Posts for category: Oral Health
Each part of the human body is an intricate wonder. Take your teeth, for example: they’re so woven into everyday life we don’t notice them, yet they each work seamlessly with the jaws and mouth so we can eat, speak and even smile.
Here, then, are a few facts to help you understand — and appreciate — these tiny, amazing wonders we call teeth.
Layer Upon Layer. Rather than one solid mass, teeth are composed of different layers of slightly different tissues each with a unique role in protecting and enabling a tooth to function. Innermost is the pulp filled with connective tissue encasing blood vessels and nerves that transmit sensations to the brain. The next layer out is the dentin, a bone-like material sensitive to touch and other stimuli, which also absorbs some of the forces generated when biting or chewing. The outermost layer is enamel, the hardest material in the body and the tooth’s first defense against infection and other dangers.
Front and Center. Teeth perform different functions depending on their type and location. Front teeth are our “onstage performers” — they help us to speak and enunciate words clearly and, of course, contribute to our smile. They’re also adept at cutting through food when it first enters our mouths.
The Support Team. In keeping with our theater analogy, back teeth are our “backstage crew”: they help support our facial height, provide balance for the jaws as we swallow and protect the front teeth from too much vertical force. They’re also able to crush food before we finally swallow, which aids in the digestive process.
Intended for a Lifetime. If you consider all the environmental factors our teeth face — acidic foods, biting forces and temperature swings to name a few — you then can appreciate their resiliency. Of course, teeth have their enemies: decay, infection and trauma. With daily brushing and flossing and at least a couple of visits a year to our office for cleanings and checkups, you can help thwart many of those enemies. With both our efforts we can make sure your teeth really do last a lifetime.
Although we’ve made great strides over the last century making dental visits more pleasant and comfortable, many people still feel a little apprehension about them at one time or another. For a few, though, this apprehension escalates into high anxiety — so high they may even avoid important dental treatment altogether.
If you have a significant phobia regarding dental visits and treatment, here are some things you can do to reduce your anxiety and feel more comfortable when you undergo treatment.
Let us know about your feelings of anxiety. We’re conditioned by society to regard such fears as irrational or “silly,” and so we tend to hide our negative emotions. Dentists, however, have been trained to work with fearful patients to reduce their anxiety levels. Being honest with us about your fears and nervousness is the first step to developing an anxiety-reducing strategy that will make your visits more pleasant.
Counteract bad experiences with good. For most people the fear they have during dental visits stems from earlier unpleasant experiences at the dentist. The fear can be so ingrained that simply trying to convince yourself or to be told “there’s nothing to be afraid of” will have little to no effect. Instead, build a memory collection of positive and pleasant dental visit experiences that serve to counteract the unpleasant. To do this we might first get you acclimated to routine visits and then gradually transition to more invasive procedures. This may increase the normal time for dental treatment, but the reduction in anxiety is worth the extra time.
Consider sedation therapy. In addition to modifying your experiences, you may also benefit from sedation medications that reduce anxiety, especially in the early stages of treatment. Depending on your medical history and current status, we can prescribe a sedative for you to take an hour or so before your appointment to help you relax. We can also increase the level of anesthesia (from local to intravenous or gas anesthesia, for example) if your anxiety is especially acute.
Taking proactive steps to minimize dental visit anxiety will increase the probability that you’ll obtain needed dental care. Your teeth and gums will be healthier for it.
If you would like more information on coping with dental visit anxiety, 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 “Overcoming Dental Fear & Anxiety.”
Teeth are composed of layers of different types of tissue. The main inner layers — the pulp and dentin — help the teeth respond and adapt to external forces. But they’re vulnerable to decay and quite sensitive to environmental extremes. They are protected from all these by a coating of enamel, made of the hardest material found in the human body.
But while enamel is strong, it’s not invincible — it can soften and dissolve (de-mineralize) if the mouth environment becomes too acidic. While de-mineralization occurs normally whenever the mouth becomes too acidic after eating or drinking, saliva helps neutralize the acid (buffering); in fact, saliva can restore to the enamel some of the calcium and other minerals it has lost (a process called re-mineralization).
