August is National Wellness Month. Since part of staying in good overall health is taking care of your dental health, it's a good time to look at ways you can improve and maintain your oral health. Here are some tips:
Practice good oral hygiene. A fundamental key to a long life of healthy teeth and gums is keeping them clean of dental plaque. This thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing twice and flossing once each day gets rid of that unpleasant grittiness and reduces your risk of disease.
See your dentist regularly. A good daily oral hygiene habit works best at controlling soft plaque. But any that you miss—a possibility even with great brushing and flossing skill—can harden into calculus (tartar). To remove it, you'll need professional cleaning by a dental professional. The American Dental Association recommends a comprehensive dental cleaning at least twice a year to fully minimize your disease risk.
Eat a low-sugar, dental-friendly diet. Oral bacteria love to feast on the leftovers from your eating, especially sugar. So, cutting back on foods with added sugar isn't just good for other aspects of your health, it can also help "starve out" bacteria and reduce their population in your mouth. You can also boost oral health by eating foods rich in minerals like calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, and antioxidants that guard against oral cancer.
See your dentist at the first sign of problems. While hygiene, dental care and a nutritious diet can greatly reduce your risk of disease, it won't eliminate it completely. So see your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, mouth pain or unusual spots on your teeth. The sooner you're diagnosed and treated, the less damage from dental disease and future treatment expense you'll endure.
Manage other inflammatory conditions. If you're dealing with a condition like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, it could increase your risk of gum disease or make any occurrence of it worse. That's because gum disease and many systemic conditions share chronic inflammation as a common link. If an inflammatory condition is not managed through proper treatment, it could worsen any gum disease symptoms you have.
Pursuing wellness is a worthy goal—just be sure you include your oral health in the mix. A healthy mouth is a key ingredient for a healthy life. If you would like more information about gaining and maintaining optimum oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) jolted our collective consciousness in the 1980s. The deadly disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had no known cure and, at the time, no effective treatment.
HIV is a retrovirus, a virus with a genetic makeup and reproduction system differing from other kinds. After taking up permanent residency in the body, HIV begins “hijacking” the replication process of cells in the body's immune system and replacing it with a copy of its own. This destroys the cells' ability to protect the body from hostile organisms. As the virus affects more and more cells, the patient's condition ultimately develops into AIDS.
An estimated 35 million people worldwide (1.2 million in the U.S.) are currently infected with the virus. Thanks to new antiretroviral drugs, though, HIV can be kept from accelerating into AIDS. While their condition remains serious, many HIV positive patients can now live long and relatively normal lives. Even so, having the virus requires them to pay close attention to their health, including their mouth.
Even while stalled from becoming AIDS, HIV can still cause oral problems for 30 to 80% of patients. The fungal infection candidiasis (also known as thrush) is the most common of these problems, which appears as lesions, cracking skin or creamy white patches on the tongue or palate that easily bleed. Patients also have higher risks for dry mouth, oral cancer and periodontal (gum) disease.
HIV positive patients must practice diligent daily oral care and see their dentist for checkups regularly. Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment can keep gum disease and other damaging conditions under control. Monitoring oral health is also important because certain mouth conditions could be an early sign the infection is entering a new advanced stage in the body that requires additional attention.
Keeping vigilant in all aspects of health is a way of life for someone with HIV. Such vigilance, though, can help them maintain a healthy mouth and even prolong their life.
Each part of the human body is an intricate wonder. Take your teeth, for example: they’re so woven into everyday life we don’t notice them, yet they each work seamlessly with the jaws and mouth so we can eat, speak and even smile.
Here, then, are a few facts to help you understand — and appreciate — these tiny, amazing wonders we call teeth.
Layer Upon Layer. Rather than one solid mass, teeth are composed of different layers of slightly different tissues each with a unique role in protecting and enabling a tooth to function. Innermost is the pulp filled with connective tissue encasing blood vessels and nerves that transmit sensations to the brain. The next layer out is the dentin, a bone-like material sensitive to touch and other stimuli, which also absorbs some of the forces generated when biting or chewing. The outermost layer is enamel, the hardest material in the body and the tooth’s first defense against infection and other dangers.
Front and Center. Teeth perform different functions depending on their type and location. Front teeth are our “onstage performers” — they help us to speak and enunciate words clearly and, of course, contribute to our smile. They’re also adept at cutting through food when it first enters our mouths.
