Posts for category: Oral Health
When your mouth is dry, you know it: that sticky, uncomfortable feeling when you first wake up or when you're thirsty. Fortunately, it usually goes away after you eat or drink. But what if your mouth felt like that all the time? Then, it's no longer an irritation—chronic dry mouth could also increase your risk of dental disease.
Chronic dry mouth occurs because of inadequate saliva flow. Saliva plays an important role in preventing dental disease because it neutralizes acid, which can cause the mineral content in tooth enamel to break down and lead to tooth decay. The mouth becomes more acidic right after eating, but saliva can restore its normal pH levels in about an hour—as well as some of the enamel's lost mineral content. Without saliva, your tooth enamel is at greater risk from acid.
While a number of things can potentially interfere with normal saliva production, medication is the most common. More than 500 prescription drugs, including many antihistamines, diuretics or antidepressants, can cause dry mouth. Cancer radiation or chemotherapy treatment and certain metabolic conditions like diabetes or Parkinson's disease can also increase symptoms.
If you are experiencing unusual dry mouth symptoms, see your dentist first for a full examination. Your dentist can measure your saliva flow, check your prescriptions and medical history, and examine your salivary glands for abnormalities. With this more accurate picture of your condition, they can help direct you to the most effective remedies and treatments for the cause.
If medication is the problem, you can talk to your doctor about alternative prescriptions that have a lesser effect on saliva flow. You can also drink more water before and after taking oral medication and throughout the day to help lubricate your mouth. Chewing gums or mints with xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar, can also help: xylitol helps reduce the mouth's bacterial levels, as well as stimulate saliva flow.
Easing your dry mouth symptoms can make your life more pleasant. More importantly, it can reduce your risk of future dental problems caused by a lack of saliva.
If you would like more information on dealing with chronic dry mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and treatment of this Common Problem.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
If you ever get out of the habit of daily brushing and flossing, you’re setting yourself up for dental disease. Neglecting oral hygiene allows bacterial plaque to build up on tooth surfaces, which can give rise to aggressive gum infections known collectively as periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease may first manifest itself as gingivitis, an inflammation of the outer gum tissues around teeth. Resuming hygiene habits could help reduce the infection if it’s detected early enough. If the infection has spread deeper below the gum line, though, brushing and flossing won’t be able to reach and remove the offending plaque — you’ll need our help with that.
The objective of any such treatment is the same as your daily brushing and flossing — remove plaque as well as hardened deposits (calculus) that cause disease. The most basic technique is called scaling in which we use specialized hand instruments (scalers) or ultrasonic equipment to loosen and remove the plaque and calculus from all tooth and gum surfaces.
For deeper plaque, we may need to use a technique called root planing. As its name implies, we use equipment similar to scalers to shave or “plane” plaque, calculus, bacteria or other toxins from the roots that have become ingrained in their surfaces.
These procedures are often carried out with local anesthesia to ensure patient comfort and allow us to be as meticulous as possible with plaque and calculus removal. It’s imperative that we remove as much plaque and calculus as possible, and which often involves more than one session. This is because as the gum tissues become less inflamed it allows us to access more plaque-infested areas during subsequent sessions.
Hopefully, these techniques will arrest the infection and restore good health to gum tissues. It’s then important for you to recommit and follow through on a renewed daily hygiene regimen to reduce the chances of re-infection that could lead to more serious problems and potential tooth loss.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal (gum) disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Planing.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Considering all the intensive conditioning, practice and training they do, most people would expect elite athletes to be… well… healthy. And that’s generally true — except when it comes to their oral health. A major study of Olympic contenders in the 2012 London games showed that the oral health of athletes is far worse than that of the general population.
Or to put it more succinctly: “They have bodies of Adonis and a garbage mouth.”
That comment, from Dr. Paul Piccininni, a practicing dentist and member of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, sums up the study’s findings. In terms of the numbers, the report estimates that about one in five athletes fared worse in competition because of poor oral health, and almost half had not seen a dentist in the past year. It also found that 55 percent had cavities, 45 percent suffered from dental erosion (excessive tooth wear), and about 15 percent had moderate to severe periodontal (gum) disease.
Yet, according to Professor Ian Needleman of University College, London, lead author of the study, “Oral health could be an easy win for athletes, as the oral conditions that can affect performance are all easily preventable.”
Many of the factors that had a negative impact on the athletes are the same ones that can degrade your own oral health. A follow-up paper recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine identified several of these issues. One is a poor diet: The consumption of excessive carbohydrates and acidic foods and beverages (including sports drinks) can cause tooth decay and erosion of the protective enamel. Another is dehydration: Not drinking enough water can reduce the flow of healthy saliva, which can add to the damage caused by carbohydrates and acids. The effects of eating disorders (which are more commonly seen in certain sports, such as gymnastics) can also dramatically worsen an individual’s oral health.
Sound familiar? Maybe it’s because this brings up some issues that dentists have been talking about all along. While we don’t mean to nag, this study does point out that even world-class competitors have room for improvement with their oral hygiene. How about you? Whether you’re a triathlete in training, a weekend warrior or an armchair aficionado, good oral health can have a major effect on your well-being.
If you have additional questions about oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. For more information, see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”