Posts for category: Oral Health
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be a priority.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
Your teeth and gums have a highly sensitive network of nerves. But while it can signal even the most subtle discomfort we may not be able to identify the cause with pinpoint accuracy. As a result, tooth pain could indicate more than one kind of problem including a decayed tooth, root sensitivity, infected gum tissues (like an abscess) or a dying pulp signaled by diseased nerve tissue inside the tooth.
On the other hand, not all tooth pain is the same: it can be dull or sharp, continuous or intermittent. It can feel like a constant, throbbing ache or a sharp wince when you eat or drink something cold or hot, or when you bite down. These differences could point our diagnostic examination in the right direction.
For example, sharp, throbbing pain could indicate deep tooth decay, especially if it suddenly stops. That would likely mean the nerves within the tooth pulp under attack by the infection have died and can no longer transmit pain. The infection, on the other hand is still very much active — this usually requires a root canal treatment (cleaning out the pulp and root canals of diseased and dead tissue and filling the empty spaces) if we’re to save the tooth.
If, however, you’re experiencing sensitivity from temperature or pressure, we could be facing at least a couple of scenarios. For one, your tooth could be fractured. More likely, though, periodontal (gum) disease triggered by bacterial plaque has caused the gum tissues to shrink back (recede) from the affected teeth so that the sensitive dentin layer is exposed and no longer protected by the gum tissue.
If we diagnose gum disease, we’ll need to aggressively remove bacterial plaque from all tooth and gum surfaces. This procedure might require more than one appointment and the possibility of surgery if we encounter deep pockets of infection, especially around the roots. If gum recession is severe you may also need grafting surgery to replace the missing gum tissue or to re-cover the exposed areas of your teeth.
So, knowing the source of tooth pain will direct the course of treatment to follow. With proper treatment, though, the chances are good we can not only restore your teeth and gums to optimum health but we can end the pain.
If you would like more information on treating tooth pain, 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Perhaps you haven’t thought of it quite this way, but saliva is one of the true wonders of the human body. This unassuming fluid performs a variety of tasks to aid digestion and help protect your mouth from disease. And you hardly notice it — except when it’s not there.
That’s the case for millions of people in America who have a chronic condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This happens when the salivary glands don’t secrete enough saliva, normally two to four pints daily.
Of course, we can experience mouth dryness when we first wake up (saliva flow ebbs while we sleep), feel stressed, use tobacco, or consume alcohol and certain foods like onions or spices. It becomes a problem, though, when periods of low saliva become chronic. Without its preventive capabilities, you’ll be at much higher risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Chronic dry mouth can occur for various reasons: systemic diseases like cancer or autoimmune deficiencies can cause it, as well as radiation or chemotherapy treatments. One of the most common causes, though, is medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. The surgeon general identifies over 500 known drugs that may inhibit saliva production, including some antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. It’s often why older people who take more medications than younger people suffer more as a population from dry mouth.
Because of its long-term health effects, it’s important to try to boost saliva flow. If your mouth is consistently dry, try to drink more fluids during the day. If you suspect your medication, see if your physician can prescribe a different drug. It also helps to drink a little water before and after taking oral medication.
We may also recommend medication or other substances that stimulate saliva or temporarily substitute for it. Xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that also inhibits bacterial growth, can help relieve dryness. You’ll often find it in gums or mints.
Chronic dry mouth is more than a minor irritation — it can lead to more serious conditions. In addition to these tips, be sure to also keep up your regular dental visits and maintain a daily schedule of oral hygiene to prevent dental disease.
If you would like more information on overcoming 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.”
Fatigue, irritability and family complaints about snoring — all tell-tale signs you may have sleep apnea. There’s more to this condition than being grouchy the next day — the long-term effect could increase your risks for life-threatening diseases.
But how do you know if you actually have sleep apnea? And if you do, what can you do about it?
Undergo an exam by a physician trained in “sleep medicine.” Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked while you sleep, dropping the body’s oxygen levels; your body awakens to re-open the airway. The event may only last a few seconds, but it can occur several times a night. Even so, sleep apnea is one potential cause among others for snoring or fatigue. To know for sure if you have sleep apnea you’ll need to undergo an examination by a physician trained to diagnose this condition. He or she may then refer you to a dentist to make a sleep appliance if you have mild to moderate apnea.
Determine the level of your apnea’s intensity. Not all cases of sleep apnea are equal — they can range in cause and intensity from mild to advanced, the latter a reason for concern and focused intervention. Your physician may use different methods for determining the intensity of your case: review of your medical history, examining the structures within your mouth or having your sleep observed directly at a sleep lab. Getting the full picture about your sleep apnea will make it easier to develop a treatment plan.
Match the appropriate treatment to your level of sleep apnea. If you have moderate to advanced apnea, you may benefit from continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, an electrical pump that delivers pressurized air through a mask worn while you sleep that gently forces the airway open. It’s quite effective, but uncomfortable to wear for some people. Advanced cases may also require surgery to alter or remove soft tissue obstructions. If, you have mild to slightly moderate apnea, though, your dentist may have the solution: a custom-fitted mouth guard that moves the tongue, the most common airway obstruction, down and away from the back of the throat.
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, see a trained physician for an examination. It’s your first step to a good night’s sleep and better overall health.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea treatments, 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 “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”
The next time you visit your dentist you might see an item quite different from the other dental instruments and equipment in the office: a blood pressure cuff. Checking blood pressure is becoming a more common occurrence in dental offices across the country.
Abnormal blood pressure and some of the medications used to treat it are often a factor in some dental procedures, particularly if anesthesia is involved. But your dentist may also check your blood pressure for another reason: dental visits represent another avenue to screen for this condition that increases the risk of serious health problems.
Undiagnosed high blood pressure is a prevalent but often “silent” problem because the early stages of the condition may not display any symptoms. Many people first become aware they have an issue only after a blood pressure check at their family doctor, pharmacy or a health fair, for example. Otherwise, they could go months, even years without this vital knowledge about their health.
But while people may only visit their doctor once a year (or less) many see their dentist much more often, even twice a year, for routine cleanings and checkups. Including blood pressure screenings as a routine part of dental treatment could alert patients to a potential issue much earlier than their next doctor’s visit.
In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association looked at a group of dental patients with no reported heart disease risk and who had not seen a doctor in the twelve months before their dental visit. During their visit their blood pressure was checked. Of those then referred to a physician for an abnormal reading, 17% learned for the first time they had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s estimated about 80 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease and many don’t even know it. Diagnosing and controlling high blood pressure is a key factor in treating these life-threatening conditions. And many dentists are joining the fight by making this simple screening method a part of their dental care services.
If you would like more information on blood pressure screening, 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure: What you don't know can hurt you.”