Posts for category: Oral Health
Although preventable, the occurrences of tooth decay are all too common. Yet decay doesn’t appear out of the blue: certain mouth conditions set the disease in motion.
Here are a few signs of such conditions to watch for — they could be telling you you’re at higher risk for tooth decay.
Visible plaque. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food accumulating on tooth surfaces and a prime haven for causing periodontal disease. If you actually see it — a crusty, yellowish film — that means there’s a large, unhealthy amount of it. It’s essential to remove it daily through diligent brushing and flossing and more thorough office cleanings at least twice a year.
Poor saliva flow. One of this bodily fluid’s functions is to neutralize mouth acid, usually thirty minutes to an hour after we eat. If saliva flow is inadequate, though, acid levels may remain high and endanger the enamel. “Dry mouth” can occur from a number of causes, including some medications and chemotherapy treatments. It’s important to alleviate the cause if possible by changing medications or stimulating saliva flow through other means.
Tooth shape and appliances. Largely determined by heredity, your teeth contain unique, tiny grooves known as pits and fissures that could harbor plaque. Certain appliances like retainers, braces or night guards can inhibit saliva flow and cause your teeth to retain more plaque. It’s important then to adjust your hygiene efforts to offset these anatomical or treatment factors.
Acid-producing conditions. Diseases like gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or eating disorders can introduce stomach acid into the mouth that is highly erosive to tooth enamel. It’s imperative for you or a family member to control these conditions through medication, dietary changes, or — in the case of eating disorders — behavioral therapy.
Eating habits. Sugar and other carbohydrates are a ready food source for bacteria. Likewise, acidic foods and beverages (like coffee, tea, and sports or energy drinks) can cause high acid levels for too long. Cut back on eating and drinking these foods and beverages, especially as snacks, to reduce acid levels that could lead to decay.
If you would like more information on strategies to prevent tooth decay, 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
There are two basic facts about tooth decay: 1) next to the common cold, it’s the world’s most prevalent infectious disease; and 2) with modern dentistry, it’s preventable.
Getting from Fact 1 to Fact 2 requires the daily hygiene habits of brushing and flossing. You probably learned these tasks when you could barely peer over the bathroom sink; but the real question is: are you getting the most benefit from your efforts? It’s not merely doing them, but doing them the right way.
For example, bearing down on your teeth and brushing vigorously isn’t just unhelpful, it’s damaging. Instead, you should hold your brush with perhaps just two fingers at a 45-degree angle relative to your gum line and “gently” scrub with short circular or “wiggly” strokes. Continue this action around each arch brushing all tooth surfaces, which should take about two minutes.
Your toothbrush itself is also important: most people (unless otherwise directed by their dentist) should use a multi-tufted brush with soft bristles. If you brush with the proper pressure it should last 4 to 6 months before replacing it. You should also replace it if the bristles become worn or splayed.
Flossing once a day is important for removing the plaque between teeth your toothbrush bristles can’t reach. The best technique is to form a “C” with the floss that wraps around each tooth and move it up and down gently three or four times until you hear a squeaky clean sound on both sides of the tooth.
The ultimate test of your efforts comes during your regular dental checkups. You can get a check now, though, on how you’re doing by using your tongue to feel your teeth at the gum line. If they feel smooth and slick, you’re probably doing a good job of plaque removal; but if they feel a bit rough and gritty, you’re missing some of the plaque and need to be more thorough when brushing. You can also use floss by running it up and down the tooth surface — if it squeaks, they’re clean!
Your particular dental condition may require specific treatment or the use of other dental products like antibacterial mouthrinses. But learning and practicing proper brushing and flossing is key to keeping teeth and gums healthy and disease-free.
As a regular part of your daily hygiene you may be using a mouthrinse — or “mouthwash” — mainly to keep your mouth feeling fresh and clean. Some mouthrinses, though, do more than give you fresher breath.
While there are countless mouthrinses available, we can place all of them into two broad categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. The first refresh your mouth and breath, usually with a mentholated or minty taste and smell that masks unpleasant odors. How well they work is mainly subjective: if you feel better after using them, they’ve done their job.
Therapeutic rinses have a different role, intended to improve oral health in some way. We can divide these into anti-cariogenic (decay prevention) or anti-bacterial rinses. You can find fluoride-based anti-cariogenic rinses over-the-counter in retail or drug stores, usually containing about .05% sodium fluoride per volume. Numerous studies have shown these rinses highly effective in preventing tooth decay when used with daily brushing and flossing.
