Posts for: March, 2016
Daily personal care is essential for optimal oral health. Brushing and flossing in particular keep bacteria and acid, the main causes of dental disease, at manageable levels. But to gain the most benefit from your personal care, you need to perform these tasks effectively with the proper techniques and equipment.
For most people brushing begins with a soft-bristled, multi-tufted toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste that helps strengthen enamel. You should hold the brush at a slight angle and brush with a gentle motion to remove plaque, the main cause of gum disease and tooth decay — if you’re too aggressive by brushing too hard or too long, you could damage the gums. You should brush no more than twice a day for two minutes, and at least thirty minutes to an hour after eating to allow saliva time to neutralize any remaining acid and help restore minerals to enamel.
Although some people find flossing difficult to perform, it remains an important component of daily care. Flossing once a day removes plaque from between teeth where a brush can’t reach. If you need help with your technique using string floss, we’ll be glad to provide instruction at your next visit. If you have bridges, braces or other dental restorations or appliances that make string flossing difficult, you might consider other options like floss threaders or a water flosser.
There are also dietary and lifestyle choices you can make to enhance your daily care: limit sugary or acidic foods to mealtime and avoid between meal snacks to reduce bacteria and acid in the mouth; drink water to keep your mouth moist, which will inhibit plaque buildup; and stop tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and chewing habits like clenching or biting on hard objects. Above all, be sure to visit us at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups, or when you notice abnormalities like bleeding gums, pain or sores.
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy can be done, but it requires a daily care commitment. Performing these hygiene habits in an effective manner will help preserve your teeth for a lifetime.
Your regular dental checkups should periodically include an important screening for oral cancer, especially as you grow older. Although oral cancers make up less than 3% of all other types, they’re among the most deadly with a 58% survival rate after five years.
Besides hereditary factors, oral cancer is strongly linked to tobacco use, alcohol abuse or diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a greater concern as we age: 90% of new cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40, heightening the need for regular screenings. These screenings become all the more important because many early sores or lesions can mimic other conditions like canker sores — without early detection, the disease could already be in advanced stages when it’s diagnosed.
An oral screening for cancer involves both sight and touch. We’ll first look for any suspicious lesions and red or white patches in the soft tissues of the face, neck, lips and mouth. We’ll then feel for any abnormal lumps on the mouth floor, the sides of the neck and in gland locations. We’ll also examine all sides of the tongue including underneath, as well as the tissues lining the back of your throat.
If we notice anything that’s concerning we may then perform a biopsy by removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue and have it examined microscopically for the presence of cancer cells. We may also remove any lesions deemed pre-cancerous as an added precaution against possible cancer development.
The American Cancer Society recommends an oral cancer screening annually for people forty years or older and every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 39. Even better, we recommend all adults undergo a screening every year. This, along with ending tobacco use and other lifestyle and dietary changes, will greatly improve your chances of remaining free of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on detecting and treating oral cancer, 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 “Oral Cancer.”
Other than the common cold, tooth decay is the most prevalent disease in the world. And while a cavity or two may seem like a minor matter, tooth decay’s full destructive potential is anything but trivial. Without proper prevention and treatment, tooth decay can cause pain, tooth loss and, in rare cases, even death.
This common disease begins with bacteria in the mouth. Though these microscopic organisms’ presence is completely normal and at times beneficial, certain strains cause problems: they consume left over carbohydrates in the mouth like sugar and produce acid as a byproduct. The higher the levels of bacteria the higher the amount of acid, which disrupts the mouth’s normal neutral pH.
This is a problem because acid is the primary enemy of enamel, the teeth’s hard protective outer shell. Acid causes enamel to lose its mineral content (de-mineralization), eventually producing cavities. Saliva neutralizes acid that arises normally after we eat, but if the levels are too high for too long this process can be overwhelmed. The longer the enamel is exposed to acid, the more it softens and dissolves.
While tooth decay is a global epidemic, dental advances of the last century have made it highly preventable. The foundation for prevention is fluoride in toothpaste and effective oral hygiene — daily brushing and flossing to removing plaque, a thin film of food remnant on teeth that’s a feeding ground for bacteria, along with regular dental visits for more thorough cleaning and examination. This regular regimen should begin in infancy when teeth first appear in the mouth. For children especially, further prevention measures in the form of sealants or topical fluoride applications performed in the dentist office can provide added protection for those at higher risk.
