Posts for: October, 2016
Oral appliances run the gamut from night guards and retainers to full or partial dentures. Millions of people depend on them for restoring or maintaining dental health.
Today's user-friendly appliances reflect the latest advances in technology. But that doesn't mean you can simply "place them and forget them." Their longevity depends on taking care of them.
The most important aspect of appliance care is keeping them clean. Although bacteria have no effect on an appliance's materials, they can accumulate on its surfaces and raise the risk your natural teeth and gums will be infected. To reduce that risk you should clean your appliance every day.
The best way is with a countertop ultrasonic cleaner. These units emit high frequency sound vibrations that loosen plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles) from even the appliance's tiniest crevices. Most units cost between $40 and $60, and pose less of a scratching risk to the appliance's surfaces than manual cleaning.
If you'd prefer to use a brush, there are some dos and don'ts to follow. You can use a cleaner especially designed for your appliance, but less expensive mild dish detergent or hand soap (with an antibacterial agent) will work too. Don't use toothpaste — most contain an abrasive ingredient for removing plaque from enamel that could leave microscopic scratches on your appliance. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush (but not the one you use for your natural teeth) or one designed for your appliance.
While boiling kills bacteria, the high heat can soften and warp the plastic material in an appliance. This could alter how the appliance fits in your mouth, making them loose and uncomfortable to wear. You should also avoid bleach: it can whiten acrylic or nylon designed to mimic the red color of real gum tissue.
Unless we've advised you otherwise, don't wear the appliance around the clock, a practice that raises the chances of bacterial accumulation. And be sure you also brush and floss your natural teeth every day.
Keeping both your mouth and your appliance clean helps ensure the best oral health possible — and that your appliance will last longer.
Sometimes it's the little things that can be most annoying. Those occasional small sores that pop up on the inside of your mouth are a case in point. Although in most instances they won't last long and aren't anything to be alarmed about, they can still cause you some discomfort.
These small sores are called aphthous ulcers or more commonly “canker sores.” They are breaks in the skin or mucosa, the inner lining of the mouth, and occur most often on the inside cheeks, lips, tongue and occasionally on the soft palate at the back of the throat. They usually appear round with a yellow-gray center and an intensely red outer ring or "halo."
Canker sores often appear during periods of high stress or because of minor trauma, and usually last for a week or two. They often have a tingling pain that can be aggravated when you eat and drink acidic or spicy foods and beverages. About 20 to 25% of people have a form known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (mouth inflammation) that occurs regularly with multiple sores and heightened pain.
It's possible to manage the discomfort of minor, occasional bouts with a number of over-the-counter products that cover the sore to protect it and boost healing, with some providing a numbing agent for temporary pain relief. For more serious outbreaks we can also prescribe topical steroids in gels or rinses, injections or other medications.
While canker sores don't represent a health danger, there are instances where you should take outbreaks more seriously: if a sore hasn't healed after two weeks; if you've noticed an increase in pain, frequency or duration of outbreaks; or if you're never without a sore. In these cases we may need to biopsy some of the tissue (and possibly run some blood tests) to ensure they're not pre-cancerous or cancerous.
In any event, we can work with you to reduce your symptoms and help the sores heal quickly. This particular “little thing” in life doesn't have to stress you out.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Mouth Sores: Understanding and treating canker sores.”
Mention “bacteria” and people begin looking for the germicide. The truth is, though, only a few strains cause disease — the rest are benign or even play a beneficial role.
This may shock you, but your body both inside and out is home to around 100 trillion single-celled organisms, exceeding the number of your native cells by 10 to 1. You won't notice them, though: bacteria are so small they only make up 1 to 3% of your total body mass. And each of us has a unique “microbiome” of micro-organisms: they influence a variety of processes like digestion and metabolism, and some even “teach” our immune systems to distinguish between helpful and harmful bacteria.
Of the 10,000 or more species of bacteria that inhabit the body, perhaps the most studied and understood are in the mouth. We even have a database that catalogs the gene sequences of oral bacteria. And what we've learned has enlarged our understanding of dental disease and how to prevent or treat it.
