August is National Wellness Month. Since part of staying in good overall health is taking care of your dental health, it's a good time to look at ways you can improve and maintain your oral health. Here are some tips:
Practice good oral hygiene. A fundamental key to a long life of healthy teeth and gums is keeping them clean of dental plaque. This thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing twice and flossing once each day gets rid of that unpleasant grittiness and reduces your risk of disease.
See your dentist regularly. A good daily oral hygiene habit works best at controlling soft plaque. But any that you miss—a possibility even with great brushing and flossing skill—can harden into calculus (tartar). To remove it, you'll need professional cleaning by a dental professional. The American Dental Association recommends a comprehensive dental cleaning at least twice a year to fully minimize your disease risk.
Eat a low-sugar, dental-friendly diet. Oral bacteria love to feast on the leftovers from your eating, especially sugar. So, cutting back on foods with added sugar isn't just good for other aspects of your health, it can also help "starve out" bacteria and reduce their population in your mouth. You can also boost oral health by eating foods rich in minerals like calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, and antioxidants that guard against oral cancer.
See your dentist at the first sign of problems. While hygiene, dental care and a nutritious diet can greatly reduce your risk of disease, it won't eliminate it completely. So see your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, mouth pain or unusual spots on your teeth. The sooner you're diagnosed and treated, the less damage from dental disease and future treatment expense you'll endure.
Manage other inflammatory conditions. If you're dealing with a condition like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, it could increase your risk of gum disease or make any occurrence of it worse. That's because gum disease and many systemic conditions share chronic inflammation as a common link. If an inflammatory condition is not managed through proper treatment, it could worsen any gum disease symptoms you have.
Pursuing wellness is a worthy goal—just be sure you include your oral health in the mix. A healthy mouth is a key ingredient for a healthy life. If you would like more information about gaining and maintaining optimum oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
While pregnancy is an exciting time for expectant mothers, it can pose extra health challenges. This is especially true regarding dental health.
Because of hormonal changes that naturally occur during pregnancy, your teeth and gums are at higher risk for dental disease. These changes can increase cravings for carbohydrates, particularly sugar. Increased sugar consumption feeds bacteria found in dental plaque, which is most responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Hormonal changes can also make your gums more susceptible to infection. Conditions may be favorable for a form of gum disease called pregnancy gingivitis, which can begin as an infection in the surface layers of the gums. But like other forms of gum disease, pregnancy gingivitis can advance below the gum line and lead to serious health consequences.
Because of this "pregnancy effect" on your teeth and gums, there are some things to which you should pay heed while you're expecting. First and foremost, keep up a daily regimen of brushing and flossing to remove accumulated dental plaque. You should also control your sugar intake to minimize bacterial growth that can cause disease.
It's also important for you to continue regular dental visits during your pregnancy. Your dentist will monitor your dental health and initiate treatment if you begin to show signs of disease. Besides professional cleanings, your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial mouthrinses to combat bacteria.
As far as dental procedures, essential treatments like fillings, root canals or extractions are usually considered safe to perform during pregnancy. But elective treatments of a cosmetic nature are best postponed until after your baby's delivery.
One last tip: because of the higher risk of tooth decay or gum disease, be on the lookout for any abnormal signs in your mouth. This includes spots on the teeth, tooth pain or swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you see any of these signs, see your dentist as soon as possible.
Your teeth and gums are indeed at risk for disease during pregnancy. But daily hygiene, regular dental care and attention to signs of disease can help keep that danger at bay.
If you would like more information on prenatal dental care, 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 “Dental Care During Pregnancy.”
The change from primary teeth to permanent is an announcement to the world that a boy or girl is "growing up." "Growing up," though, is still not "grown"—the new teeth are still in a period of development that can affect how we treat them if they're injured or diseased.
While a new tooth erupts with all its anatomical layers, the middle dentin is somewhat thinner than it will be after it matures. The pulp, the tooth's innermost layer, produces new dentin and gradually increases the dentin layer during this early development period. While the pulp continues to produce dentin over a tooth's lifetime, most of it occurs in these early years.
To prevent or stop any infection, we would normally perform a root canal treatment in which we remove the pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals. This poses no real issue in an older tooth with mature dentin. Removing the pulp from an immature tooth, though, could interrupt dentin development and interfere with the tooth's root growth. Besides a higher risk of discoloration, the tooth could become more brittle and prone to fracture.
That's why we place a high priority on preserving a younger tooth's pulp. Rather than a root canal treatment, we may treat it instead with one of a number of modified techniques that interact less with the pulp. Which of these we use will depend on the extent of the pulp's involvement with the injury or disease.
If it's unexposed, we may use a procedure called indirect pulp therapy, where we remove most of the tooth's damaged dentin but leave some of the harder portion intact next to the pulp to avoid exposure. If, though, some but not all of the pulp is damaged, we may perform a pulpotomy: here we remove the damaged pulp tissue while leaving the healthier portion intact. We may then apply a stimulant substance to encourage more dentin production to seal the exposure.
These and other techniques can help repair an injured young tooth while preserving most or all of its vital pulp. Although we can't always use them, when we can they could give the tooth its best chance for a full life.
If you would like more information on caring for your child's teeth, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
A certain news story a few years ago notwithstanding, dentists still recommend flossing along with brushing to adequately remove disease-causing plaque. If there is any controversy at all about flossing, it's whether you should perform it before brushing or after. Each perspective has good reasons.
"Brush First" proponents say their way encourages the formation of a daily hygiene habit, a must for preventing disease. That's because brushing can remove most of the plaque built up on the teeth, while flossing can then remove what's left. If you floss first, though, you'll have to plow through the sticky film with the floss, which can be an unpleasant experience. Facing that every day could make a person less enthusiastic about developing a hygiene habit.
But it's not just about the sensation: depending on the person, the plaque buildup could be so much that the floss becomes clogged with it. You're then moving the plaque rather than removing it. Brushing a lot of the plaque out of the way first will increase the cleaning power of your floss.
The "Floss First" team, though, is undaunted with their own take on the matter. Flossing can loosen up any stuck debris between teeth, making it easier for brushing to clear it away. It can also expose plaque-covered areas between teeth to allow better contact with the fluoride in your toothpaste. And, the amount of plaque you're pulling out in certain areas during flossing could tip you off to beef up your brushing efforts on those areas of heavier plaque accumulation.
One of the prime reasons for flossing first, though, goes back to the comfort factor and human nature. To be honest, for most people flossing isn't as much "fun" as brushing. If you put it off until after brushing, you're more likely not to do it if you find it unpleasant. Doing it first gets the less likeable task out of the way, so you can then do the more likeable one, brushing.
Which approach is best for you? It's really a personal decision, one you can discuss with your dentist. Try both ways, and see which one seems better. But whether you floss first or last, do floss to really reduce your risk for dental disease.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, 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 “Brushing and Flossing: Which Should be Done First?”
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