Posts for category: Oral Health
There is much to contend with as we grow older, including a higher risk for dental disease. One possible contributing factor: dry mouth from a lack of saliva.
Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands secrete less than the normal two to four pints a day. Saliva performs a number of functions, but perhaps the most important for dental health is as an acid neutralizer. Within a half hour to hour after eating, saliva can restore the mouth's normal pH level to prevent acid from softening tooth enamel. When there isn't enough saliva, acid levels stay high leading to erosion of the enamel. This vastly increases the chances for tooth decay.
Although there are several causes for dry mouth, one of the more common is as a side effect from certain medications. It's estimated over 500 drugs — many taken by seniors — can cause dry mouth, including diuretics for high blood pressure and heart failure, antidepressants, and antihistamines. Some diseases like diabetes or Parkinson's may also reduce saliva flow, as well as radiation and chemotherapy.
If you've developed chronic dry mouth, there are some things that may help restore adequate saliva flow. If medication is the cause you can talk to your doctor about an alternative medication or add a few sips of water before swallowing the pills and a full glass afterwards. You should also drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages (water is the best) during the day and cut back on sugary or acidic foods. And a cool-air humidifier running while you sleep may also help keep your mouth moist.
We may further recommend an over-the-counter or prescription stimulant for saliva. For example, xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that's found in many gums and mints, has been found to stimulate saliva and reduce the risk of tooth decay as an added benefit.
Last but not least, be sure to brush and floss daily to remove disease-causing plaque and see us at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups (if your mouth is very dry, three to four times a year is a better prevention program). Managing chronic dry mouth along with proper oral hygiene will help ensure your mouth continues to stay healthy as you grow older.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment for 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.”
Athletes in contact sports are at significant risk for traumatic injury to their teeth and mouth. It’s estimated 600,000 emergency room visits each year involve a sports-related dental injury.
Athletic mouthguards have become the premier safeguard against sports-related oral injuries. First worn by professional boxers in the 1920s, mouthguards are now required for use by various sports associations and leagues — from amateur youth to professional — for a number of sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for example, requires their use during play for hockey, lacrosse, field hockey and football. The American Dental Association recommends mouthguards for 29 sports or exercise activities.
But do mouthguards actually prevent injury? To answer that question in a scientific manner, the Journal of Sports Medicine published an evidence-based report in 2007 on mouthguard effectiveness for preventing or reducing the severity of oral-facial injuries and concussions. While the report objectively analyzed many of the problems and issues associated with mouthguards (like materials, design and durability), it concluded the risk of an oral-facial injury was nearly two times greater without the wearing of a mouthguard.
That being said, most dentists and other professionals in sports safety would advise not all mouthguards are alike. The stock, “off the shelf” mouthguard found in many retail stores with limited size offerings is the least expensive, but also least protective, of mouthguard types. Mouth-formed or “boil-and-bite” protectors, which are softened in boiling water and then bit down on by the player to form the fit, are better than the stock version — however, they often don’t cover all of the player’s back teeth.
The best option is a custom-designed guard made by a dentist for the individual patient. Although relatively expensive (costs range in the hundreds, compared with $25 or less for a stock guard), they provide the highest recognized level of mouth protection.
The bottom line: a mouthguard is a must-wear part of any uniform for any sport that involves contact or high velocity objects of play. If you or a family member is a contact sport athlete, it’s essential you protect your teeth and mouth with a custom-fit, high quality mouthguard.
If you would like more information on mouthguards, 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 “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Although oral cancer isn't the most prevalent among metabolic diseases, it is one of the most deadly with only a 50% survival rate after five years. That's because it can be difficult to detect in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
That's why prevention to reduce your chances of oral cancer is so important. Many people know quitting tobacco products, including smokeless varieties, and moderating alcohol consumption are key to any prevention strategy. But there's one other factor you should also consider: your diet.
We've learned quite a bit in the last few decades about how certain foods we eat contribute to the cancer disease process. Cancer seems to originate when elements in the body or environment (known as carcinogens) damage DNA, our unique genetic code, on the cellular level. For example, a class of chemicals called nitrosamines is a known carcinogen: we often encounter it in the form of nitrites used to preserve meat (like bacon or ham) or as byproducts in beer, seafood or cheese.