The Support Team. In keeping with our theater analogy, back teeth are our “backstage crew”: they help support our facial height, provide balance for the jaws as we swallow and protect the front teeth from too much vertical force. They’re also able to crush food before we finally swallow, which aids in the digestive process.
Intended for a Lifetime. If you consider all the environmental factors our teeth face — acidic foods, biting forces and temperature swings to name a few — you then can appreciate their resiliency. Of course, teeth have their enemies: decay, infection and trauma. With daily brushing and flossing and at least a couple of visits a year to our office for cleanings and checkups, you can help thwart many of those enemies. With both our efforts we can make sure your teeth really do last a lifetime.
Cancer treatment can be an all-out battle with intense side effects for your entire body. One particular area that can suffer is your mouth.
Chemotherapy and radiation target and destroy cancer cells, which can lead to non-cancerous cells caught in the crossfire and also destroyed. The salivary glands in the mouth are prone to such damage, which could greatly impact your ability to ward off dental disease.
Saliva, what salivary glands produce, plays a major role in oral health. The bodily fluid disseminates antibodies throughout the mouth that fight disease-causing bacteria. It also neutralizes acid, which can erode tooth enamel, and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel.
If the salivary glands become damaged, however, they may produce less saliva and create a condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This is a common occurrence for cancer patients, which can rob them of saliva’s benefits and make them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result could be tooth loss.
There are things you and your dentist can do to prevent this. First, have a complete dental checkup before undergoing cancer treatment. If at all possible have any necessary dental work undertaken (with adequate recovery time afterward) before beginning chemo or radiation. Your dentist and oncologist (cancer specialist) may need to coordinate any planned dental work.
You should also practice daily oral hygiene with brushing and flossing, along with keeping up your regular dental cleanings. This will prevent the buildup on teeth of bacterial plaque, which in turn will reduce your chances for dental disease. Your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial as well as fluoride mouth rinses to help limit the growth of oral bacteria.
To minimize dry mouth, increase your water consumption as much as possible. You may also use saliva boosters like xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener found in many gums or mints that promotes salivation (it also deters oral bacterial growth).
And don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet, which will not only benefit your stamina during cancer treatment but can also help you maintain better dental health. Providing good care for your mouth during this trying time will help ensure your teeth and gums stay as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on oral care, 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 Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Among the “to-do” items on your pre-dive checklist like “Pack wetsuit” or “Fill scuba tanks,” be sure to add one other: “Check my dental health status.”
While that may seem like an odd concern, the changes in atmospheric pressure you encounter while diving (or flying, for that matter) could amplify oral sensitivity and intensify pain if you have pre-existing teeth or jaw problems.
The reason for this is the effect of basic physics on the body. All anatomical structures, including organs, bones and muscles, equalize external pressures the body encounters. We don’t notice this at normal atmospheric pressure, but when we encounter an extreme — either lower pressure during air flight or higher pressure during a scuba dive — we may feel the effects of the pressure on any structure with a rigid-walled surface filled with either air or fluid. These structures can’t equalize the pressure as fast as other areas, resulting in pain or discomfort. This is known medically as “barotrauma,” or more commonly as a “squeeze.”
One structure in particular could have an effect on your upper teeth and jaws: the sinus cavities of the skull, particularly the maxillary sinuses just below the eyes. Their lower walls are right next to the back teeth of the upper jaw and, more importantly, share the same nerve pathways. It’s quite possible, then, for pain from one area to be felt in the other, commonly known as “referred pain.” A toothache could then be felt in the sinus region, and vice-versa.
During a squeeze, then, pain levels from existing problems in the teeth and jaws that were previously tolerable (or even unnoticed) may well become amplified as the pressure from the sinus cavity impinges upon the jaw. That dull toothache you’ve been having may suddenly become excruciating at 30,000 feet — or 30 meters under the surface.
That’s why it’s important to see us if you’ve experienced any signs of tooth decay, gum disease or TMD, including pain, before your next dive or air flight. And, if you encounter any significant pain while flying or diving, be sure you consult with us as soon as possible when you return. Taking action now could help you avoid a miserable, and potentially dangerous, flying or diving experience in the future.
If you would like more information on pressure changes and 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 “Pressure Changes can Cause Tooth and Sinus Pain.”