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Posts for category: Oral Health
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
Do you ever get sores in your mouth that seem to appear for no reason and then disappear just as mysteriously? Chances are they’re aphthous ulcers — better known as canker sores.
These are irritating breaks in the protective lining of the mouth (oral mucosa) — akin to a blister without its dome — that are yellowish/grayish in the center surrounded by an aggravated red border. They typically develop in movable, thinner oral membranes such as the cheeks and lips, under the tongue, or the soft palate at the back of the mouth. Because they expose underlying tissues, canker sores can be quite painful, especially when eating or drinking.
Recurrent aphthous ulcers (RAS) affect up to 25% of the population, making them one the most common oral conditions. They are considered “minor” when they are smaller and “major” when they exceed 1 centimeter in diameter. Larger ones take more time to heal and may cause scarring. A less common type is herpetiform aphthae, so named because the small clusters of ulcers that characterize it are similar in appearance to those caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV1). However, unlike herpes-related cold sores and fever blisters, canker sores in any form are not contagious. Another difference is that ulcers from the herpes virus occur more frequently on the gums and hard palate.
No Clear Cause
There is no clear cause for canker sores. They often appear during stressful periods and times when resistance is down, suggesting an immune system malfunction. They may also be an allergic reaction to ingredients in food or oral products like toothpaste or mouthwash or related to an underlying medical conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases or nutritional deficiencies.
Canker sores usually resolve on their own within seven to ten days. Various over-the-counter and prescription treatments can help facilitate healing and help minimize pain along the way. If they do not resolve within two weeks; or they increase in severity, frequency or duration; or you’re never without a mouth sore it’s important to seek dental or medical attention as they could signify a more serious condition.
If you would like more information about canker sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Mouth Sores.”
Exchanging passionate kisses with big-screen star Jennifer Lawrence might sound like a dream come true. But according to Liam Hemsworth, her Hunger Games co-star, it could also be a nightmare… because J.Law’s breath wasn’t always fresh. “Anytime I had to kiss Jennifer was pretty uncomfortable,” Hemsworth said on The Tonight Show.
Lawrence said the problem resulted from her inadvertently consuming tuna or garlic before the lip-locking scenes; fortunately, the two stars were able to share a laugh about it later. But for many people, bad breath is no joke. It can lead to embarrassment and social difficulties — and it occasionally signifies a more serious problem. So what causes bad breath, and what can you do about it?
In 9 out of 10 cases, bad breath originates in the mouth. (In rare situations, it results from a medical issue in another part of the body, such as liver disease or a lung infection.) The foul odors associated with bad breath can be temporarily masked with mouthwash or breath mints — but in order to really control it, we need to find out exactly what’s causing the problem, and address its source.
As Lawrence and Hemsworth found out, some foods and beverages can indeed cause a malodorous mouth. Onions, garlic, alcohol and coffee are deservedly blamed for this. Tobacco products are also big contributors to bad breath — which is one more reason to quit. But fasting isn’t the answer either: stop eating for long enough and another set of foul-smelling substances will be released. Your best bet is to stay well hydrated and snack on crisp, fresh foods like celery, apples or parsley.
And speaking of hydration (or the lack of it): Mouth dryness and reduced salivary flow during the nighttime hours is what causes “morning breath.” Certain health issues and some medications can also cause “dry mouth,” or xerostomia. Drinking plenty of water can encourage the production of healthy saliva — but if that’s not enough, tell us about it: We may recommend switching medications (if possible), chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva substitute.
Finally, maintaining excellent oral hygiene is a great way to avoid bad breath. The goal of oral hygiene is to control the harmful bacteria that live in your mouth. These microorganisms can cause gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath — so keeping them in check is good for your overall oral health. Remember to brush twice and floss once daily, stay away from sugary foods and beverages, and visit the dental office regularly for checkups and professional cleanings.
So did J.Law apologize for the malodorous makeout session? Not exactly. “[For] Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, yeah, I’ll brush my teeth,” she laughed.
Hemsworth jokingly agreed: “If I was kissing Christian Bale I probably would have brushed my teeth too. With you, it’s like, ‘Eh. Whatever.’”
If you would like more information about bad breath and oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More than Just Embarrassing.”
Sports drinks have been widely touted as an ideal way to replenish carbohydrates, electrolytes and, of course, fluids after a strenuous event or workout. But the mixtures of many popular brands often contain acid and added sugar, similar to other types of soft drinks. This can create an acidic environment in the mouth that can be damaging to tooth enamel.
Of course, the best way to replenish fluids after most strenuous activities is nature’s hydrator, water. If, however, you or a family member does drink the occasional sports beverage, you can help reduce the acid impact and help protect tooth enamel by following these 3 tips.
Avoid sipping a sports drink over long periods. Sipping on a drink constantly for hours interferes with saliva, the bodily fluid responsible for neutralizing mouth acid. But because the process can take thirty minutes to an hour to bring the mouth to a normal pH, saliva may not be able to complete neutralization because of the constant presence of acid caused by sipping. It’s best then to limit sports drinks to set periods or preferably during mealtimes.
Rinse your mouth out with water after drinking. Enamel damage occurs after extended periods of exposure to acid. Rinsing your mouth out immediately after consuming a sports drink will wash away a good amount of any remaining acid and help normalize your mouth’s pH level. And since water has a neutral pH, it won’t add to the acid levels.
Wait an hour to brush after eating. As mentioned before, saliva takes time to neutralize mouth acid. Even in that short period of time, though, acid can soften some of the mineral content in enamel. If you brush during this “soft” period, you may inadvertently brush away some of the minerals. By waiting an hour, you give saliva time not only to neutralize acid but also restore mineral strength to the enamel.
If you would like more information on sports and energy drinks and their 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 “Think Before you Drink.”
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of all Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.