Posts for category: Oral Health

TheresMoreWeCanDoAboutToothDecayBesidesDrillandFill

Until recently, the standard treatment for tooth decay remained essentially the same for nearly a century: Remove any decayed structure, then prepare and fill the cavity. But that singular protocol has begun to change recently.

Although "drilling and filling" saves teeth, it doesn't fully address the causes of decay. In response, dentists have broadened their approach to the disease—the focus now is on an individual patient's particular set of risk factors for decay and how to reduce those.

At the heart of this new approach is a better understanding of oral bacteria, the true cause of decay. Bacteria produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and create a gateway into the tooth for decay to advance. We therefore want to lower those risk factors that may lead to bacterial growth and elevated acidity.

One of our major objectives in this newer approach is to reduce plaque, a thin film of food particles used by bacteria for food and habitation. Removing plaque, principally through better oral hygiene, in turn reduces decay-causing bacteria.

Plaque isn't the only mechanism for bacterial growth and acidity. Appliances like dentures or retainers accumulate bacteria if not regularly cleaned. Reduced saliva flow, often due to certain medications or smoking, limits this fluid's ability to buffer acid and acid reflux or acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks can disrupt the mouth's normal pH and increase the risk for enamel erosion.

Our aim, then, is to develop a long-term strategy based on the patient's individual set of oral disease risk factors. To determine those, we'll need to examine their medical history (including family), current health status and lifestyle habits. From there, we can create a specific plan targeting the identified risk factors for decay.

Some of the elements of such a strategy might include:

  • Daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings;
  • Fluoride dental products or treatments to strengthen enamel;
  • Changes in diet and excess snacking, and ceasing from any tobacco use;
  • Cleaning and maintaining appliances, as well as monitoring past dental work.

Improving the mouth environment by limiting the presence of oral bacteria and acid can reduce the occurrence of tooth decay and the extent of treatment that might be needed. It's a more nuanced approach that can improve dental health.

If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention and treatment, 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.”

KickingtheSmokingHabitBoostsYourHealthIncludingTeethandGums

Quitting smoking is hard. The love affair between your brain and nicotine chains the habit to your daily life. But it's still worth the effort to quit to save your health from disease—including those that impact your teeth and gums. And, there's no time better to launch your "kick the habit" project than the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout day this November 18.

As to smoking's impact on your teeth and gums: Two-thirds of America's 32 million smokers contend with gum disease. A smoker's risk for tooth decay is also higher, as well as their prospects for implant failure.

So, why is smoking hazardous to your oral health?

Primarily, nicotine constricts oral blood vessels, which in turn reduces the nutrients and antibodies reaching the teeth and gums. Your mouth thus struggles to fight bacteria that cause tooth decay or gum disease.

Inadequate blood circulation can also hide signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. Instead, a smoker's gums may look deceivingly healthy, although you may have a gum infection that could be well advanced when it's finally diagnosed.

Gum or bone grafting also depends on good blood flow, or the grafts may not fully regenerate new tissue. The situation's similar for an implant: Its titanium post needs bone to grow and adhere to its surface to acquire sufficient strength and stability. But slow wound healing due to poor circulation can interfere with this process and cause an implant to fail.

For your mouth's sake, as well as the rest of your body, quitting smoking could help you avoid these problems. But as an ingrained, addictive habit, your body needs to "unlearn" it to stop it. Here are some ideas to help make that process easier.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy. Under your doctor's guidance, you can take medications that deliver nicotine to the body without smoking, and gradually reduce its concentration. This approach can be costly, however, and cause unpleasant side effects.

Brand fading. With this technique, you continuously switch to cigarette brands with less nicotine. This gradually acclimates your body to lower concentrations of the chemical, and eventually wean off it entirely. Here's an online site listing nicotine strength by brand.

Don't do it alone. Quitting smoking doesn't need to be a solo act. Developing relationships with those who don't smoke or who are also quitting can make it easier. One way is to attend a smoking cessation group for support and encouragement from others who're also trying to quit.

Above all, speak with your doctor or dentist to learn more about what you can do to stop smoking. It can be difficult, but the rewards—especially for your oral health—are well worth it.

If you would like more information about smoking and oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”

DentalCleaningsTakeonNewImportanceAfterGumDisease

There are few things sweeter to hear than for your dentist to tell you your periodontal (gum) disease is under control. Depending on how deep the infection may have advanced, your treatment journey may have been a long one.

Unfortunately, while the battle may be over, the threat still lingers—once you've experienced a gum infection, you're at higher risk for a recurrence. To minimize that risk, you may need to undergo dental cleanings on a more frequent basis than before.

The average patient typically sees their dentist for cleanings every six months. The aim of these visits is to remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacterial-laden particles that is the prime source for gum disease. These cleanings are meant to supplement a daily habit of brushing and flossing, which should remove the bulk of plaque that builds up throughout the day.