This new knowledge, for example, confirms that many of our modern lifestyle habits adversely affect oral health. For example, researchers have found higher concentrations of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria most responsible for tooth decay, in current samples of biofilm than in those from preindustrial eras. The culprit seems to be the modern diet rich with carbohydrates like sugar that bacteria eat. Cigarette smoking can also make the mouth friendlier to disease-causing bacteria.
On the bright side, our growing knowledge of oral bacteria is helping us devise better prevention and treatment strategies. One example is the use of antibiotics to reduce the populations of disease-causing oral bacteria.
The broad, traditional approach kills not only malevolent bacteria, but beneficial strains as well. The approach may also be helping bad bacteria become resistant to common antibiotics. A newer approach targets specific bacteria with custom-designed antibiotics that won't kill other bacteria. There's also increased focus on ways to re-balance a person's normal microbiome if it's become skewed.
As we come to understand bacteria better — both good and bad species — these and other dental care efforts will benefit. With our increasing knowledge of these microorganisms that surround us the future looks bright for better oral health.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Shows Bacteria Essential to Health.”
Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Even with wear and tear from years of eating and biting they can continue to function properly and look attractive well into your senior years.
Teeth are resilient thanks in part to enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. But the gums also contribute to this resilience: besides attractively framing the teeth, they protect the dentin and roots below the enamel covering.
Unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or “recede” from their normal place. Not only does this look unattractive, the recession can also expose teeth to disease and cause tooth sensitivity to temperature changes or biting pressure.
There are a number of causes for gum recession, some of which you may have little control over. If, for example, your teeth come in off center from their bony housing, the gum tissues may not develop around them properly. You might also have inherited a thinner type of gum tissue from your parents: thinner tissues are more delicate and susceptible to recession.
But there are other causes for which you have more control. Over-aggressive brushing (too hard for too long), ironically, does more harm than good as it can injure your gums and cause them to recede. More likely, though, your recession is a direct result of neglecting proper hygiene for your teeth and gums.
When teeth aren't properly cleaned through daily brushing and flossing, a thin film of bacteria and food remnant called plaque builds up on tooth surfaces. This can trigger periodontal (gum) disease, which subsequently causes the gum tissues to detach from the teeth and often recede.
To reduce your risk of gum disease, you should gently but thoroughly brush and floss daily, and visit us for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. If you have a poor bite (malocclusion), consider orthodontic treatment: malocclusions make it easier for plaque to accumulate and harder to remove.
Above all, if you begin to see signs of gum problems — swelling, bleeding or pain — see us promptly for an examination and treatment. Dealing with these issues early is the best way to ensure your gums continue to do their jobs for the long-term.
There's a lot of emphasis — well-placed, of course — on preventing and treating tooth decay. But there's another dental disease just as dangerous to your oral health and nearly half of U.S. adults have it. It's actually a group of diseases known collectively as periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is similar to tooth decay in one respect: they're both triggered by bacteria. These microorganisms thrive in a thin film of food particles called plaque that collects on tooth surfaces.
Certain bacteria can infect gum tissues and trigger inflammation, a response from the body's immune system to fight it. As the battle rages, bone loss can occur and the gums weaken and begin to detach from the teeth. Without treatment, you could eventually lose affected teeth.
Like tooth decay, the best approach with gum disease is to prevent it, and by using the same techniques of daily brushing and flossing. These actions loosen and remove plaque built up since your last brushing. It's also important you visit us at least twice a year for cleanings that remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
If despite your best efforts you do contract gum disease, the sooner you see us for treatment the lower the long-term impact on your health. The treatment aim is the same as your daily hygiene: to remove plaque and calculus. We use specialized hand instruments or ultrasound equipment to mechanically remove plaque; more advanced cases may require the skills of a periodontist who specializes in caring for structures like the gums that support teeth.
So, defend yourself against gum disease by brushing and flossing daily, and visiting us regularly for dental cleanings and checkups. If you notice bleeding, swollen or painful gums, see us as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Don't let tooth decay's evil twin ruin your oral health or your smile.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of gum disease, 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”