Posts for category: Oral Health
Half of adults over age 30, and an astounding 70% over 65, have had some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Unchecked, a bacterial gum infection can spread into the supporting bone and destroy attachments between the teeth and gums. Because of its rapidity and aggressiveness, gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults.
But there may be even more harm caused by gum disease beyond losing teeth: There's growing evidence gum disease may worsen other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with gum disease are also more likely to suffer from one or more of these systemic conditions.
The link between gum disease and these other diseases appears to be inflammation. When tissue becomes injured or diseased, swelling (inflammation) occurs to isolate these tissues from the rest of the body. Under normal circumstances, this is a critical defense mechanism to protect the body overall.
But this response is a temporary measure—if it becomes chronic, it can actually damage the tissues it's trying to protect. This often happens with gum disease as inflammation can't overcome the gum infection, and both sides settle into a kind of trench warfare. The same story plays out with other diseases with an inflammatory response. And if the body is waging war with a gum infection, it can worsen these other conditions.
It's important then to take care of your gums and the rest of the body to minimize chronic inflammation. You can help prevent a gum infection by brushing and flossing every day and getting your teeth cleaned professionally at least every six months. You should also see your dentist if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, often the first signs of gum disease.
It can also benefit your gums if you're addressing other inflammatory issues in your body. Besides regular medical care, you can reduce your risk for other systemic diseases by eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight at an optimum level and avoiding smoking.
The individual parts of your body aren't isolated islands: Diseases that affect one can eventually affect all. By preventing or treating gum disease as early as possible, you'll also help reduce the effects of other systemic diseases.
When you see your dentist about mouth pain, you expect to hear that it's a decayed or fractured tooth, or maybe a gum infection. But you might be surprised if your dentist tells you there's nothing going on inside your mouth to cause the pain.
It's not that far-fetched: The pain could be originating elsewhere. This is known as referred pain, where pain radiates from its origin to another part of the body.
Unless there's an obvious oral cause for the pain, it's best not to undertake any treatment involving the mouth until we've pinpointed the actual cause. That said, the cause is usually not too far away.
Facial nerve disorders. The trigeminal nerve courses on either side of the face from the upper skull through the cheeks and ends around the lower jaw. But if portions of the nerve's protective sheathing become damaged, the slightest touch on the face could trigger prolonged pain. Because of its proximity to the jaw, the pain can often be misidentified as a toothache.
Jaw joint pain. When joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull become traumatized and inflamed, a condition known as Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), the pain can radiate toward the jaw. In some cases, the person may easily mistake the muscle pain and spasming for a toothache.
Ear infection. As with TMD, your "toothache" may actually stem from an ear infection or congestion radiating pain into the jaw. It can also happen in the opposite direction—ear pain could actually be the referred pain of an infected back tooth—emphasizing the importance of precisely determining the originating source of any pain in the jaws or face.
Sinus pain. The large maxillary sinuses are located on either side of the face just above the back of the upper jaw. Because of its proximity, pain from a sinus infection can seem to be coming from one of the back molars. And as with ear infections, frequent sinus infections could in fact be caused by an infected tooth penetrating through the sinus floor.
These and other examples of possible referred pain illustrate how "tricky" a presumed toothache can be. Finding the true source of oral or facial pain will ensure you receive the proper treatment for lasting relief.
You've probably heard your dentist say more than once to cut back on sweets. That's good advice not only for keeping your teeth healthy, but your whole body as well.
As a carbohydrate, a macronutrient that helps supply energy to the body's cells, sugar is prevalent naturally in many foods, particularly fruits and dairy. The form of which we're most concerned, though, is refined sugar added to candy, pastries and other processed foods.
Believe it or not, three out of four of the 600,000 food items on supermarket shelves contain refined sugar, often hiding under names like "high fructose corn syrup" or "evaporated cane syrup." So-called healthy foods with labels like "low fat" or "diet" have added sugar and chemicals to replace the taste of fat they've removed.
But perhaps the biggest sugar sources in the average U.S. diet are sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks. With the added volume of sugar in processed foods, the growing consumption of sweetened beverages has pushed the average American's sugar intake to nearly 20 teaspoons a day—more than three times the recommended daily allowance.
And right along with the increased consumption of sugar, cases of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other systemic diseases have likewise risen. And, yes, preventable tooth decay continues to be a problem, especially in children, with sugar a major contributing factor in the prevalence of cavities.
So, what can you do to keep your daily sugar intake within healthy bounds?
- Check ingredient labels on packaged food for added sugar, chemicals or preservatives. If it contains sugar or "scientific"-sounding ingredients, leave it on the shelf.
- Be wary of health claims on food packaging. "Low fat," for example, is usually an indicator of added sugar.
- Drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sodas, sports drinks or even juices. Doing so will vastly lower your daily intake of sugar.
A healthy diet with much less sugar and regular exercise will help you stay healthy. And with a lower risk for tooth decay, your teeth will also reap the benefits.
If you would like more information on the effects of sugar on your oral and general 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 “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
So, when should you begin taking measures to prevent tooth decay in your child's teeth? When their teeth first begin to show? When all of their primary (baby) teeth are in? Or, wait until their permanent teeth begin erupting?
Actually, tooth decay can be a problem as early as two months of age, before a child's first tooth even comes in. In essence, then, dental disease prevention should be on your radar soon after your child is born. Here's what you can do to prevent the damage of tooth decay to their teeth now and its impact on their dental health in the future.
Start oral hygiene during nursing. Brushing and flossing are lifetime habits that reduce the risk of dental disease. When your children are young, you'll have to perform these tasks for them, ultimately training them to perform them on their own. But even earlier, before their first tooth, you'll want to clean their gums after feedings with a wet cloth to reduce disease-causing bacteria.
Initiate dental visits by age 1. It's appropriate on or before their first birthday, when most children already have a few primary teeth, to begin regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. Seeing the dentist every six months at an early age will help your child stay well ahead of tooth decay. And starting visits early increases the likelihood it will become a regular part of their lives into adulthood.
Protect against decay. You and your dentist are partners in protecting your child from dental disease. Besides daily oral hygiene, you can also help by providing a dental-friendly diet, and especially restricting sugary snacks and avoiding sweetened liquids in bedtime bottles (including breast milk or formula). In addition to routine care, your dentist can also provide other measures to fight decay, like sealants or topical fluoride.
It's also important for you to set an example for your child to follow. Children soak up what's important to their parents—in this case, watching you take care of your teeth and seeing the dentist as a friend and ally against dental disease. That's your end goal: preventing dental disease now, and instilling the value of dental care that will last your child a lifetime.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid 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 “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids.”
If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
If you would like more information on gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”