If you were asked to identify the number one mouth problem affecting dental health, what would you name? Toothaches? Poor hygiene? Jaw joint issues?
Believe it or not, the top issue among 15,000 respondents in a recent American Dental Association (ADA) survey was dry mouth. A full one-third of the respondents had experienced chronic lack of normal saliva flow; difficulty biting and tooth pain, took second and third place, respectively.
We’ve all experienced the discomfort of temporary dry mouth when we first wake up in the morning or after eating certain foods. But chronic dry mouth is much more serious with long-term effects on a person’s teeth and gum health. This is because among its other important properties, saliva helps neutralize enamel-softening mouth acid and restores minerals to enamel after acid contact. Without sufficient saliva flow you’re much more susceptible to dental disease.
While there are several causes for dry mouth, perhaps the most common is as a side effect to at least five hundred known medications. Because older people tend to take more medications than other age groups, dry mouth is an acute problem among people over 60 (a major factor for why dry mouth took the survey’s top health problem spot).
You can help ease dry mouth from medications by first asking your doctor about switching to alternative medications that don’t affect saliva production. If not, be sure to drink more water during the day and especially when you take your oral medication (a few sips before and after).
You can help your dry mouth symptoms from any cause by drinking more water, limiting your consumption of alcohol or caffeine, and avoiding tobacco products. You can also use substances that stimulate saliva flow—a common one is xylitol, an alcohol-based sugar that’s used as a sweetener in certain gums and candies. Not only does xylitol boost saliva flow it also inhibits the growth of bacteria and thus decreases your risk of disease.
And speaking of reducing bacteria and their effects, don’t neglect daily brushing and flossing. These habits, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups, will benefit you just as much as your efforts to reduce dry mouth in avoiding dental disease.
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
After several treatment sessions your periodontal (gum) disease is under control. But, while we may have won this battle, the war rages on. To keep an infection from re-occurring we'll have to remain on guard.
Gum disease begins and thrives on a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque. The infection usually begins as gingivitis, which causes the gums to become red and swollen (inflamed). Untreated it can develop into periodontitis, a more advanced form that progresses deeper into the gum tissues resulting in bone loss.
To treat the disease, we must remove all the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) we can find no matter how deeply they've penetrated below the gum line. Since the deeper it extends the more likely surgical techniques may be necessary to consider, it's better to catch the disease in its earliest stages when plaque can be removed with hand instruments or ultrasonic equipment.
The appropriate treatment technique can effectively stop and even reverse gum disease's effects — but it won't change your susceptibility. Constant vigilance is the best way to significantly reduce your risk of another episode. In this case, our prevention goal is the same as in treatment: remove plaque.
It begins with you learning and applying effective brushing and flossing techniques, and being consistent with these habits every day. As your dentist, we play a role too: we may need to see you as often as every few weeks or quarter to perform meticulous cleaning above and below the gum line. We may also perform procedures on your gums to make it easier to maintain them and your teeth, including correcting root surface irregularities that can accumulate plaque.
Our aim is to reduce the chances of another infection as much as possible. "Fighting the good fight" calls for attention, diligence and effort — but the reward is continuing good health for your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on continuing dental care after gum 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Saliva probably doesn’t rate high on your amazement meter. You’re more likely to notice its absence and the dry irritation that results.
But you might be more impressed with this unsung bodily fluid if you knew all the things it does. It’s definitely a multi-tasker, performing a number of jobs (including aiding in digestion) that not only keep your oral health on track, but your general well-being too. And there are even new testing methods where saliva may even tell us when you’re not doing so well.
Here are 3 more tasks your saliva is doing for your mouth right now that truly makes it amazing.
Cleansing. Your teeth’s chewing action shreds food so it’s easier to digest. But that also leaves behind tiny particles in your mouth. Bacteria feast on these particles (especially carbohydrates like sugar) and produce acid as a byproduct, which can increase your risk of tooth decay. Saliva serves as a kind of “rinse cycle” for your mouth, helping to wash a good bit of these errant particles down your throat and away from hungry bacteria.
Defense. Speaking of bacteria, your mouth is home to millions of them. While most are harmless or even beneficial, a fraction can harm your teeth and gums. Saliva is your first line of defense, emitting an antibody known as Immunoglobulin A that targets these bacteria. Saliva also produces an antibacterial substance called lyzozyme that prevents bacteria from growing.
Enamel Protection. Although it’s the strongest substance in the body, your teeth’s enamel can’t withstand the effects of mouth acid, the by-product of bacterial feeding and growth. Acid levels naturally rise after eating; but even this sudden rise can begin the process of demineralization where minerals in enamel dissolve. Saliva saves the day by first neutralizing the acid and restoring the mouth’s normal pH in about thirty minutes to an hour. It also helps restore minerals in enamel, a process called remineralization. It’s all in a day’s work for this remarkable fluid.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
September is National Gum Care Month. Did you know that advanced periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults? Periodontal disease refers to any disease that affects the structures that hold the teeth in place, including gums, ligaments and bone. In its earliest stage, called gingivitis, the gums become inflamed. When it progresses to periodontitis, both soft and hard tissues that hold the teeth in place are affected, threatening the integrity of the teeth. Some people are more susceptible to periodontal disease than others. Here are some common risk factors:
Poor oral hygiene. Plaque buildup is the primary cause of gum disease. When life gets busy, we may be less diligent about our oral care. This allows bacteria in the mouth to form a biofilm (plaque), which causes inflammation of the gums.
Heredity: Some people are genetically more predisposed to gum disease. Look at your family history. Have any of your relatives had gum disease or lost their teeth?
Pregnancy. Gums are sensitive to hormone fluctuations, and it is not uncommon for pregnant women to experience an inflammation of the gums known as “pregnancy gingivitis.” Gingivitis — characterized by red, swollen gums that bleed easily — is the beginning stage of gum disease.
Age: The chance of developing gum disease increases with age. Over 70% of Americans 65 and older have periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This may be influenced by other diseases, medications that cause dry mouth, or other causes of plaque buildup.
Diet: Eating too many simple carbohydrates (those found in sugar, white bread, white rice and mashed potatoes, for example) is linked to chronic inflammation in the body, which increases the risk of gum disease.
Smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for the development and progression of gum disease. Since nicotine constricts blood vessels, smokers may not see the typical symptoms such as red, puffy, bleeding gums, so the disease may cause damage before smokers realize there is a problem with their gums.
Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes puts you at higher risk of periodontal disease. Not only can diabetes make gum disease worse, gum disease can make diabetes symptoms worse.
Our aim is not to scare you but to help you become aware of factors that can increase your risk of gum disease. Many of these factors are not under your control. However, you can do your part to prevent gum disease by staying on top of the things you can control. Let us know about any new medications you are taking, eat a balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates and other nutrients and, if relevant, manage your diabetes and explore programs that will help you quit smoking.
Fortunately, good oral hygiene and regular professional cleanings can turn early gum disease around, so if you have any of the risk factors that contribute to periodontal disease, be extra diligent about your oral hygiene routine. And make sure you come in for regular dental checkups and cleanings. If you show signs of gum disease, we may recommend that you come in for more frequent cleanings.
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