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.
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
There’s been a growing awareness about the effects of gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye and sometimes oats, on certain people. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac Disease (CD), a gluten-related disorder that causes the body’s immune system to work against itself. And if you have CD, you could eventually face dental problems like enamel pitting and erosion.
When a person with CD consumes gluten, their immune system mistakenly identifies the protein as malicious and attacks it. The attack occurs in the membranes that line the digestive system, which in the process destroys cilia, tiny hair-like structures that aid in food absorption. This disrupts the body’s normal absorption of nutrients, which can lead to a number of systemic conditions including intestinal cancer.
Because of the lack of nutrients, your teeth’s enamel may develop defects. You may begin to see dull spots or pitting, or chalky grooves in its normally shiny surface: this is a sign you’ve lost surface enamel crystals (decalcification). You may also be more susceptible to outbreaks of aphthous ulcers (canker sores).
Because symptoms can be misdiagnosed or go unnoticed, it may be years before you know you have CD. You can, however, get a definitive diagnosis through a blood test for gluten antibodies, which is then confirmed with a biopsy of a tissue specimen from the intestine.
While there’s ongoing research for CD-related medication, there’s currently only one recognized treatment for it — remove gluten from your diet. This is much harder than it sounds, and requires knowing what you can and can’t eat, along with strict monitoring of food package labeling. Thankfully, the world is becoming better educated in this respect as more food manufacturers are clearly labeling products containing gluten and restaurants are providing gluten-free menu options.
Once you have dietary controls in place, your dental issues can be treated as any other person, with one exception: none of the products used in treatment like polishing paste or fluoride gels should contain gluten, and must be verified before using.
CD is a serious condition that could even become life-threatening. Knowing you or someone in your family has it will help you protect both your overall health and your teeth.
If you would like more information on the gluten’s effect on 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 “Gluten & Dental Problems.”
October is National Dental Hygiene Month. It’s a great time to talk about your first line of dental defense: your toothbrush.
Are you getting the most out of your tooth-brushing routine at home? Your toothbrush is the primary tool to maintain oral health on a daily basis, so here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Brush gently twice a day, every day, for two minutes each time using a soft toothbrush. Scrubbing with too much force or with hard bristles can damage gums and tooth enamel.
- Use fluoride toothpaste to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride is a mineral that builds tooth enamel to prevent tooth decay.
- Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or when the bristles start to look frayed, curled, or worn.
- Rinse out your mouth thoroughly after brushing to get rid of bacteria and food debris that you worked loose from your teeth.
- Also rinse your toothbrush well after each use to wash away the debris and bacteria you just brushed from your teeth.
- Let your toothbrush dry out between uses. A toothbrush that is stored in a closed container can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Keep your toothbrush to yourself. Sharing toothbrushes is a way to share disease-causing germs as well.
Follow these pointers and come in for regular dental visits to help ensure healthy teeth and a bright smile. If you have any questions about your dental hygiene routine, be sure to ask us.
Whether performed in a dental office or using a home kit, teeth whitening applications are quite effective for bleaching exterior (extrinsic) stains on enamel surfaces. But what if your discoloration comes from inside the tooth? In this case, extrinsic teeth whitening won’t work — you’ll need to undergo an “internal bleaching” method, which can only be performed in a dentist's office.
There are a number of causes for “intrinsic” staining, including too much fluoride exposure or tetracycline use during childhood. One of the more common causes, though, occurs from root canal treatments used to remove the remnants of the pulp tissue inside a tooth’s pulp chamber and root canals. Certain cements used during the procedure to help seal in the filling material and leftover blood pigments can cause the tooth to darken over time.
To alleviate this discoloration, we use a bleaching agent, usually sodium perborate mixed with a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide to achieve a safe, accelerated color change. After determining that the root canal filling is still intact and the bone is healthy, we create a small cavity in the back of the tooth to access the pulp chamber. The chamber is cleaned of any debris or stained material and then thoroughly irrigated. The original root canal filling is then sealed off to prevent leakage from the bleaching agent.
We then place the bleaching agent in the cleaned-out space with a cotton pellet and seal it in with a temporary adhesive. This step is repeated for several days until we achieve the desired shade of white. Once that occurs we then seal the dentin with a more permanent filling and then restore the cavity we created with a composite resin bonded to the enamel and dentin.
If we’re successful in achieving the desired color, intrinsic whitening could help you avoid more costly options like veneers or crowns for an otherwise healthy and attractive tooth. The end result would be the same — a beautiful smile without those unsightly stains.
If you would like more information on treating internal tooth stains, 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 “Whitening Traumatized Teeth.”
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