Posts for category: Oral Health
Perhaps you haven’t thought of it quite this way, but saliva is one of the true wonders of the human body. This unassuming fluid performs a variety of tasks to aid digestion and help protect your mouth from disease. And you hardly notice it — except when it’s not there.
That’s the case for millions of people in America who have a chronic condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This happens when the salivary glands don’t secrete enough saliva, normally two to four pints daily.
Of course, we can experience mouth dryness when we first wake up (saliva flow ebbs while we sleep), feel stressed, use tobacco, or consume alcohol and certain foods like onions or spices. It becomes a problem, though, when periods of low saliva become chronic. Without its preventive capabilities, you’ll be at much higher risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Chronic dry mouth can occur for various reasons: systemic diseases like cancer or autoimmune deficiencies can cause it, as well as radiation or chemotherapy treatments. One of the most common causes, though, is medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. The surgeon general identifies over 500 known drugs that may inhibit saliva production, including some antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. It’s often why older people who take more medications than younger people suffer more as a population from dry mouth.
Because of its long-term health effects, it’s important to try to boost saliva flow. If your mouth is consistently dry, try to drink more fluids during the day. If you suspect your medication, see if your physician can prescribe a different drug. It also helps to drink a little water before and after taking oral medication.
We may also recommend medication or other substances that stimulate saliva or temporarily substitute for it. Xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that also inhibits bacterial growth, can help relieve dryness. You’ll often find it in gums or mints.
Chronic dry mouth is more than a minor irritation — it can lead to more serious conditions. In addition to these tips, be sure to also keep up your regular dental visits and maintain a daily schedule of oral hygiene to prevent dental disease.
If you would like more information on overcoming 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.”
Though it sounds like an elite academic society, "The Freshman 15" is anything but. The phrase stands for the weight, pegged at 15 pounds, that many incoming students gain in their first few months at college—the result of poor dietary habits brought on by a hectic schedule and newfound freedoms.
These and other habits have consequences—and not just for unwanted pounds. Many can lead to dental problems, which could continue to overshadow a student's oral health long after college is over.
Here, then, are 5 tips to pass along to your newly minted college student (or anyone else, for that matter) to keep their teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
Brush and floss daily. While a hectic course load beckons, a student should still make time every day to brush and floss their teeth. Along with regular dental cleanings, these two tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a bacterial film that causes dental disease. Daily oral hygiene is good insurance against developing future tooth decay and gum disease.
Cut back on sugar. A student may rely on sugary snacks for a boost of energy throughout their day, but it could be setting them up for dental disease. That's because harmful oral bacteria also feed on sugar. Choose instead real, whole foods and snacks that are better for teeth—and for avoiding those dreaded freshman pounds.
Limit acidic beverages. Besides added sugar, sodas, sports and energy drinks also contain acid, another ingredient unfriendly to teeth. During prolonged contact, acid softens and erodes the mineral content in tooth enamel, opening the door to tooth decay. Those who drink these kinds of beverages should limit their consumption as much as possible.
Don't smoke. Smoking dries out the mouth, preventing saliva from buffering the acid that causes tooth decay. Its main ingredient nicotine restricts the mouth's blood vessels, further increasing the chances of dental disease. Tobacco use in general, including smoking, is also a key risk factor for oral cancer.
Avoid mouth "jewelry." It might be the bomb on campus, but lip rings, tongue bolts and other mouth jewelry can cause dental damage. Besides the possibility of chipped teeth, metal jewelry in or around the mouth is more likely to cause infection. Better to skip this fashion statement for healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on good oral 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.
If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.
Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.
Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.
Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.
Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.
It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.
If you would like more information on dental care during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and for good reason—it's your teeth's first line of defense against wearing and harmful oral bacteria. But although enamel can “take a licking and keep on ticking,” it can lose its mineral content, soften and eventually erode to expose the teeth to bacteria.
Here are 4 tips for protecting your enamel so it keeps on protecting you.
Practice sound brushing techniques. Brushing is necessary for removing bacterial plaque that can trigger dental disease. But how you brush could prove not only ineffective, but also harmful to your enamel. So, be sure you're brushing all tooth surfaces, but not too forcefully or too often (twice a day is enough)—otherwise, you could wear down enamel and damage your gums.
Wait to brush after eating. The acid levels in the mouth go up during eating, causing an immediate softening of enamel. But saliva then goes to work neutralizing acid and helping to restore enamel's mineral content. Since it takes saliva about thirty minutes to an hour to complete this task, wait on brushing at least that long. Otherwise, you might remove tiny traces of temporarily softened enamel.
Avoid eating right before bed. While we sleep, our saliva flow decreases until we wake up. If you eat just before bed, you may not be giving your saliva enough time to neutralize acid before it “goes to sleep” with you for the night. So, give your saliva ample time to neutralize any remaining acid by not eating anymore at least an hour before you turn in.
Limit drinking acidic beverages. Some of our favorite drinks—sodas, energy and sports drinks, and even some juices—can be high in acid. To protect your enamel, reduce your consumption of these types of beverages in favor of water or milk (the calcium in the latter will also benefit your enamel). When you do drink acidic beverages, use a straw to minimize contact of the fluid with your enamel.
Healthy and strong enamel is the key to healthy and strong teeth. It's worth taking these steps to protect this important defense against destructive tooth decay.
If you would like more information on personal 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.