Posts for: October, 2017
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.”
Among the “to-do” items on your pre-dive checklist like “Pack wetsuit” or “Fill scuba tanks,” be sure to add one other: “Check my dental health status.”
While that may seem like an odd concern, the changes in atmospheric pressure you encounter while diving (or flying, for that matter) could amplify oral sensitivity and intensify pain if you have pre-existing teeth or jaw problems.
The reason for this is the effect of basic physics on the body. All anatomical structures, including organs, bones and muscles, equalize external pressures the body encounters. We don’t notice this at normal atmospheric pressure, but when we encounter an extreme — either lower pressure during air flight or higher pressure during a scuba dive — we may feel the effects of the pressure on any structure with a rigid-walled surface filled with either air or fluid. These structures can’t equalize the pressure as fast as other areas, resulting in pain or discomfort. This is known medically as “barotrauma,” or more commonly as a “squeeze.”
One structure in particular could have an effect on your upper teeth and jaws: the sinus cavities of the skull, particularly the maxillary sinuses just below the eyes. Their lower walls are right next to the back teeth of the upper jaw and, more importantly, share the same nerve pathways. It’s quite possible, then, for pain from one area to be felt in the other, commonly known as “referred pain.” A toothache could then be felt in the sinus region, and vice-versa.
During a squeeze, then, pain levels from existing problems in the teeth and jaws that were previously tolerable (or even unnoticed) may well become amplified as the pressure from the sinus cavity impinges upon the jaw. That dull toothache you’ve been having may suddenly become excruciating at 30,000 feet — or 30 meters under the surface.
That’s why it’s important to see us if you’ve experienced any signs of tooth decay, gum disease or TMD, including pain, before your next dive or air flight. And, if you encounter any significant pain while flying or diving, be sure you consult with us as soon as possible when you return. Taking action now could help you avoid a miserable, and potentially dangerous, flying or diving experience in the future.
If you would like more information on pressure changes 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 “Pressure Changes can Cause Tooth and Sinus Pain.”
It’s hard to avoid stress in the 21st Century. We’re all bombarded with stressors, from work to family — even our smart phones!
The problem really isn’t the stressors themselves but how we respond to them and try to relieve stress. This can often have a negative effect on our health. One example: bruxism, also known as teeth grinding or clenching.
These habits involve the rhythmic or spasmodic clenching, biting or grinding of the teeth, often involuntarily, beyond normal chewing function. It often occurs while we sleep — jaw soreness the next morning is a telltale sign. While there are other causes, stress is one of the most common for adults, bolstered by diet and lifestyle habits like tobacco or drug use, or excessive caffeine and alcohol.
Teeth grinding’s most serious consequence is the potential for dental problems. While teeth normally wear as we age, grinding or clenching habits can accelerate it. Wearing can become so extensive the enamel erodes, possibly leading to fractures or cracks in the tooth.
When dealing with this type of bruxism, we must address the root cause: your relationship to stress. For example, if you use tobacco, consider quitting the habit — not only for your overall health, but to remove it as a stress stimulant. The same goes for cutting back on your consumption of caffeinated or alcoholic drinks.
Adopt an “unwinding” pattern at night before you sleep to better relax: for example, take a warm bath or keep work items or digital media out of the bedroom.Â Many people also report relaxation or stress-relief techniques like meditation, mindfulness or biofeedback helpful.
There’s another useful tool for easing the effects of nighttime teeth grinding: an occlusal guard. This custom-fitted appliance worn while you sleep prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other when you clench them. This can greatly reduce the adverse effects on your teeth while you’re working on other stress coping techniques.
Teeth grinding or clenching can prove harmful over time. The sooner you address this issue with your dentist or physician, the less likely you’ll experience these unwanted consequences.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”
Your diet can play as important a role in your dental health as brushing and flossing. What you eat (particularly sugar) could increase your risk of tooth decay despite your hygiene habits. And vice-versa: a nutritious diet may help boost your preventive efforts even more.
Let’s look at two very different approaches to diet and see how your dental health is likely to fare under each.
A High Sugar/Low Fiber Diet. Modern western diets heavy with processed foods are inundated with two particular types of refined sugars. The first is sucrose, which comes mainly from either beets or sugar cane. Foods (and beverages) may also contain a refined sugar from corn known as high fructose corn syrup. Refined sugars are added for taste to thousands of products like cake, candy, soft drinks or even condiments like catsup. These “free” sugars are easily processed by bacteria into acid. Combine that with fewer fibrous vegetables in the diet and you have a recipe not only for obesity and other health issues, but tooth decay as well.
A High Fiber/Low Sugar Diet. Fruits and vegetables make up a large part of this kind of diet, while added free sugars much less so. That doesn’t make this diet sugar-free: all plant products contain simple sugars produced by photosynthesis. The difference, though, is that these sugars — glucose, fructose and sucrose (natural, not the refined versions) — are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion because of the fiber content of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also receive other nutrients like vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Eating this kind of diet will help decrease the risk of tooth decay.
So there you have it: eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and restrict your intake of processed foods and sweets. You may also want to fine-tune a few items to maximize decay prevention: for example, eat starches in their natural form (whole grains, beans or certain fruits) as much as possible rather than refined or in combination with added sugar (cakes, cookies, etc.). And while fresh fruits with their naturally occurring sugars aren’t a significant factor in tooth decay, dried fruits (especially with added sugar) might.
If you would like more information on proper diets for better oral 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 “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
If you’ve lost some teeth you may eventually want to replace them with dental implants. Implants by far are the restoration of choice due to their life-likeness and durability. But those advantages don’t come cheaply — implants can be expensive especially for multiple teeth.
If you’re forced to wait financially for implants, you still have other intermediary options like a removable partial denture (RPD). The conventional RPD has a rigid acrylic base colored to resemble gum tissue supported by a metal frame with attached prosthetic (false) teeth at the missing teeth locations. They’re held secure in the mouth through metal clasps that fit over the remaining teeth.
But these conventional RPDs can sometimes be uncomfortable to wear and don’t always cover the bottom of the gum completely. If this is a concern, you might consider an alternative: flexible RPDs. The base of this RPD is made of a form of flexible nylon rather than acrylic plastic. They’re much more lightweight but still fit securely in the mouth with thin plastic extensions rather than metal clasps. The base can also be more easily formed to cover areas where gum tissue may have receded.
While flexible RPDs hold up better to wear and tear than their conventional counterparts, they must still be maintained like any other appliance. They can accumulate plaque (bacterial biofilm) responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, so daily thorough cleaning is a must. And if there fit becomes loose they can be more difficult to reline or repair than other types of dentures.
They also share a common weakness with other dentures — they can’t prevent and may even stimulate bone loss. As bone ages, old cells dissolve and new ones form to take their place. As we eat and chew our teeth transmit the forces generated through the teeth to the bone to stimulate it to grow. RPDs and other dentures can’t transmit this stimulus, so the bone replaces much slower to the point that the bone volume can diminish.
That’s why it’s best to consider any RPD as a temporary solution until you can obtain an implant for a more permanent and bone-friendly option. In the meantime, though, an RPD can provide you with a great solution for both form and function for missing teeth.
If you would like more information on RPD choices, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures: An Aesthetic Way to Replace Teeth Temporarily.”