Posts for category: Oral Health
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.”
Although kids are resilient, they're not indestructible. They're prone to their share of injuries, both major and minor—including dental injuries.
It's common for physically active children to suffer injuries to their mouth, teeth and gums. With a little know-how, however, you can reduce their suffering and minimize any consequences to their long-term oral health.
Here are 4 types of dental injuries, and what to do if they occur.
Chipped tooth. Trauma or simply biting down on something hard can result in part of the tooth breaking off, while the rest of it remains intact. If this happens, try to retrieve and save the chipped pieces—a dentist may be able to re-bond them to the tooth. Even if you can't collect the chipped pieces, you should still see your dentist for a full examination of the tooth for any underlying injury.
Cracked tooth. A child can experience intense pain or an inability to bite or close their teeth normally if a tooth is cracked (fractured), First, call the dentist to see if you need to come in immediately or wait a day. You can also give the child something appropriate to their age for pain and to help them sleep if you're advised to wait overnight.
Displaced tooth. If a child's tooth appears loose, out of place or pushed deeper into the jaw after an accident, you should definitely see a dentist as soon as possible—all of these indicate a serious dental injury. If they're unavailable or it's after hours, your dentist may tell you to visit an emergency room for initial treatment.
Knocked-out tooth. Minutes count when a tooth is knocked completely out. Quickly locate the tooth and, holding it only by the crown and not the root, rinse off any debris with clean water. Place it in a glass of milk or attempt to place it back into the socket. If you attempt to place it back into the socket, it will require pressure to seat the tooth into position. You should then see a dentist or ER immediately.
A dental injury can be stressful for both you and your child. But following these common-sense guidelines can help you keep your wits and ensure your child gets the care they need.
October 20th is World Osteoporosis Day, putting the spotlight on this degenerative bone condition and the impact it has on millions of people. Not only does it significantly increase the risk of potentially life-threatening fractures, but it can also indirectly affect dental health.
This connection arises from the use of certain treatment drugs that ultimately could lead to complications following some forms of dental work. These particular drugs, mainly bisphosphonates like Fosamax™ and RANKL inhibitors like Prolia™, destroy bone cells called osteoclasts, whose function is to clear away worn out regular bone cells (osteoblasts). With fewer osteoclasts targeting them, more older osteoblast cells survive longer.
In the short-term, a longer life for these older cells helps bones afflicted by osteoporosis to retain volume and density, and are thus less likely to fracture. Long-term, however, the surviving osteoblasts are less elastic and more brittle than newly formed cells.
In the end, these longer living cells could eventually weaken the bone. In rare situations, this can result in parts of the bone actually dying—a condition known as osteonecrosis. The bones of the body with the highest occurrences of osteonecrosis are the femur (the upper leg bone) and, of specific concern to dental care, the jawbone.
The effect of these medications on the jawbone actually has a name—drug-induced osteonecrosis of the jaw (DIONJ). Fortunately, there's only a 1% risk of it occurring if you're taking these drugs to manage osteoporosis. It's also not a concern for routine procedures like cleanings, fillings or crown placements. But DIONJ could lead to complications with more invasive dental work like tooth extraction, implant placement or periodontal surgery.
It's important, then, that your dentist knows if you're being treated for osteoporosis and the specific drugs you're taking. Depending on the medication, they may suggest, in coordination with your physician, that you take a "drug holiday"—go off of the drug for a set period of time—before a scheduled dental procedure to ease the risk and effects of osteonecrosis.
Because infection after dental work is one possible consequence of osteonecrosis, it's important that you practice thorough oral hygiene every day. Your dentist may also prescribe an antiseptic mouth rinse to include with your hygiene, as well as antibiotics.
You may also want to talk to your doctor about alternative treatments for osteoporosis that pose a lower risk for osteonecrosis. These can range from traditional Vitamin D and calcium supplements to emerging treatments that utilize hormones.
Osteoporosis can complicate dental work, but it doesn't have to prevent you from getting the procedures you need. Working with both your dentist and your physician, you can have the procedures you need to maintain your dental health.
If you would like more information about osteoporosis and dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
August is the traditional "kickoff" month for football season with student athletes representing the vast majority of players. And, while a new season promises to be exciting for both players and fans, there are risks for potential injury to jaws, teeth and gums.
If your household includes a football player (or other contact sport participant), you'll want to do everything you can to reduce their chances for injury or long-term damage. That involves two aspects: prevention and immediate first aid after a potential injury.
In terms of prevention, your student athlete should wear a mouthguard to protect their teeth and gums from blows to the face or mouth. Constructed of soft, pliable plastic, these oral devices cushion an impact from a hard contact that might otherwise seriously injure them. A mouthguard should be worn for any physical activity associated with the sport—including practices.
There are various styles of mouthguards, but most fall within two categories: a retail version known as "boil and bite;" and a custom mouthguard created by a dentist. Regarding the first kind, as the name implies, a boil and bite is first softened with hot water right out of the packaging. The wearer then places it in their mouth while it's still soft and bites down to create an individual fit.
A boil and bite guard can achieve a reasonable fit and provide adequate protection for a wearer. But to gain a precise fit that provides better comfort and protection, a custom-made mouthguard by a dentist is worth the extra cost. We create a custom mouthguard using an impression mold of the individual wearer's mouth. The resulting guard is thinner and more compact than the typical boil and bite.
An athletic mouthguard can drastically reduce the risk of serious injury during sports play, but, as with any element of risk, it can't reduce that risk to zero. It's important then to know what to do if a rare dental injury does occur.
The key is to act quickly, especially if a tooth has been knocked out of its socket. Putting it back into the socket as soon as possible could help save the tooth long-term. To know what steps to take for this and other kinds of dental injuries, it's good to have a reference guide handy. Here's a printable dental injury pocket guide that gives you detailed instructions for dental first aid.
Sports participation can have a lasting, positive impact on your child. But the specter of injury can also have an impact, definitely not positive and with long-term consequences. With regard to their dental health, you can make that possibility much less likely.
If you would like more information about protecting your student athlete's teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Athletic Mouthguards.”