The vast majority of teeth and gum problems stem from two dental diseases: dental caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease. But although these dental diseases are all too common in our society, there’s a good chance you can prevent them from harming your own dental health.
That’s because we know the primary cause for both of them—dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that can build up on tooth surfaces usually as a result of poor oral hygiene. Remove this plaque build-up daily and you dramatically decrease your risk for disease.
The primary way to do this is with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. While regular dental cleanings remove plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) from hard to reach places, it’s your regular practice that removes the bulk of daily buildup. Interrupting plaque buildup helps keep disease-causing bacteria at bay.
That also means performing these two hygiene tasks thoroughly. For example, you should brush all tooth surfaces, especially in the rear and along the entire gum line (a complete brushing should take at least 2 minutes). And by the way, “thorough” doesn’t mean “aggressive”—a gentle circular motion is all you need. If you scrub too hard, you run the risk over time of damaging your gums.
And while many people discount flossing as a hard and unpleasant task, it’s still necessary: at least half of the plaque in your mouth accumulates between the teeth where brushing can’t reach effectively. If you find flossing too difficult, you can take advantage of tools to make the task easier. A floss threader will make it easier to get floss through your teeth; you could also use an oral irrigator, a device that emits a pressurized spray of water to loosen and flush away some plaque.
Along with dental visits at least twice a year, daily brushing and flossing is the best way to reduce your risk of both tooth decay and gum disease. Avoiding these two diseases will help ensure your smile is attractive and healthy throughout your life.
If you would like more information on preventing dental disease, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
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.”
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be a priority.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
Dental anxiety is a common problem: it’s estimated that one in two Americans admits to some level of nervousness about seeing the dentist. On the extreme side of this statistic about 15% of the population even avoid or postpone dental care because of it. While comedy shows routinely make fun of people’s fear of the dentist, the consequences of not receiving needed dental care due to dental anxiety are no laughing matter.
Fortunately, visiting the dentist doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking, butterflies-in-the-stomach experience. Here are 3 ways to make sure your next visit is more pleasant.
The right dentist. Dental care is more than technical—it’s also personal and relational. The most important element for reducing dental visit anxiety is a provider you’re comfortable with and that you trust. It’s especially important for high anxiety patients to find a dentist who also has compassion for how they feel and won’t judge them—instead, working with them to find just the right combination of techniques and possible medications that encourage relaxation.
Oral sedation. For many people nervous about dental visits the answer could be prescribed sedation medication taken an hour or so before their appointment. Typically a mild sedative, the dose is just enough to help them relax. It’s also often coupled with other methods like nitrous oxide or local anesthesia for a pain-free and unstressed experience.
IV sedation. For people with high levels of anxiety, it’s often beneficial to increase the level of sedation. One of the best ways to do this is with an intravenous flow of medication that will place a person in a deeper state of relaxation. Although this method requires careful vital sign monitoring during the procedure, it’s often the best way to calm patients with high anxiety so they can receive the dental care they need.
Working with your dentist, you can develop just the right mix of these and other methods for making your dental visits easier. No matter what your level of anxiety, you don’t have to avoid the dentist nor needed dental care.
If you would like more information on reducing anxiety during dental visits, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
Tooth decay is an ever present danger for your baby’s developing teeth. It begins with disease-causing bacteria feasting on leftover sugar, producing high levels of oral acid that slowly dissolves the teeth’s protective enamel. The softened enamel then becomes an open door for decay to infect the tooth.
Meanwhile, those bacteria continue to eat and produce acid….
So how can you stop this devastating cycle? Besides daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, the most important thing you can do is deprive bacteria in your baby’s mouth of sugar through limiting their consumption of it. This means you’ll first need to identify the different sources of sugar available to your baby—and some of them might surprise you.
Here, then, are 3 not-so-obvious sugar sources your baby might be consuming.
During feeding. If you’re breast-feeding, you may not think this is causing a sugar problem for your baby. True, breast milk by itself doesn’t promote decay: it’s the combination of it with other sugar-rich foods and liquids the baby might be consuming as they get older. Together this could significantly increase their risk of pediatric tooth decay (also known as early childhood caries or ECC). So, be careful to limit sugar in other things they’re eating or drinking in addition to nursing.
24/7 Baby bottles and pacifiers. To calm infants at nap or sleep time, parents or caregivers often use bottles filled with sweet liquids or pacifiers dipped in jam, syrup or sugar. This practice increases decay risk from both the added sugar and its constant availability to bacteria in the mouth around the clock. Instead, avoid this practice and limit any sugary foods or liquids to mealtimes.
Medications. Some medications an infant may be taking for a chronic illness may contain small amounts of sugar. Additionally, medications like antihistamines can reduce the production of saliva that’s needed to neutralize acid after meals. If your child is on medication, ask your healthcare provider about its dental effects and if there are any sugar-free alternatives. Be sure to keep up daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits too.
Limiting your baby’s sugar intake is critical in preventing tooth decay. It’s one of the most important things you can do to protect their dental health.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why It’s Important for Your Baby.”
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