If the acidic level remains too high for too long it can overwhelm saliva’s buffering ability and cause permanent mineral loss to the enamel. This erosion leaves teeth more susceptible to decay and disease and could lead to tooth loss. With this in mind, here’s some ways you can help preserve your enamel:
- Wait about thirty to sixty minutes after eating or drinking to brush your teeth. Counterintuitive as this may sound, it takes about thirty minutes for saliva to restore a normal pH level and re-mineralize the enamel. If you brush within this window of time, you could brush away some of the softened minerals from the enamel.
- Only brush twice a day. Over-brushing causes undue enamel wear, as well as contributing to receding gums.
- Take advantage of less acidic or mineral-rich beverages. Drink milk or water most of the time, rather than juices, sodas or sports drinks. The calcium in milk or as an additive to acidic beverages aids in buffering and re-mineralization.
- Use a straw for acidic beverages. With a straw your teeth avoid direct contact with most of the beverage’s acid, a key factor in de-mineralization.
- Avoid eating just before bed. Saliva flow decreases significantly when we sleep. If you eat right before bed, there may be less saliva available for buffering and re-mineralization.
Following these tips, along with effective oral hygiene, will go a long way in protecting your teeth’s enamel coating — and preserving your teeth in the long run.
If you would like more information on enamel erosion and how to prevent it, 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
Sleep apnea, a form of sleep-related breathing disorders that is estimated to affect some 22 million Americans, is sometimes thought of as the “quiet culprit” lurking behind many other maladies. But ask anyone who sleeps alongside a sufferer, and you'll get a different response: It isn't quiet at all! Instead, it's often marked by loud snoring and scary episodes where breathing seems to stop. If you've ever worried that you or someone you care about may have this condition, here are five facts you should know.
1) Sleep apnea is a potentially deadly disease
For one thing, it leads to chronic fatigue that can make accidents far more likely — a special concern in potentially dangerous situations, like operating machinery or driving a vehicle. It also appears to be related to heart conditions such as high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, coronary artery disease, and even stroke. Plus, it can lead to weight gain, depression and mood disorders.
2) People with sleep apnea may wake hundreds of times every night
These “micro-arousals” may occur 50 or more times per hour, and may keep a person from getting any relaxing sleep — even though they retain no memory of the episodes. That's why people who suffer from sleep apnea often go through their days on the verge of exhaustion. And they aren't the only ones who suffer: Their bed partners may also be kept up throughout the night, becoming anxious and irritable.
3) Persistent snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea
Snoring is caused when breath being drawn into the lungs is obstructed by soft tissue structures in the upper airway. Most everyone snores sometimes… but chronic loud snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — and the louder and more frequent the snoring, the greater the likelihood of OSA. To confirm a diagnosis of sleep apnea, a sleep study using special monitors may be conducted in a clinical setting, or an at-home test may be used.
4) Your dentist may be able to help diagnose and treat sleep apnea
What does dentistry have to do with sleep apnea? For one thing, sleep apnea is a disease that involves structures in the oral cavity — an area dentists are quite familiar with. Sometimes, fatigued folks who suffer from OSA begin snoring when they recline in the dental chair, showing their symptoms firsthand. But even if their patients don't fall asleep, dentists with proper training are recognized by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) as being able to provide first line therapy for mild to moderate sleep disorders.
5) An oral appliance is a good step to try before more invasive treatments
If it's appropriate in your situation, your dentist can custom-fabricate an oral appliance that may alleviate sleep-related breathing disorders. This device, worn while you're sleeping, helps to maintain an open airway in the throat and to reduce breathing problems. With a success rate of around 80%, in many cases it's comparable to the more complex CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machines, but people often find it easier to wear. Plus, it's a non-invasive treatment that can be explored before deciding on a more involved treatment, such as surgery.
If you would like more information about dentistry and sleep problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders and Dentistry” and “Sleep Apnea FAQs.”