Posts for category: Oral Health
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.”
Proponents of legalized marijuana have won phenomenal gains over the last decade. Despite the federal government's continuing criminalization of the drug, several states including California, Colorado and Massachusetts, have voted to legalize its recreational use.
Most people are aware of the social and political controversies the marijuana legalization movement stirs. But there's another side to this roiling issue: the health effects of marijuana, particularly for your teeth and gums. What may be lost beneath the more exciting headlines about ballot initiatives is the growing evidence that habitual marijuana use may increase the risk and severity of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. The spreading infection triggers inflammation, a normal bodily response to disease that's ordinarily beneficial. But if the inflammation becomes chronic it weakens the gums' attachment to the teeth. This can create voids or periodontal pockets of infection around the teeth. The disease can eventually damage the underlying bone, which could accelerate tooth loss.
Poor oral hygiene is the biggest factor for an increased risk of gum disease; thinner gum tissue (an inherited condition or related to poor tooth position) is another factor, as well as lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption. Add marijuana to the list: there's now some evidence that its use increases the risk for more severe periodontal pockets if the disease occurs.
In a recent study, researchers with the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine reviewed statistics on the care for nearly 2,000 adult patients; a quarter of those in the study were frequent marijuana users. The marijuana users proportionately had deeper periodontal pocket occurrences than the rest of the patients in the study that didn't use the drug.
The study doesn't say that marijuana causes periodontal (gum) disease. But it does suggest that marijuana use might increase its severity. As with other substances and practices in our society, marijuana use comes with a caveat: it may be legal where you live, but it may not necessarily be good for your health.
If you would like more information on the effects of marijuana use on your 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 “As More States Legalize Marijuana, Link to Gum Disease is a Concern.”
Brushing and flossing your teeth provides a lot of benefits, including a brighter smile and fresher breath. But the primary benefit—and ultimate goal—is removing dental plaque. This biofilm of bacteria and food remnants on tooth and gum surfaces is the number one cause for dental disease.
Brushing and flossing can effectively keep plaque under control. Unfortunately, plaque can be a stubborn foe, hiding in areas easily missed if you're not thorough enough.
So how do you know you're doing a good job brushing and flossing? One quick way is to use your tongue or dental floss to feel for any grittiness, a possible sign of remaining plaque. Ultimately, your dentist or hygienist can give you the best evaluation of your hygiene efforts during your three or six-month checkup.
But there's another way to find out more definitively how well you're removing plaque in between dental visits: a plaque disclosing agent. These over-the-counter products contain a dye solution that stains plaque so it stands out from clean tooth surfaces.
A disclosing agent, which can come in the form of tablets, swabs or a liquid, is easy to use. After brushing and flossing, you apply the agent according to the product's directions. The dye reacts with plaque to stain it a distinct color. You may also find products with two-tone dyes that stain older and newer plaque different colors to better gauge your overall effectiveness.
You then examine your teeth in the bathroom mirror, looking especially for patterns of missed plaque. For example, if you see dyed plaque running along the gum line, you'll know you need to concentrate your hygiene there.
After observing what you can do to improve your future efforts, you can then brush and floss your teeth to remove as much of the dyed plaque as you can. The staining from the dye is temporary and any remaining will fade over a few hours.
Using a disclosing agent regularly could help you improve your overall hygiene technique and reduce your risk of disease. Ask your dentist for recommendations on products.
If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
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.”
While oral hygiene, a nutritious diet and regular dental visits are all crucial to long-term oral health, these efforts complement what your body already does to keep your mouth healthy. One of the major players in this function is saliva.
Produced by hundreds of glands located throughout the mouth, saliva does much more than help you swallow and wash away food. As you chew, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase breaks down starches in your food to make it easier to digest in the stomach. Saliva also contains antibodies, similar to what’s in tears, which can fight bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Perhaps its most important function, though, is its ability to protect and maintain healthy tooth enamel. The strongest substance in the body, enamel nevertheless has one primary enemy — the acid found in certain foods or as a byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates.
When the ideally neutral pH level of the mouth becomes too acidic (nearly every time you eat), minerals in the enamel begin to soften and dissolve. The increased saliva flow when we eat floods the mouth with buffering agents that neutralize the acid and restore the mouth’s normal pH level. Not only does saliva stop demineralization, but it also restores a good bit of the enamel’s mineral content.
In recent years, a new role for saliva has begun to emerge as a means to diagnose disease. Like blood, urine and other bodily fluids, saliva contains molecules that serve as biological markers for disease. Given the right equipment, saliva has the potential to indicate early signs of cancer (including oral), diabetes and other systemic conditions. As the means to examine saliva for these markers increases it promises to be easier and less expensive to collect and sample than blood, while reducing the chances of transmitting bloodborne diseases to healthcare workers.
It’s a lot to consider with this fluid that you hardly notice, except when it isn’t there. Saliva is proof that our efforts at keeping our mouths healthy cooperate and depend on our bodies’ amazing systems.
If you would like more information on saliva and other ways your body maintains a healthy 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 “Saliva.”