Posts for category: Oral Health
“No man is an island….” So wrote the poet John Donne four centuries ago. And while he meant the unity of humanity, the metaphor could equally apply to the interdependence of the various parts of the human body, including the mouth. According to recent scientific research, your mouth isn’t an “island” either.
Much of this research has focused on periodontal (gum) disease, an infection most often caused by bacterial plaque that triggers inflammation in the gum tissues. Although an important part of the body’s defenses, if the inflammation becomes chronic it can damage the gums and weaken their attachment to the teeth. Supporting bone may also deteriorate leading eventually to tooth loss.
Avoiding that outcome is good reason alone for treating and controlling gum disease. But there’s another reason—the possible effect the infection may have on the rest of the body, especially if you have one or more systemic health issues. It may be possible for bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the diseased gum tissues to affect other parts of the body or possibly make other inflammatory conditions worse.
One such condition is diabetes, a disease which affects nearly one person in ten. Normally the hormone insulin helps turn dietary sugars into energy for the body’s cells. But with diabetes either the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the available insulin can’t metabolize sugar effectively. The disease can cause or complicate many other serious health situations.
There appears to be some links between diabetes and gum disease, including that they both fuel chronic inflammation. This may explain why diabetics with uncontrolled gum disease also often have poor blood sugar levels. Conversely, diabetics often have an exaggerated inflammatory response to gum disease bacteria compared to someone without diabetes.
The good news, though, is that bringing systemic diseases like diabetes under control may have a positive effect on the treatment of gum disease. It may also mean that properly treating gum disease could also help you manage not only diabetes, but also other conditions like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, or rheumatoid arthritis. Taking care of your teeth and gums may not only bring greater health to your mouth, but to the rest of your body as well.
If you would like more information on treating dental diseases like 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
If you’ve had issues with periodontal (gum) disease, no doubt a few things have changed for you. You may be seeing us for dental cleanings and checkups more frequently and you have to be extra diligent about your daily brushing and flossing.
There’s one other thing you may need to do: change your diet. Some of the foods you may be eating could work against you in your fight against gum disease. At the same time, increasing your intake of certain foods could boost your overall oral health.
The biggest culprits in the first category are carbohydrates, which make up almost half the average diet in the Western world, mainly as added sugar. Although carbohydrates help fuel the body, too much can increase inflammation—which also happens to be a primary cause of tissue damage related to gum disease.
Of course, we can’t paint too broad a brush because not all carbohydrates have the same effect on the body. Carbohydrates like sugar or processed items like bakery goods, white rice or mashed potatoes quickly convert to glucose (the actual sugar used by the body for energy) in the bloodstream and increase insulin levels, which can then lead to chronic inflammation. Complex or unprocessed carbohydrates like vegetables, nuts or whole grains take longer to digest and so convert to glucose slowly—a process which can actually hinder inflammation.
Eating less of the higher glycemic (the rate of glucose conversion entering the bloodstream) carbohydrates and more low glycemic foods will help reduce inflammation. And that’s good news for your gums. You should also add foods rich in vitamins C and D (cheese and other dairy products, for instance) and antioxidants to further protect your oral health.
Studies have shown that changing to a low-carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory diet can significantly reduce chronic inflammation in the body and improve gum health. Coupled with your other efforts at prevention, a better diet can go a long way in keeping gum disease at bay.
If you would like more information on the role of diet in 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 article “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
Periodontal (gum) disease causes more than simple gum swelling—this bacterial infection can harm and destroy your teeth’s supporting structures, including the bone. Its aggressiveness sometimes requires equally aggressive treatment.
Gum disease usually begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces. Without proper oral hygiene plaque builds up with large populations of bacteria that can trigger an infection.
The growth of this disease is often “silent,” meaning it may initially show no symptoms. If it does, it will normally be reddened, swollen and/or bleeding gums, and sometimes pain. A loose tooth is often a late sign the disease has severely damaged the gum ligaments and supporting bone, making tooth loss a distinct possibility.
If you’re diagnosed with gum disease, there is one primary treatment strategy—remove all detected plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. This can take several sessions because as the gums begin responding to treatment and are less inflamed, more plaque and calculus may be discovered.
