Posts for tag: oral health
Bacteria are bad… right? They can cause diseases like pneumonia, strep throat, and tooth decay. They are the reason we wash our hands with soap (or antibacterial gels) and cook (or refrigerate) our food. Yet it turns out that bacteria are also necessary to keep our bodies healthy — and new research is showing just how important these tiny microorganisms are to our well-being. Here are five facts you should know about bacteria.
The bacteria in our bodies outnumber our cells by a factor of 10 to 1. An estimated 100 trillion bacteria live inside the average human — but because they’re so small, they make up only 1-3 percent of our body mass.
The collection of bacteria we harbor is called our “microbiome.” Like the groundbreaking study of human DNA called the Human Genome Project, recent research is leading to a “map” of our bacterial makeup. This revolutionary study is called — you guessed it — the Human Microbiome Project.
No two people have exactly the same microbiome. But in general, the bacteria that live in a particular spot on the body (the mouth, for example) play the same roles in different individuals. Research has also shown that a healthy microbiome looks very different from a diseased microbiome.
In terms of bacteria, the mouth is one of the best-understood areas of the body. It has long been known that tooth decay can result when “bad” oral bacteria begin to outnumber their “good” counterparts. Now we are gaining a better understanding of how certain lifestyle factors — like cigarette smoking — may influence the bacterial balance in the mouth.
Understanding the microbiome may lead to new treatments for disease. Researchers hope that one day, certain serious diseases could be controlled by bacterial “transplants” that re-balance an individual’s microbiome. Maintaining a healthy microbiome could also help prevent many diseases.
So by all means, don’t stop brushing your teeth or washing your hands — this helps control bacteria that could harm you — but do remember that not all bacteria are harmful. One day, an infusion of bacteria might just cure your illness.
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.”
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.”
As our profession advances, we dental professionals continue to find the biggest factor for successful outcomes is an informed patient. The more you know about your own teeth and gums, the greater your chance for a healthy outcome.
Regular dental care is fundamental to becoming informed. Your regular office visits and cleanings are an opportunity for us to “get real” — for you to learn the unvarnished truth about your dental issues and the reasons why you need to consider some options regarding your oral health. We also need to be just as realistic about what can or can’t be done to improve your situation and the cost involved.
The best way to approach this is to develop a plan based on managing risk. Risk is essentially weighing anything we may potentially lose against the solutions for not losing it. In dentistry, we look at risk in four basic areas: periodontal, the threats to structures like gums, ligaments and bone that support the teeth; biomechanical, the threats to the structural integrity of teeth such as decay, enamel erosion or fracture; functional, problems that can arise with how the teeth, muscles and jaw joints work together; and aesthetic, the impact of all these threats to the outward appearance of your smile.
Once we know the risks you’re facing, we then determine the best treatment approach for managing the risk based on costs and potential outcomes. For example, if you’re diagnosed with gum disease, you’re at risk for losing supporting bone and, ultimately, the affected teeth. Our primary goal is to prevent that loss from occurring through plaque and calculus removal that slow or stop the disease and allow affected tissues to heal. But if the disease has advanced and you’ve already experienced bone or even tooth loss, we may then need to modify our treatment goal by including gum surgery or tooth replacement options like dental implants.
Using a risk management approach helps us identify what needs to be treated and the most reasonable and achievable options for treating it. The foundation for this approach is prevention — stopping problems before they start or progress. Developing and maintaining this kind of action plan will help reduce your ultimate costs — emotional, social and financial.
If you would like more information on dental treatment planning, 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 “Successful Dental Treatment.”
If you occasionally notice mildly irritating red patches on the top surface of your tongue, you may be one of the three percent or less of the population with a condition called benign migratory glossitis. It’s also known as “geographic tongue” because the red patches often resemble land masses on a world map.
While the symptoms may be discomforting, geographic tongue isn’t a cause for serious concern. The red patches are caused by the temporary loss of papillae, tiny bumps that grow on the surface of the tongue, which may appear and disappear repeatedly over a short time period (ranging from hours to days). As its medical name implies, this form of glossitis isn’t cancerous or contagious; it’s referred to as “migratory” because the red patches often appear to move around while changing size and shape. An outbreak can cause a mild burning or stinging sensation, and some people also encounter numbness in the patchy areas.
While there isn’t a firm consensus as to geographic tongue’s exact cause, there do appear to be triggers for it including stress, hormonal changes and mineral or vitamin deficiencies (particularly zinc and Vitamin B). There also seems to be a connection with psoriasis, a skin ailment characterized by redness and scaling — a number of people will experience both conditions. Geographic tongue appears more often in middle-aged, non-smoking adults, particularly women during hormonal fluctuations (as during pregnancy or ovulation). Individuals with deep grooves on their tongues called fissures are more susceptible as well.
There’s no cure for the condition, but there are some treatments that can help alleviate any accompanying irritation. Depending on what we find during examination, we may prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines, steroid ointments or other treatments to help manage discomfort. It may also be helpful to limit your intake of foods during outbreaks that may increase irritation, including high acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus fruit, as well as eggplant, mint, spicy foods and alcohol (including certain mouthwashes).
If you experience these occasional patchy outbreaks on your tongue, please schedule a visit with us for a full examination. We may be able to reduce your discomfort and certainly put your mind at ease.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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 “Geographic Tongue.”