Another form of carcinogen is the unstable molecules produced during normal cellular function called free radicals. But our bodies have a natural neutralizer for free radicals called antioxidants. We obtain these substances in our food in the form of vitamins and minerals. While you can also ingest these in the form of supplements, the best way to obtain them is through a diet rich in plant-based food, particularly fruits and vegetables.
So in addition to lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco or moderating alcohol consumption, make sure your diet is a healthy and nutritious one. Limit your intake of processed foods (especially meats) and increase your portions of fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
And don't neglect practicing effective brushing and flossing each day, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups. All of these healthy practices will greatly decrease your chances for life-threatening oral cancer.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
We’ve all had physical ailments that were more irritating than serious. The problem of skin cracking at the corners of the mouth fits into that category.
Both dentists and dermatologists encounter this condition often and have a name for it: perleche, derived from the French word lecher, meaning “to lick.” The term arises from patients’ tendency to excessively lick the broken skin to soothe the itching or burning.
Perleche most often arises from certain mouth conditions, although systemic problems like anemia or diabetes may also cause it. Children or younger adults, especially those with orthodontic braces or a tendency to drool as they sleep, often develop perleche; older adults with wrinkling around the mouth are also susceptible. Mouth dryness caused by reduced saliva flow may also irritate the skin and cause discomfort.
As the skin becomes irritated, the person may begin to lick the corners of the mouth to soothe them. This sets up conditions for an infection, most often caused by yeast known as candida albicans. The infection may become more acute and begin to affect the entire inside of the mouth or throat.
If you’ve developed perleche, our primary treatment goal is to reduce any infection with the aid of oral or topical antifungal drugs. One drug, Nystatin, is often taken as a lozenge that dissolves in the mouth and works its way from there through the rest of the body. You can also apply antifungal ointments several times a day to the corners of the mouth, often in combination with steroid ointments that reduce redness and swelling. You can also apply antifungal zinc oxide paste to the cracked skin, which also serves as a barrier between the skin and outer contaminants.
To reduce the chance of future outbreaks, we may recommend you rinse with Chlorhexidine, as well as replace missing teeth or refit loose dentures — these too are contributing factors to erupting yeast infections. You might also need to undergo dermatologic treatment for wrinkles if they’ve proven to be a factor in developing perleche.
Although not a major problem, perleche can be exceedingly uncomfortable and embarrassing. Thanks to a number of treatment options, you don’t have to put up with that discomfort for long.
If you would like more information on perleche (angular cheilitis), 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.”
Dental caries (tooth decay) is a leading cause of tooth loss. But with prompt diagnosis and care we can often stop it before it causes too much damage.
The traditional treatment approach is simple: remove all diseased tooth structure and then restore the tooth with a filling. But this otherwise effective treatment has one drawback: you may lose significant healthy structure to accommodate a suitable filling or to make vulnerable areas easier to clean from bacterial plaque.
That's why a new treatment approach called minimally invasive dentistry (MID) is becoming more common. The goal of MID is to remove as little of a tooth's natural enamel and dentin as possible. This leaves the treated tooth stronger and healthier, and could reduce long-term dental costs too.
Here's how MID could change your future dental care.
Better risk assessment. MID includes a treatment protocol called caries management by risk assessment (CAMBRA). With CAMBRA, we evaluate your individual tooth decay risk, including oral bacteria levels, the quality of saliva flow to neutralize mouth acid, and sugar consumption. We then use our findings to customize a treatment plan that targets your areas of highest risk.
New detection methods. The real key to fighting tooth decay is to find it before it can destroy tooth structure with the help of new diagnostic technology. Besides advances in x-ray imaging that provide better views with less radiation exposure, we're also using powerful dental microscopes, lasers and infrared photography to show us more about your teeth than we can see with the naked eye.
"Less is More" treatments. In contrast to the dental drill, many dentists are now using air abrasion rather than a dental drill to remove decayed tooth material. Air abrasion emits tiny material particles within a pressurized air stream that leaves more healthy tooth structure intact than with drilling. We're also using new filling materials like composite resin that not only resemble natural tooth color, but require less structural removal than other types of fillings.
Using MID, we can treat tooth decay while preserving more of your natural teeth. This promises better long-term outcomes for future dental health.
If you would like more information on new treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”