Plaque removal can involve various techniques depending on the depth of the infection within the gums. For surfaces above or just below the gum line, we often use a technique called scaling: manually removing plaque and calculus with specialized instruments called scalers. If the infection has progressed well below the gum line we may also use root planing, a technique for “shaving” plaque from root surfaces.
Once infection reaches these deeper levels it’s often difficult to access. Getting to it may require a surgical procedure known as flap surgery. We make incisions in the gums to form what looks like the flap of an envelope. By retracting this “flap” we can then access the root area of the tooth. After thoroughly cleansing the area of infection, we can do regenerative procedures to regain lost attachment. Then we suture the flap of gum tissue back into place.
Whatever its stage of development, it’s important to begin treatment of gum disease as soon as it’s detected. The earlier we can arrest its spread, the less likely we’ll need to employ these more invasive procedures. If you see any signs of gum disease as mentioned before, contact us as soon as possible for a full examination.
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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
A half million people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. While other cancers are more prevalent, oral cancer is among the most dangerous with only a fifty percent five-year survival rate.
A major reason for this low rate is because this fast growing cancer is difficult to detect early — diagnosis comes far too often after the disease has already well advanced. In an effort to detect cancer earlier many dentists visually screen for oral abnormalities during checkups, especially patients over fifty, tobacco or heavy alcohol users, patients with a family history of cancer or a medical history of exposure to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, HPV-16.
If they detect an abnormality, the dentist often refers the patient to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a possible biopsy. In this procedure the surgeon removes a sample of the abnormal tissue, which is then examined microscopically for cancer cells. A biopsy remains the most effective way to diagnose oral cancer.
Because of the disease's aggressive nature, many dentists lean to the side of caution when referring patients for biopsy. As a result 90% of oral biopsies reveal no cancer. Reducing the number of biopsy referrals is highly desirable, especially for the patient undergoing the procedure. Tissue samples tend to be large to ensure complete detection of any cancer cells. Depending on the size and location of the sample, there may be a risk for loss of function or disfigurement.
A new screening tool using a sample of a patient's saliva could help reduce the number of biopsy referrals. Besides DNA, saliva also contains dormant genes called biomarkers that activate in response to the presence of a specific disease. This particular saliva test identifies those biomarkers for oral cancer if they're present.
A sample with a low score of biomarkers indicates no cancer present (with a statistical confidence of 99%). A medium or high score indicates cancer may be present, but only a biopsy can determine for sure. Using this test, dentists might be able to reduce the number of biopsy referrals and instead be able to employ watchful waiting in certain cases. Because of its simplicity and non-invasiveness, saliva screening could help identify oral cancer earlier.
There are a lot of opportunities to have your blood pressure checked: your doctor's office, of course; your local pharmacy; health fairs; and the dentist's office. The last one might surprise you, but blood pressure monitoring before a dental examination or office visit has become quite routine.
Why all this attention to blood pressure? Because chronic high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major cause for cardiovascular disease (CVD), a family of life-threatening conditions that affects 80 million people in the United States. And, you may not even be aware you have it.
That's why avenues for blood pressure screening are on the rise, and the dental office is a prime opportunity. Since you see us regularly for cleanings and checkups (you do, don't you?), there's a good chance we might help you become aware you have a problem if we perform blood pressure readings.
One study published by the Journal of the American Dental Association, for example, followed a group of dental patients with no previous risk factors of CVD, and who had not seen a doctor in the previous twelve months. Through blood pressure screening at their dental visits, 17% discovered they had high blood pressure and at risk for a cardiovascular event.
Your blood pressure can also have an effect on your oral health, especially if you're taking medication to control it. Some medications can cause reduced saliva flow, which could drastically increase your chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. We would also need to exercise care during dental procedures with certain local anesthetics: some may cause both your pulse and blood pressure to rise.
Although we're primarily focused on your dental care, we also know it's only one aspect of your overall health. By simply including blood pressure checks during your checkup, we may help you identify a problem before it causes you greater health problems in the future.
If you would like more information on blood pressure and 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 article “Monitoring Blood Pressure.”