You can also help your preventive measures by limiting sugar or other carbohydrates in your family’s diet, and eating more fresh vegetables, fruit and dairy products, especially as snacks. Doing so reduces food sources for bacteria, which will lower their multiplication and subsequently the amount of acid produced.
In this day and age, tooth decay isn’t a given. Keeping it at bay, though, requires a personal commitment to effective hygiene, lifestyle choices and regular dental care. Doing these things will help ensure you and your family’s teeth remain free from this all too common disease.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating tooth decay, 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 “Tooth Decay.”
What do young saber tooth tigers, which have been extinct about 10,000 years, have in common with human kids today? At first glance, not a lot. Smilodon fatalis, the big cat of North America, reached adulthood at around age three and weighed up to 600 pounds. But these ice-age mammals are probably best known for their dagger-like canine teeth, which (as shown by many well-preserved skeletons) grew up to 7 inches long. And that’s where the comparison between kids and kitties gets interesting.
The toothy felines had primary (baby) teeth and adult teeth, which developed in a similar way to human dentition. The primary teeth came in first, persisted during the young cat’s development, and shared space in the mouth as the adult teeth were erupting (growing in) — with one big difference. According to a recent study reported in the academic journal PLOS ONE, those colossal canines grew at an astonishing rate: up to 6 millimeters per month! By comparison, human primary teeth emerge from the gums at around 0.7mm per month, while permanent teeth may grow up to 2mm per month.
It’s understandable why those tiger teeth developed so rapidly: Life in the Ice Age was hard, and predators needed every advantage just to stay alive. But while human baby teeth take longer to develop (and to go away), they, too, are vitally important.Â For one thing, the primary teeth let kids bite, chew, speak (and smile) properly, until they are replaced by adult teeth — a process that isn’t usually finished until a child reaches the age of 12-13. So those “baby” teeth allow kids to have good nutrition — and positive social interactions — for a significant part of childhood!
There’s another important thing primary teeth do before they’re gone: They help ensure that the succeeding teeth come in properly, by holding a space in the jaw that will later be filled by a permanent tooth. If baby teeth are lost prematurely, those spaces can close up, resulting in permanent teeth that emerge too close together, or in the wrong places. This condition, called malocclusion (bad bite), can usually be corrected by orthodontics. But it’s better to avoid the inconvenience (and cost) of braces, if possible.
That’s why it’s so important to take care of your child’s baby teeth. Even though they won’t be around forever, they have a vital role to play right now. So be sure proper attention is paid to your child’s oral hygiene: That means avoiding sugar, and remembering to brush and floss every day. And be sure to come in regularly for routine exams, cleanings, and needed care. It’s the best way to keep those little teeth from “going extinct” too soon!
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s baby teeth, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Early Loss of Baby Teeth.”
Accidents happen. And if an accident causes an injury to your jaws or surrounding facial area, it could result in serious damage. Without prompt treatment, that damage could be permanent.
You’ll usually know, of course, if something is wrong from the extreme pain near or around a jaw joint that won’t subside. If you have such symptoms, we need to see you as soon as possible to specifically diagnose the injury, which will in turn determine how we’ll treat it.
This is important because there are a number of injury possibilities behind the pain. It could mean you’ve loosened or displaced one or more teeth. The joint and its connective muscle may also have been bruised resulting in swelling within the joint space or a dislocation of the condyle (the bone ball at the end of the jaw), either of which can be extremely painful.
These injuries also cause muscle spasms, the body’s response for keeping the jaw from moving and incurring more damage (a natural splint, if you will). After examining to see that everything is functioning normally, we can usually treat it with mild to moderate anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and pain and muscle relaxers to ease the spasms. We may also need to gently manipulate and ease a dislocated jaw into its proper position.
In the worst case, though, you may actually have fractured the jaw bone. The most common break is known as a sub-condylar fracture that occurs just below the head of the joint with pain and discomfort usually more severe than what’s experienced from tissue bruising or dislocation. As with other fractures, we’ll need to reposition the broken bone and immobilize it until it’s healed. This can be done by temporarily joining the upper and lower teeth together for several weeks to keep the jaw from moving, or with a surgical procedure for more severe breaks that stabilizes the jawbone independently.
It’s important with any persistent jaw or mouth pain after an accident that you see us as soon as possible — you may have an injury that needs immediate attention for proper healing. At the very least, we can help alleviate the pain and discomfort until you’re back to normal.
If you would like more information on treating jaw injuries, 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 “Jaw Pain — What’s the Cause?”