Posts for category: Oral Health
The ailment we commonly called gum disease is actually series of related diseases, all of which involve the tissues that surround the teeth. It's sometimes thought of as a “silent” malady, because its symptoms — bad breath, soreness, or bleeding of the gums — may be masked by other conditions. Or, they may simply be disregarded.
But don't ignore these symptoms! Left untreated, periodontitis can have serious health consequences. Here are five things you should know about this disease.
Gum disease is a chronic inflammatory disease.
That means it's a disease related to a natural response of the body's immune system (inflammation), and it develops over time (chronic). Gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, may be the first step in the disease's progression. Left untreated, it can be followed by destruction of the periodontal ligament (which helps hold the tooth in place), loss of the supporting bone, and ultimately tooth loss. But it doesn't stop there.
The effects of gum disease aren't confined to the mouth.
In fact, recent research has suggested a connection between periodontal disease and chronic diseases in the whole body. There is evidence that severe periodontal disease is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (like heart attack and stroke), pregnancy complications, and other conditions. It is also believed to have an adverse effect on blood-sugar control in diabetics.
Gum disease is caused by the bacteria in dental plaque.
Oral bacteria tend to build up in a colony of living organisms called a biofilm. Of the many types of bacteria that live in the mouth, only a relatively few are harmful. When oral biofilms are not regularly disturbed by brushing and flossing, the disease-causing types tend to predominate. Once it gains a foothold, treating gum disease can become more difficult.
Prevention is the best defense.
Good personal oral hygiene, carried out on a daily basis, is probably the best defense against many forms of periodontal disease. Proper brushing and flossing is effective in disrupting the growth of dental plaques. Lifestyle changes — like quitting smoking and reducing stress — are also associated with lessening your chance of developing the disease. Genetics also seems to play a part, so those with a family history of periodontitis should pay special attention to preventive measures.
Prompt, effective treatment is critical.
Bleeding of the gums is never a normal occurrence. But sometimes this (and other symptoms of gum disease) may be overlooked. During routine dental checkups, we can detect the early signs of periodontal disease. We can then recommend an appropriate treatment, from routine scaling and root planing (a cleaning of the teeth) to other therapies. So, besides brushing and flossing regularly, don't neglect regular examinations — they're the best way to stop this disease before it becomes more serious.
If you have concerns about gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Understanding Gum (Periodontal) Disease” and “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease.”
Refined sugar — most commonly consumed as table sugar or high fructose corn syrup — has developed a reputation as Public Health Enemy #1 among many consumers. These consumers are seeking ways to cut back or even eliminate refined sugar from their diets.
But that may be easier said than done because of our innate “sweet tooth” — the basic human desire for the taste of sweetness in our food. It's been demonstrated to have a biological basis, tapping into the “feel good” reward centers of our brain. For many of us, this desire is a craving that begs to be satisfied.
Artificial sweeteners are now used by many consumers to satisfy this desire apart from refined sugar. The question is, are they safe for your health and well-being? And when it comes to your teeth, do they hinder or promote good oral health?
As to the first question, all the major types of artificial sweeteners (saccharine, aspartame, sucrolose, acesulfame K and rebaudioside A) have undergone rigorous test trials and research for many years. The result, amid wide scientific agreement, is that they indeed are safe if consumed in acceptable levels, and all are FDA-approved.
In recent years different kinds of sweeteners called sugar alcohols (like Xylitol) have been approved as safe and are growing in popularity. The biggest difference between these and the traditional artificial sweetener is a low presence of calories while artificial sweeteners contain none.
So how do these two categories affect dental health? Of greatest significance is that, unlike refined sugar, these sweeteners do not feed the growth of decay-causing bacteria in the mouth. In fact, there is some evidence that sugar alcohols may actually reduce bacteria levels.
While there are still some concerns that artificial sweeteners may contribute to overeating or metabolic problems, there are no current official guidelines against their use. And when used moderately, there is evidence that Xylitol may even be an effective weapon in the fight against tooth decay.
If you would like more information on artificial sweeteners and how they may affect your oral health, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
Chewing gum, so much a part of modern culture, actually has ancient roots — humans have been chewing some form of it for thousands of years. While gum chewing is a benign habit for the most part, it does raise some dental health concerns.
The good news for jaw function is that chewing gum is unlikely to cause any long-term problems for your joints if you respond to your body’s warning signals. Our joints, muscles and associated nerves have a built-in mechanism of fatigue and pain signaling to help us avoid overuse. Furthermore, the action of chewing stimulates the production and release of saliva. Among saliva’s many beneficial properties is its ability to neutralize acid, which can soften and erode tooth enamel. It also strengthens enamel by restoring some of the calcium and other minerals lost from acid.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the physical act of chewing gum isn’t without risks. Chewing gum “exercises” your jaw muscles and makes them stronger, so they’re able to deliver more force to your teeth. This could lead to future tooth mobility and excessive wear. It’s important then that you don’t chew gum excessively to avoid this kind of damage to your teeth.
