Posts for category: Oral Health
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
From the time they're born, you do everything you can to help your children develop a healthy body. That should include their teeth and gums. It's not over-dramatizing to say that what you do now may set the pattern for a healthy mouth for the rest of their life.
Here, then, are 4 things you should be doing for your children's oral health before they begin school.
Train them to brush and floss. Good hygiene habits have one primary purpose — remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, so focus on brushing and later flossing as soon as their first teeth appear in the mouth, gradually training them to perform the tasks themselves. You can also teach them to test their efforts with a rub of the tongue — if it feels smooth and “squeaky,” their teeth are clean!
Keep your own oral bacteria to yourself. Children aren't born with decay-producing bacteria — it's passed on to them through physical contact from parents and caregivers. To limit their exposure to these “bad” bacteria, avoid kissing infants on the lips, don't share eating utensils and don't lick a pacifier to clean it off.
Eat healthy — and watch those sweets. Building up healthy teeth with strong enamel is as important to decay prevention as daily hygiene. Be sure they're getting the nutrients they need through a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy (and set a good example by eating nutritiously too). Sugar is a prime food source for bacteria that cause tooth decay, so avoid sugary snacks if possible and limit consumption to mealtimes.
Wean them off pacifiers and thumb sucking. It's quite normal for children to suck pacifiers and their thumbs as infants and young toddlers. It becomes a problem for bite development, though, if these habits continue into later childhood. As a rule of thumb, begin encouraging your children to stop sucking pacifiers or their thumbs by age 3.
If you would like more information on promoting your child's 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 “Help your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
Have you ever felt a hot, burning sensation in your mouth—like it had been scalded—but you didn't eat or drink anything that could have caused it?
While you may think you’re hallucinating, there’s another possibility: Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). This condition, which can last for years, produces sensations in the mouth of not only scalding or burning, but also tingling, numbness and a decline in your ability to taste. Patients may feel it throughout their mouth or only in localized areas like the lips, tongue or inside the cheeks.
The exact cause of BMS is also something of a mystery. It’s been theoretically linked to diabetes, vitamin or mineral deficiencies and psychological problems. Because it’s most common among women of menopausal age hormonal changes have been proposed as a factor, although hormone replacement therapy often doesn’t produce any symptomatic relief for BMS.
To complicate matters, other conditions often share the condition’s effects, which need to be ruled out first to arrive at a BMS diagnosis. A feeling of scalding could be the result of mouth dryness, caused by medications or systemic conditions that inhibit saliva flow. Some denture wearers may display some of the symptoms of BMS due to an allergic reaction to denture materials; others may have a similar reaction to the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate found in some toothpaste that can irritate the skin inside the mouth.
If these other possibilities can be ruled out, then you may have BMS. While unfortunately there’s no cure for the condition, there are ways to lessen its impact. There’s even the possibility that it will resolve itself over time.
Until then, keep your mouth moist by drinking lots of water or using saliva-stimulating products, limiting alcohol, caffeinated drinks or spicy foods and refraining from smoking. If you’re taking medications that could cause dry mouth, speak with your physician about changing to an alternative. And try to reduce stress in your life through exercise, mindfulness practices or support groups.
While BMS isn’t considered harmful to your physical health it can make life less enjoyable. Careful symptom management may help improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth Syndrome, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome: A Painful Puzzle.”
When your mouth is dry, you know it: that sticky, uncomfortable feeling when you first wake up or when you're thirsty. Fortunately, it usually goes away after you eat or drink. But what if your mouth felt like that all the time? Then, it's no longer an irritation—chronic dry mouth could also increase your risk of dental disease.
Chronic dry mouth occurs because of inadequate saliva flow. Saliva plays an important role in preventing dental disease because it neutralizes acid, which can cause the mineral content in tooth enamel to break down and lead to tooth decay. The mouth becomes more acidic right after eating, but saliva can restore its normal pH levels in about an hour—as well as some of the enamel's lost mineral content. Without saliva, your tooth enamel is at greater risk from acid.
While a number of things can potentially interfere with normal saliva production, medication is the most common. More than 500 prescription drugs, including many antihistamines, diuretics or antidepressants, can cause dry mouth. Cancer radiation or chemotherapy treatment and certain metabolic conditions like diabetes or Parkinson's disease can also increase symptoms.
If you are experiencing unusual dry mouth symptoms, see your dentist first for a full examination. Your dentist can measure your saliva flow, check your prescriptions and medical history, and examine your salivary glands for abnormalities. With this more accurate picture of your condition, they can help direct you to the most effective remedies and treatments for the cause.
If medication is the problem, you can talk to your doctor about alternative prescriptions that have a lesser effect on saliva flow. You can also drink more water before and after taking oral medication and throughout the day to help lubricate your mouth. Chewing gums or mints with xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar, can also help: xylitol helps reduce the mouth's bacterial levels, as well as stimulate saliva flow.
Easing your dry mouth symptoms can make your life more pleasant. More importantly, it can reduce your risk of future dental problems caused by a lack of saliva.
If you would like more information on dealing with 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: Learn about the Causes and treatment of this Common Problem.”