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.
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
If you’re thinking about getting dental implants, you’re in good company. Dentists have placed more than 3 million of these popular devices since their introduction in the early 1980s.
But if you have multiple missing teeth, you might think the cost of all those individual implants could put them out of your league. Yes, replacing multiple teeth with individual implants can be quite expensive—but implant technology isn’t limited to one tooth at a time. A few well-placed implants can impart their proven durability and stability to other types of restorations.
For example, we can incorporate implants into a bridge for a series of missing teeth. Conventional bridges are normally fixed in place by altering and then crowning natural teeth on each side of the missing teeth gap with a fixed row of prosthetic (false) teeth in the middle to fill it. Instead, two implants placed at the ends of the gap can support the bridge rather than natural teeth. This not only provides greater stability for the bridge, it also avoids permanent altering the natural teeth that would have been used.
Implants can also support a fixed bridge to restore complete tooth loss on a jaw. The new bridge is attached to a few strategically placed implants along the jaw line to equally distribute biting forces. This can result in a strong hold with excellent durability.
We can also use implants to improve traditional dentures. Dentures normally rest directly on the gums’ bony ridges, depending on a snug fit for stability. But bone loss, a natural consequence of missing teeth, can still occur while wearing dentures, which may in fact accelerate the rate of loss due to the appliance’s constant pressure and friction against the gums.
Instead, just a few implants placed along the jaw can, with attachments built into the denture, hold it securely in place. This not only decreases the pressure on the gums, but the natural bone growth that occurs around the implant may even deter bone loss.
Depending on your situation, there could be a viable restoration solution involving implants. Visit our office for a complete examination and evaluation to see if implants could help change your smile forever.
If you would like more information on implant restorations, 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 “Dental Implants 101: the Most Significant Innovation in the Past Century.”
Every February, the American Dental Association sponsors a campaign called National Children’s Dental Health Month. The purpose of this operation is to raise awareness about how important it is to get an early start on developing good dental hygiene habits — and how this can lead to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. So we thought this might be a good time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to do exactly that:
When is it time to start cleaning my baby’s teeth?
As soon as you see one! The earlier your child gets used to a daily dental hygiene routine, the better. Baby teeth that have not fully emerged from beneath the gums can be wiped with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings. A tooth that has grown in completely should be brushed twice daily (once in the morning and once in the evening) with a soft, child-sized tooth brush and a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is an important weapon against tooth decay, but you don’t want your child to swallow too much.
Can babies get cavities?
Absolutely — especially if they are allowed to fall asleep routinely with a bottle filled with anything but water. Milk, formula — even breast milk — all contain sugars that should not be left to pool around your baby’s teeth during sleep, facilitating decay. Juice is an even bigger no-no because it is not only sugary but also acidic.
Can’t I give my child sweets once in a while?
We realize total avoidance of sweets may not be realistic, as beneficial as this would be for your child’s teeth. If you are going to allow your child to have sweets once in a while, better that the treat be given immediately following a meal, and not as a between-meal snack. Soda should really be avoided completely — it’s that bad.
When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?
The experts say: Get it done in year one. That’s right — even though your child won’t have many teeth by age 1, there’s a lot we can do at that first visit to ensure good oral health now and well into the future. We will do everything possible to make sure your little one has a positive first experience in the dental chair; this helps set the tone for the many important preventive visits yet to come. It’s also a great opportunity for you to ask any specific questions you may have, and receive hands-on instruction on how to care for your child’s teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about children’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids” and “Age One Dental Visit.”
Dental crowns are an essential means for restoring damaged or unattractive teeth. A well-crafted crown not only functions well, it looks and blends seamlessly with the rest of the natural teeth.
Crowns are artificial caps that cover an entire visible tooth, often used for heavily decayed or damaged teeth or as added protection after a root canal treatment. Most crowns are produced by a dental lab, but some dentists are now creating them in-office with computer-based milling equipment. On the whole, the various crowns now available function adequately as teeth—but they can vary in their appearance quality.
In the early to mid 20th Century the all-metal crown was the standard; but while durable, it could be less than eye-pleasing. Although more life-like dental porcelain existed at the time, it tended to be brittle and could easily shatter under chewing stress.
Dentists then developed a crown that combined the strength of metal with the attractiveness of porcelain: the porcelain fused to metal or PFM crown. The PFM crown had a hollow, metal substructure that was cemented over the tooth. To this metal base was fused an outer shell of porcelain that gave the crown an attractive finish.
The PFM reigned as the most widely used crown until the mid 2000s. By then improved forms of porcelain reinforced with stronger materials like Lucite had made possible an all-ceramic crown. They’re now the most common crown used today, beautifully life-like yet durable without the need for a metal base.
All-ceramics may be the most common type of crown installed today, but past favorites’ metal and PFM are still available and sometimes used. So depending on the type and location of the tooth and your own expectations, there’s a right crown for you.
However, not all crowns even among all-ceramic have the same level of aesthetic quality or cost—the more life-like, the more expensive. If you have dental insurance, your plan’s benefits might be based on a utilitarian but less attractive crown. You may have to pay more out of pocket for the crown you and your dentist believe is best for you.
Whatever you choose, though, your modern dental crown will do an admirable, functional job. And it can certainly improve your natural tooth’s appearance.
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