Posts for category: Oral Health
You've been brushing your teeth since you were big enough to look over the bathroom sink: now you brush and floss every day. You do it because you know it's important — but do you know why?
It's because your teeth and gums have enemies: oral bacteria in particular, the major cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. The vehicle for these infections is a thin-film of food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque.
Daily brushing removes plaque from broad tooth surfaces, while flossing removes it from between teeth. If you don't brush or floss every day — or you aren't effective enough — then plaque becomes a haven for bacteria which then produce high levels of acid that soften and erode enamel. Bacterial plaque can also trigger gum disease: gingivitis (inflamed gum tissues) can begin in just a few days of not brushing and flossing.
You could avoid these diseases and their high treatment costs with an effective, daily hygiene regimen. There are things you can start doing right now to improve your efforts: be sure to hold your toothbrush (soft, multi-tufted is best for most people) at a 45-degree angle to the gum line and gently scrub or wiggle the bristles across the teeth; cover all tooth surfaces on both sides of the teeth — about two minutes of brushing. Be sure to use a fluoride toothpaste to boost enamel strength and don't apply too much pressure when you brush to avoid damaging your gums.
With flossing it's best to hold a small amount of string between fingers from each hand and work it gently between the gaps of each tooth. You then wrap the floss around each tooth in the form of a “C” and gently move up and down three or four times.
You can check to see if you're performing these tasks adequately by running your tongue across your teeth — they should feel smooth and a little squeaky. The real test, though, is during your next checkup. Hopefully we'll find the hygiene habits you've been practicing your whole life are helping you keep your teeth healthy and disease-free.
If you have periodontal (gum) disease, it's important for you to know its effects aren't limited to your mouth. A number of studies demonstrate gum disease can affect the rest of your body — and what may be going on elsewhere could likewise stimulate gum disease.
Here are 3 diseases or conditions that seem to share a link with gum disease.
Diabetes. This chronic disease results from the body's inability to interact properly with insulin, the hormone necessary for turning glucose (sugar) into energy, or producing enough of it. There's clear evidence that having diabetes increases your risk of gum disease and vice-versa. If you have diabetes, it's important that you keep it under control for your gum's sake as much as for your overall health.
Cardiovascular disease. Like diabetes, this group of heart and blood vessel diseases has a related characteristic with gum disease: inflammation. This natural function of the immune system limits tissue damage caused by disease or injury. But in both CVD and gum disease, inflammation can become chronic and itself cause damage. Further, some types of bacteria associated with gum disease can contribute to a higher risk of CVD. Minimizing gum disease occurrence with good oral hygiene could positively impact your risk of CVD.
Pregnancy. While certainly not a disease, pregnancy does trigger hormonal changes in the mother that in turn could elevate her risk of gum disease, particularly pregnancy gingivitis. Not only does this pose problems for the mother's teeth and gums, some studies connect gum disease to the increased possibility of early, pre-term birth. A sharper focus on dental care during pregnancy not only benefits the mother but may also be important for the health of the baby.
These aren't the only conditions that can be affected by gum disease: others like osteoporosis, respiratory disease or rheumatoid arthritis also share links with the disease. If you have any systemic condition like these, it pays to be extra vigilant in preventing and treating gum disease.
If you would like more information on periodontal (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.”
Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by plaque, is one of the most prevalent and destructive dental conditions. Left untreated it can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
Although people are often unaware they have gum disease, there are a few warning signs to look for. Here are five gum disease signs that should prompt a dental visit.
Gum Swelling and Redness. Like all infections, gum disease triggers an immune system response that releases antibodies into the gums to attack the bacteria. The ensuing battle results in inflammation (swelling) and a darker redness to the gum tissues that don’t lessen with time.
Gum Bleeding. It isn’t normal for healthy gum tissue, which are quite resilient, to bleed. In a few cases, bleeding may indicate over-aggressive brushing, but more likely it means the tissues have weakened to such an extent by infection they bleed easily.
Tooth Sensitivity. If you notice a shot of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold or when you bite down, this could mean infected gums have “drawn back” (receded) from the teeth. Gum recession exposes the tooth roots, which are more sensitive to temperature and pressure changes in the mouth.
An Abscess. As weakened gum tissues detach from the tooth, the normally thin gap between them and the tooth deepens to form a void known as a periodontal pocket. This often results in an abscess where pus collects in the pocket and causes it to appear more swollen and red than nearby tissues. An abscess needs immediate attention as bone loss is greatly accelerated compared to normal gum disease.
Tooth Looseness or Movement. As diseased gum tissue causes loss of gum and bone attachment, the affected teeth will start to feel loose or even move to a different position. This is a late and alarming sign of gum disease — without immediate intervention, you’re in danger of losing the tooth.
If you encounter any of these signs, contact us for an examination as soon as possible. The sooner we can diagnose gum disease and begin treatment, the less damage it will cause — and the better your odds of regaining healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on gum disease, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease.”
The mouth isn’t an island unto itself — problems there may be indicative of deeper physical or emotional issues. Â The condition of a family member’s teeth and gums, for example, could be signs of bulimia, an eating disorder.
Characterized by food binging and purging through self-induced vomiting, bulimia can also have a severe effect on the teeth. Regular inducement of vomiting introduces stomach acid into the mouth that can attack and soften the mineral content of tooth enamel. As a result, 90% of bulimics develop enamel erosion.
The erosion pattern often differs from that produced by other high acid causes like the over-consumption of sodas. Because the tongue instinctively covers the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, they’re often shielded from much of the acid wash. Bulimics are much more apt to exhibit heavier erosion on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Bulimia and similar disorders produce other signs as well, like soft tissue ulceration or swollen salivary glands that exhibit puffiness of the face. The roof of the mouth, throat and back of the tongue may appear roughened from the use of fingers or objects to induce gagging.
Unlike sufferers of anorexia nervosa who tend to be negligent about their hygiene (which itself increases their risk of dental disease), bulimics have a heightened sensitivity to their appearance. This concern may prompt them to aggressively brush right after purging, which can cause more of the softened enamel to be removed.
Treating the dental consequences of bulimia requires a two-pronged approach. In the short term, we want to lessen the impact of stomach acid by discouraging the person from brushing immediately after purging — better to rinse with water and a little baking soda to buffer the acid and wait about an hour before brushing. We may also suggest a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen and re-mineralize the enamel.
In the long-term, though, the disorder itself must be addressed through professional help. One good source is the National Eating Disorders website (nationaleatingdisorders.org). Besides information, the association also provides a toll-free helpline for referrals to professionals.
As with any eating disorder, bulimia can be trying for patients and their families. Addressing the issue gently but forthrightly will begin their journey toward the renewal of health, including their teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”