When your mouth is dry, you know it: that sticky, uncomfortable feeling when you first wake up or when you're thirsty. Fortunately, it usually goes away after you eat or drink. But what if your mouth felt like that all the time? Then, it's no longer an irritation—chronic dry mouth could also increase your risk of dental disease.
Chronic dry mouth occurs because of inadequate saliva flow. Saliva plays an important role in preventing dental disease because it neutralizes acid, which can cause the mineral content in tooth enamel to break down and lead to tooth decay. The mouth becomes more acidic right after eating, but saliva can restore its normal pH levels in about an hour—as well as some of the enamel's lost mineral content. Without saliva, your tooth enamel is at greater risk from acid.
While a number of things can potentially interfere with normal saliva production, medication is the most common. More than 500 prescription drugs, including many antihistamines, diuretics or antidepressants, can cause dry mouth. Cancer radiation or chemotherapy treatment and certain metabolic conditions like diabetes or Parkinson's disease can also increase symptoms.
If you are experiencing unusual dry mouth symptoms, see your dentist first for a full examination. Your dentist can measure your saliva flow, check your prescriptions and medical history, and examine your salivary glands for abnormalities. With this more accurate picture of your condition, they can help direct you to the most effective remedies and treatments for the cause.
If medication is the problem, you can talk to your doctor about alternative prescriptions that have a lesser effect on saliva flow. You can also drink more water before and after taking oral medication and throughout the day to help lubricate your mouth. Chewing gums or mints with xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar, can also help: xylitol helps reduce the mouth's bacterial levels, as well as stimulate saliva flow.
Easing your dry mouth symptoms can make your life more pleasant. More importantly, it can reduce your risk of future dental problems caused by a lack of saliva.
If you would like more information on dealing with chronic dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and treatment of this Common Problem.”
We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
If you're over 30 your chances for developing periodontal (gum) disease are better than half. And it's not a minor matter—untreated gum disease can lead not only to tooth loss, but to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory conditions.
Fortunately, we have effective ways to treat gum disease, even in advanced stages. But the best approach by far in avoiding a devastating outcome for your teeth is to prevent gum disease from developing in the first place.
It helps first to know how gum disease begins. The most common cause is dental plaque, a thin biofilm of food particles on tooth surfaces that harbors the bacteria that triggers the disease. If you keep your teeth clean of built-up plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings, you'll minimize the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
If you don't practice effective oral hygiene, however, within a few days you could develop an initial infection called gingivitis. This form affects the outermost layers of the gums and triggers a defensive response from the body known as inflammation. Ordinarily, inflammation helps protect surrounding tissues from infection spread, but it can damage your gums if it becomes chronic. Your weakened gums may begin to detach from the teeth, forming voids filled with inflammation known as periodontal pockets. Eventually, the infection can spread to the supporting bone and lead to tooth loss.
In addition to a dedicated oral hygiene and dental care program, you should also be on the lookout for early signs of gingivitis. Infected gums can become red, swollen and tender to the touch. You may notice they bleed easily while brushing and flossing, or a foul taste or breath that won't go away even after brushing. And if some of your teeth feel loose or don't seem to bite together as they used to, this is a sign of advanced gum disease that deserves your dentist's immediate attention.
Practicing preventive hygiene is the best way to stop gum disease before it starts. But if gum disease does happen, catching it early can be a game-changer, both for your teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
The mark of a great dental restoration is that you can’t see it. It’s there in plain sight, but others observing your new and improved smile can’t tell the difference between the restoration and your natural teeth. Everything looks, well, natural.
That’s the great advantage of dental porcelain. A dental technician with technical skill and artistic flair can form this inorganic, ceramic material into a life-like replica of your tooth, with a shape and color that blends in with the rest of your teeth. And because of its strength properties, porcelain restorations can hold up to the normal chewing and biting forces in your mouth, as long as you use prudence when biting down on hard substances.
Porcelain is also highly adaptable to different kinds of restorations. For natural teeth still viable but no longer attractive, porcelain can be the main ingredient in two very popular and effective restorations, the veneer and the crown. Although the porcelain material is the same for both, their construction and application are quite different.
Veneers are very thin laminated layers of dental porcelain custom-colored and shaped for bonding to the outer visible portion of a tooth. They’re a great solution for relatively decay-free teeth that have minor to moderate defects like chipping, slight misalignment or heavy staining. They often require some permanent removal of tooth enamel to ensure their appearance isn’t too bulky, but causes minimal impact to the tooth.
Crowns, on the other hand, are complete tooth replicas that are bonded in place over an existing tooth like a cap. They’re a good choice for teeth in which the root and inner layers are still viable, but the tooth has been significantly damaged by decay or trauma. They’re also useful as a protective cover for teeth that have undergone root canal treatment. But unlike the minimal impact of veneers, crowns require significant tooth alterations to accommodate them.
In either case, though, the end result is much the same: both crowns and veneers can be fashioned to precisely mimic the shape, color and texture of natural teeth. In skillful hands, these porcelain restorations can transform your smile for the better and no one but you and your dentist will ever need to know.
If you would like more information on porcelain restorations, 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 “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Like other healthcare providers, your dentist keeps records of your ongoing care. These include not only their written notes but also x-ray imaging, frequency of visits and cleanings, and any medical information that could affect your care. What’s more, they have a legal obligation to maintain these records.
Your dental records help guide decisions about your care. In that regard, you should consider something else—you may need to change providers: your dentist retires or you move; your dentist isn’t in your new insurance network; or, unfortunately, you have an “irreconcilable” difference with your provider.
If that happens, it’s very important your dental records find their way to your new provider. Here are 3 reasons why.
Your individual dental history. Each person’s dental situation and needs are unique. Your past records help clue in your new dentist about your past history and current needs, which will help guide how they treat you.
Time and money. Your dental records contain x-rays or other diagnostic information about your oral condition, including preparations for any upcoming dental work. If you change dentists before completing that treatment, your new dentist may have to start over with new diagnostic tests if they don’t have this previous data. It could cost you more money and make you wait longer for a needed procedure.
Coordinating dental care with your general health. Your mouth isn’t isolated from the rest of your body, and some dental treatment measures could affect other health conditions (and vice-versa). If your new dentist knows other health issues you may have from your previous records, it can help ensure you’re getting dental treatment appropriate to your overall health.
For the most streamlined transition between providers, it’s important your dental records follow you. You’re entitled to having those records transferred, and, if you’re uncomfortable asking yourself, your new provider can obtain them for you. Just be sure to ask.
If you would like more information on your rights regarding your dental care records, 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 “Why Your Dental Records Should Follow You.”
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