth and mouth?

  • Appearance

While this is possibly the least harmful side effect of smoking, it’s a very visible one. Tar and nicotine start staining teeth right away. After months and years of smoking, your teeth can take on an unappealing dark yellow, orange, or brown color. Tobacco staining might require professional whitening treatments because it penetrates the enamel over time.

  • Plaque and Tartar

Bacterial plaque and tartar cause cavities and gum disease, and smokers suffer from plaque and tartar buildup more than non-smokers do. Tartar, hardened plaque that can only be removed by a dental professional, is especially hard on delicate gum tissue.

  • Bad Breath

The chemicals in cigarettes linger on the surfaces of your mouth causing an unpleasant odor, but that’s not the only source of smoker’s breath. Smoking also dries out the mouth, and, without the normal flow of saliva to wash away food particles and bacteria, bad breath results. Another common cause of bad breath? Gum disease, which is also found more frequently among smokers.

  • Gum Disease

Smoking has been linked to greater numbers of harmful oral bacteria in the mouth and a greater risk of gingivitis (early gum disease). Periodontitis, or severe gum disease, is much more common among smokers, and can lead to bone and tooth loss. Unsurprisingly, tooth loss is also more common among smokers.  

  • Implant Failure

Tooth implants look and function like our original teeth, and are one of the best solutions for tooth loss. While implant failure isn’t common, it does occur significantly more often among smokers. Studies suggest that there are multiple factors at work, which may include a smoker’s bone quality and density, gum tissue affected by constricted blood vessels, and compromised healing.

  • Healing Ability

Smoking has been linked to weakened immune systems, so it’s harder to fight off an infection and to heal after an injury. Because smoking affects the immune system’s response to inflammation and infection, smokers suffering from gum disease don’t respond as well to treatment. Smokers experience a higher rate of root infections, and smoking also slows the healing process after oral surgeries or trauma.

  • Dry Socket

Smoking following a tooth extraction can cause a painful condition called “dry socket.” After extraction, a clot forms to protect the tooth socket. Just as this clot can be dislodged by sucking through a straw or spitting, it can also be dislodged by the force of inhaling and exhaling while smoking.

  • Oral Cancer

Research has shown again and again that smoking is the single most serious risk factor for oral cancer. Studies have also shown that you reduce your risk of oral cancer significantly when you quit smoking.

Quitting smoking is a major accomplishment that will improve your life on every level. It’s always a good idea to talk to Dr. Bill Whitley for strategies to help you achieve your wellness goals for the new year. Make this the year you stop smoking, and the year your health improves in countless ways because you did.

Healthy Resolutions for Healthy Teeth

December 28th, 2022

Every January 1st, you have your resolutions ready. No more nail biting. Lose ten pounds. Stop smoking. None of us are happy about those annoying bad habits we’ve picked up over the years. But if nothing else has helped you keep your resolutions, maybe seeing how they can improve your oral health will give you some extra willpower.

  • No More Nail Biting

You can easily see how nail biting affects your fingernails, but its effects are more than cosmetic. The pressure this habit puts on tooth enamel can lead to cracks, chips, and enamel erosion. Nail biters have a greater risk of bruxism, or teeth grinding. (More on that below.) And the transfer of germs from fingers to mouth and mouth to fingers is a vicious circle that can lead to illnesses and infections in both fingers and mouth.

  • Cut Down on Junk Food

Sugars and carbs help pack on the pounds, no doubt. Did you know that they can also help create cavities? Sugar is a favorite food for oral bacteria, which allows them to produce acids which attack and weaken tooth enamel. And carbs? They convert easily to simple sugars. Choose nutritious snacks and beverages, and you will keep those teeth healthy. You might even lose a few pounds!

  • Lower the Volume

If your partner complains about sleepless nights thanks to your nocturnal teeth grinding, or your friends ask you to quit chewing on that cup of ice while they’re trying to watch a movie with you, listen to them! (If you can hear them over the grinding and chewing.) Bruxism can fracture teeth, cause headaches and jaw problems, and might even lead to loose teeth. Chewing hard foods can have the very same effects. Too much pressure from any source can damage your teeth. Grinding, chewing ice, crunching down on hard candies—any habit that’s loud enough to annoy others could be a warning to be more careful of your teeth.

  • Don’t Put That in Your Mouth!

Helping you eat and chew nutritious foods—of course. Smiling—absolutely. Ripping off a piece of duct tape, tearing open a potato chip bag, holding your dog’s leash while you look for your keys, opening a tight bottle cap—no, no, no, and really no. Fractures and chips are common injuries when you use your teeth as tools. Your teeth have a crucial job to do, but that job description never includes “scissors” or “nutcracker” or “bottle opener.” Take that extra minute and find the tool you need!

  • Drink in Moderation

Along with all the other consequences of over-indulging, too much alcohol in your diet can be bad for your oral health. Alcohol, especially paired with sugary drinks, helps create that acidic environment that leads to weakened enamel. More than that, it’s dehydrating. Without sufficient hydration, we don’t have the optimal saliva production we need to fight cavities. After all, saliva helps wash away food particles and bacteria, neutralizes acids, and strengthens enamel through remineralization. Ring in the New Year—moderately!

  • It’s Time to Quit

Cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco—there is no tobacco product that is healthy for your body or your teeth! We’re all familiar with the discoloration tobacco can cause, but it also has serious oral health consequences. Oral cancer, gum disease, early tooth loss—all these conditions have been linked to tobacco use. Today there are more methods than ever before to help you quit. Make this your year!

You don’t have to wait for the New Year to start working on healthier habits. If you’d like to tackle teeth grinding, banish nail biting, stop smoking, or work on any other habits that can damage your health and your teeth, talk to Dr. Bill Whitley at your next visit to our Dallas office. And, don’t forget—resolving to see us twice a year for a checkup and a cleaning is a resolution that’s extremely easy to keep!