After gum disease treatment, though, you may need to have these cleanings more frequently, and of a more involved nature than the normal cleaning. For patients who've overcome advanced gum disease, that frequency could initially be every other week, every couple of months or every three months. This frequency may change depending on the status of your gum health.

Besides a thorough cleaning, a specialized periodontal maintenance visit may include other interventions. For example, your dentist may apply topical antibiotics or other anti-bacterial products to keep bacterial growth under control.

Protecting you from further gum infection isn't totally on your dentist's shoulders—you also have a role to play. You'll need to brush and floss your teeth thoroughly every day, along with using any other hygiene products prescribed or recommended by your dentist. Daily hygiene will help prevent the buildup of dental plaque and subsequent bacterial growth.

You'll also need to keep a watchful eye on your gums for any emerging signs of infection. If you begin to notice swelling, pain or bleeding, contact your dentist as soon as possible to initiate remedial treatment.

Gum disease treatment can bring your gums back to a reasonable state of good health. But that state could be reversed with a returning gum infection. Only vigilance practiced by both you and your dentist can stop that from happening.

If you would like more information on post-gum disease dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

DontIgnoreChronicMouthBreathing-ItCouldDisruptJawDevelopment

Although the air we breathe has one destination—the lungs—it can arrive there via two possible routes: through the nose or the mouth. In terms of survival, it matters little through which path air travels—just so it travels one of them!

In terms of health, though, breathing through the nose is more beneficial than through the mouth, and is our default breathing pattern. The nasal passages filter minute noxious particles and allergens. Air passing through these passages also produces nitric oxide, a gaseous substance that relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.

On the other hand, chronic mouth breathing during childhood can impact oral health. While breathing through the nose, the tongue rests against the roof of the mouth and thus becomes a mold around which the upper jaw and teeth develop. But mouth breathing places the tongue on the lower teeth, which deprives the upper jaw of support and can lead to an abnormal bite.

So why would people breathe through their mouth more than their nose? Simply put, it's more comfortable to do so. Because breathing is so critical for life, the body takes the path of least resistance to get air to the lungs. If obstructions caused by allergic reactions or swollen tonsils or adenoids are blocking the nasal pathway, the action moves to the mouth.

But chronic mouth breathing can often be treated, especially if addressed in early childhood. This may require the services of an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) and possible surgical intervention to correct anatomical obstructions. It's also prudent to have an orthodontist evaluate the bite and institute corrective interventions if it appears a child's jaw development is off-track.

Even after correcting obstructions, though, it may still be difficult for a child to overcome mouth breathing because the body has become habituated to breathing that way. They may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), which retrains the muscles in the face and mouth to breathe through the nose.

Chronic mouth breathing isn't something to be ignored. Early intervention could prevent future oral and dental problems and help the person regain the overall health benefits for nose breathing.

If you would like more information on overcoming chronic mouth breathing, 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 “The Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”

GumSwellingCanHappenWithBraces-HeresHowtoAvoidIt

A few months into wearing braces you may notice your gums are swollen. It's likely you've developed periodontal (gum) disease.

Gum disease is a bacterial infection that usually begins with dental plaque. This thin, accumulated biofilm on teeth is filled with bacteria that cause dental disease. The more of it that remains on your teeth, the higher your risk for a gum infection.

In addition to regular dental cleanings, the best way for a person to reduce their gum disease risk is to remove plaque on a daily basis through brushing and flossing. Unfortunately, wearing braces complicates this: The brackets and wires affixed to your teeth can get in the way of your toothbrush and regular dental floss. As a result, you can easily miss plaque hidden around these bits of hardware.

Aside from gum disease, the braces themselves can irritate your gums. This irritation inflames the gums and may even cause more tissue to grow. Compound this overgrowth with a possible gum infection and it's no wonder your gums are severely swollen.

To lessen the chances of swollen gums with braces, you'll need to beef up your daily hygiene efforts. Simply put, it will typically take more time than normal to thoroughly clean around your braces. A few specialized tools, though, might make it easier.

An interproximal brush with a narrower head than a regular toothbrush is useful for accessing tight places around brackets. And a floss threader or a water flosser (which uses pressurized water to loosen and remove plaque) may help you better maneuver around wires to remove plaque between teeth.

Keeping your teeth clean as possible will certainly help you avoid gum swelling due to disease. But swelling from tissue overgrowth may not be resolved until your braces come off. In severe cases, it may even be necessary to remove the braces to treat the gums before resuming orthodontic treatment.

In any case, be as thorough as possible with your oral hygiene efforts during orthodontics and see your regular dentist for cleanings every six months. When you have completed orthodontic treatment, cleanings every six months are usually recommended. It's the best way to keep your gums healthy while you're wearing braces.

If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”