Likewise, over-the-counter antibacterial rinses have proven somewhat effective in reducing bacteria that leads to dental disease. Formulated usually with triclosan, sanguinaria extract, zinc or essential oils, they can also help reduce the incidence of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), but only if used in conjunction with brushing and flossing.
Perhaps, though, the most widely studied and substantiated therapeutic mouthrinse is chlorhexidine, a prescription-only rinse. Chlorhexidine inhibits the formation of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces, the main trigger for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s often used as a post-surgery rinse when brushing and flossing may not be possible, but dentists will often prescribe it for patients who have a high propensity for dental disease.
Using a mouthrinse depends on your current oral health and personal preferences. Therapeutically, most people gain some added tooth strength protection from using a fluoride rinse in their daily hygiene. If fresh breath and the way your mouth feels are important to you, you should consider such a rinse that also has a pleasant taste and effect for you. We can further discuss with you whether a different type of rinse, or a prescription-strength formula, might be best for your particular needs.
If you would like more information on mouthrinses, 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 “Mouthrinses.”
Vacationing abroad can be the trip of a lifetime — or a nightmare if you have a medical or dental emergency while traveling. Dental care in many locations around the world can be limited, expensive or even dangerous.
Here are 3 important things you should to do to prepare for a possible dental emergency during that dream vacation in a foreign country.
Have a complete checkup, cleaning and necessary dental work before you leave. Whoever said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” must have been a traveler. Better to take care of problems beforehand than have them erupt into an emergency far from home. Be sure especially to have decayed or cracked teeth repaired, as well as any planned dental work like root canal treatments before you go. This is especially important if you’re flying — high altitudes can increase pressure and pain for many dental problems.
Research your destination’s available dental and medical care ahead of time. Standards and practices in other countries can differ from those in the United States, sometimes drastically. Knowing what’s available and what’s expected in terms of service and price will help immensely if you do encounter a health emergency while traveling. A good starting place is A Traveler’s Guide to Safe Dental Care, available at www.osap.org.
Know who to contact if you have a dental emergency. While it may be frightening having a dental issue in a strange place, you’re not alone — there are most likely a number of fellow Americans in your location who can help. Have contact information ready for people you know or military personnel living in your locale, as well as contacts to the American Embassy in that country. And if you’re staying in a hotel, be sure to make friends with the local concierge!
It’s always unsettling to have a dental emergency, but especially so when you’re far from home. Doing a little preparation for the possibility will help lessen the stress if it happens and get you the help you need.
If you would like more information on preparing for dental emergencies while traveling, 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 “Traveling Abroad? Tips for Dealing with Dental Emergencies.”
A focus on dental care in senior citizens is just as important as it is for children. Indeed, oral health in your later years can be a major factor in your quality of life.
For one, aging effects on other parts of the body can make dental care more challenging. Some hygiene tasks once performed easily become harder — arthritis, for example, or loss of muscle strength may make it difficult to hold a toothbrush or floss. In such cases, you may need to find new ways to make the task easier: a power toothbrush with a larger handle; pre-loaded floss holders or a water flosser; or adaptations to a manual brush to make it easier to hold, like attaching a tennis ball or bike handle.
Other age-related conditions — and their treatments — can negatively impact oral health. Less saliva production, which is a consequence of aging or certain drugs, increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Older adults often develop gastric reflux problems that can introduce tooth enamel-eroding stomach acid into the mouth. And medications called bisphosphonates, often prescribed to treat osteoporosis, may interfere in rare cases with bone healing after tooth extraction or similar procedures.
Prior dental work can also prove challenging to treating dental disease. It becomes more difficult to preserve teeth threatened with decay if there are significant restorations or appliances to work around. Pain perception can also diminish with age, so that dental disease may not be noticed until later stages when significant damage has already occurred.
Oral care requires more attention as we grow older, or as we care for older family members. Your best defense against disease is to continue regular six-month visits with us. In addition to normal cleanings and checkups, we’ll also screen for oral cancer (a more prevalent occurrence in older adults), review your prescriptions or other supplements and medications for any possible side effects to oral health, check the fit of any dentures or other restorations and evaluate the effectiveness of your hygiene.
While other age-related conditions may capture the majority of your attention, you shouldn’t allow that to neglect your dental care. With your continued efforts, along with our support and your family’s, you can continue to enjoy good oral health throughout your lifetime.