Unfortunately, there’s more bad news involving a key ingredient in many brands. Many manufacturers use sugar (sucrose) to sweeten their product, which is a major part of its appeal. Sugar, however, is a prime food source for oral bacteria responsible for tooth decay. The prolonged presence of sugar in the mouth when we chew gum can negate the beneficial effects of increased saliva.
A sweetener called xylitol, though, could be the answer to “having your gum and chewing it too.” This alcohol-based sugar (which, by the way, has almost half the calories of table sugar) has the opposite effect on bacteria — rather than becoming a food source it actually inhibits bacterial growth. Studies have even shown that products like chewing gum, mints or candy sweetened with xylitol can contribute significantly to a reduction in dental caries (cavities) caused by decay.
The better news: you don’t have to give up chewing gum for the sake of your teeth — just be sure to choose products with dental-friendly ingredients and don’t chew excessively. You’ll not only reduce the risks of tooth decay and damage, you’ll also promote a healthier environment in your mouth.
If you would like more information on chewing gum and its effects on dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chewing Gum” and “Xylitol in Chewing Gum.”
If you are one of the millions of Americans with missing teeth, then you're probably aware of some of the obvious side effects. You may feel self-conscious during conversations or simply avoid smiling altogether to conceal your dental issue. It is not uncommon for missing teeth to affect your confidence, but did you know that there are other problems that result from tooth loss?
For starters, if you have lost enough teeth, eating may become more difficult, in particular healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables. This is one of the main reasons that inadequate dental care frequently results in nutritional deficiency.
Another very serious issue that results from missing teeth is bone loss. We sometimes refer to this as a “hidden consequence,” because you may not actually see or feel this issue right away. Did you know that bone is actually living tissue that needs constant stimulation to maintain its form and density? Thus, when a tooth is lost, the bone in the jaw that surrounded and supported that tooth melts away. There is a 25% decrease in width of bone during the first year after tooth loss and an overall 4 millimeters decrease in height over the next few years. The longer you have missing teeth, the greater the loss of bone.
As bone loss continues, it can actually affect the structure of your face. If you lose your teeth early in adulthood, by age 45 you might start to notice sunken cheeks. By age 60, your cheeks and lips will lose their support, resulting in a collapsed and aged look. If your teeth are not replaced, this process will continue, and you will be in danger of losing much of the structural support of your lips and cheeks.
Luckily, we can use dental implants to not only restore your smile, but also to halt this bone loss. Implants look, feel and function like your natural teeth and are made of titanium, which has the unique ability to fuse with your living bone. Among the many benefits of implants, they continue to provide stimulation to your bone, preventing further bone loss.
With a success rate of more than 95%, implants are the best long-term solution for tooth replacement.
If you would like more information about implants and bone loss, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
One of our primary goals in dentistry is to deliver effective treatment to patients with the least amount of discomfort. This is especially true after a procedure — controlling pain and inflammation will actually help reduce recovery time.
There are many strong pain relievers available, including prescription opiates like morphine or codeine. It has been shown, however, that healing and comfort are enhanced with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) because they not only minimize pain, but they also reduce inflammation after a procedure. One common NSAID is Ibuprofen, which works by blocking prostaglandins, a substance released by inflamed, damaged tissues. NSAIDs are very popular with dentists and other health professionals because they act primarily on the inflammation site and don’t impair consciousness like opiates. They’re also usually less expensive than pain medication requiring a prescription.
While relatively safe, NSAIDs do have side effects that could cause serious problems for some patients. The most common caution regards NSAID’s tendency to thin blood and reduce the natural clotting mechanism, especially if taken habitually over a period of time. They can damage the kidneys and the stomach lining (causing ulcers or dangerous bleeding), and they’ve also been linked to early miscarriages and heart attacks.
For these reasons, NSAIDs are not recommended for pregnant women, patients with a history of stomach or intestinal bleeding, or patients being treated for heart disease. In the latter case, NSAIDs may interfere with the effectiveness of low-dose aspirin therapy (another type of NSAID) to prevent future heart attacks or strokes.
Health officials recommend all patients limit their dosage of a NSAID to no more than 2400 milligrams a day for short term pain relief, unless otherwise advised by a doctor. For the most part, a single 400 mg dosage is usually sufficient for pain control during a post-procedure recovery.
Your dentist will typically obtain your medical history before you undergo a dental procedure, including the medications you’re taking. Depending on your current health status and the type of procedure you’re undergoing, your dentist will recommend a pain control regimen to follow after the procedure is over.
Following those recommendations, and alerting your healthcare provider if you encounter any side effects from pain medication, will help assure your recovery period after dental work is short, safe and uneventful.
If you would like more information on the use of NSAIDs to control discomfort after a dental procedure, 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 “Treating Pain With Ibuprofen.”