Posts for category: Oral Health
Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.
But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.
For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.
The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.
So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.
It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.
If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.
Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.
As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.
It's normal to have occasional mouth dryness—that "cotton mouth" feeling when you first wake up or after eating a spicy meal. It soon dissipates, though, leaving you no worse for wear other than the memory of an unpleasant sensation.
For some, though, the unpleasant sensation becomes a chronic condition known as xerostomia, in which their mouth feels dry most of the time. And, it can have far-reaching consequences beyond a mere irritation if not treated.
Among the numerous causes for xerostomia, the most common appears to be over-the-counter and prescription medication. An estimated five hundred medications have dry mouth as a potential side-effect, from antihistamines to antidepressants. And because people over 65 are more likely to take medications, they also have a high occurrence of xerostomia.
A person with certain systemic diseases like Parkinson's Disease or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancers of the head and neck may also encounter dry mouth. For example, an autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome, primarily affecting postmenopausal women, can dry out the mouth's mucous membranes.
Chronic dry mouth isn't normal, and often a sign of a health problem that should be examined. And it can lead to more problems with your oral health. Because dry mouth is most likely a reduction in saliva, which helps buffer decay-causing acid and provides antibodies to fight bacteria, having less of this vital fluid can increase your risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
So, what can you do if you're plagued by persistent dry mouth? If you suspect your medications may be a factor, talk with your doctor about whether one of them may be the underlying cause for your symptoms. You may be able to switch to an alternate medication without dry mouth side-effects.
You can also increase your water intake during the day, including drinking more before and after taking medication. And there are a number of products like the artificial sweetener xylitol found in gums and candies that can boost saliva. Your dentist may also be able to recommend products that increase saliva.
Above all, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental cleanings. Taking care of chronic dry mouth could help you avoid dental problems later.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating chronic 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.”
Tooth sensitivity can be quite uncomfortable. But the glancing pain you feel may be more than an irritation — it may also be telling you there’s a deeper problem that needs attention.
As with other types of oral pain, tooth sensitivity can be a symptom for a variety of problems. Some of them are relatively minor, while others require immediate attention. It’s important to pay attention to the details about your tooth sensitivity and what they might be indicating you should do about it.
For example, your teeth may be sensitive to hot or cold foods or beverages. If it’s just a momentary pain it generally doesn’t mean an emergency — it could be a small area of decay on a tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root due to gum recession or overaggressive brushing. Besides seeing us for treatment for any decay, you can adjust your brushing habits to more gentle pressure with a soft-bristled brush. Fluoride toothpaste has also been shown to reduce this kind of sensitivity.
If, however, the pain from hot or cold substances lingers, then decay or some form of trauma may have affected the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. The pulp is rich in nerve fibers and can become inflamed and irritated from the decay or injury. You should visit us as soon as possible: you may require a root canal treatment that will not only relieve the pain but also save the tooth.
If you notice a sharp pain when biting down on food, it’s possible you have a loose filling or even a cracked tooth. As with inner decay, a fracture requires immediate attention. A loose filling should be easy to repair, but if it’s a fracture you may need extensive treatment to save the tooth or, if beyond salvage, have the tooth removed to make way for dental implant or similar restoration.
The key point is not to delay seeking treatment, especially if the pain is persistent, severe or long-lasting. The sooner you visit us about your tooth sensitivity, the sooner you’ll have solutions to stop the discomfort.
If you would like more information on 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 “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of 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 “Root Cavities.”
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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.”