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Posts for category: Oral Health

PlaqueRemovalistheTopPriorityforPreventingorTreatingGumDisease

Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.

Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.

Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.

Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.

This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.

The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).

To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.

Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.

If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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 “What are Furcations?

CrackedMouthCornersHowtoResolveThisIrritatingProblem

In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.

Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.

Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.

The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.

If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.

Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.

Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.

If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”

NeverUseThisNumbingAgenttoRelieveTeethingPaininYoungChildren

Parents will do just about anything to relieve their children's discomfort when they're in pain. When a toddler is suffering through a teething episode, it's tempting to turn to a topical numbing ointment to soothe their gums.

But there can be a hidden danger for kids if you use certain over-the-counter products used by adults for gum or teeth pain. Many of these topical ointments contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. While it's relatively safe for adults, benzocaine can be hazardous for infants and young children.

Studies have found that benzocaine contributes to a disease called methemoglobinemia, in which a protein in the blood called methemoglobin increases to abnormal levels. Too much of this protein inhibits the transport of oxygen throughout the body. For young children, this can cause shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness. In extreme cases, it could lead to seizures, coma or even death.

Parents are urged to avoid using any product containing benzocaine to ease gum or teething pain in children. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends providing a child a chilled (not frozen) teething ring, pacifier or a damp clean cloth to chew on. The chewing action helps relieve gum swelling pressure and the cold will help numb the pain. Massaging the gums with a clean finger may also help.

If the pain persists, parents should consult a doctor or pharmacist about giving their child pain medication. Drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (never aspirin) administered in the proper dosage for a child's age can help ease teething discomfort. Medications should always be given orally—you should never rub substances like aspirin or alcohol directly on the gums, which can further irritate already inflamed tissues.

Teething episodes come and go during a child's early dental development—they are like storms that swell and abate before they finally pass. Except when accompanied by fever or diarrhea, there's no need for concern. Your main goal is to help ease their discomfort as much—and as safely—as possible.

If you would like more information on how to help your child weather teething episodes, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

ThinkTwiceBeforeYouUndergoBotoxTreatmentforChronicJawPain

There's still much about the underlying nature of chronic jaw joint dysfunction we have yet to unravel. Treating these conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs) may therefore require some experimentation to find what works for each individual patient.

Most TMD therapies are relatively conservative: eating softer foods, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers or undergoing physical therapy. There have been some surgical techniques tried to relieve jaw pain and dysfunction, but these have so far had mixed results.

Recently, the use of the drug Botox has been promoted for relieving jaw pain, albeit temporarily. Botox contains tiny amounts of botulinum toxin type A, a poisonous substance derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause muscle paralysis. It's mainly used to cosmetically smooth out small wrinkles around facial features.

Because of these properties, some physicians have proposed Botox for TMD treatment to paralyze the muscles around the jaw to reduce pain and discomfort. While the treatment sounds intriguing, there are a number of reasons to be wary of it if you have TMD.

To begin with, the claims for Botox's success in relieving jaw pain have been mainly anecdotal. On the other hand, findings from randomized, double-blind trials have yet to show any solid evidence that Botox can produce these pain-relieving effects.

But even if it lived up to the claims of TMD pain relief, the effect would eventually fade in a few weeks or months, requiring the patient to repeat the injections. It's possible with multiple Botox injections that the body will develop antibodies to fight the botulinum toxin, causing the treatment to be less effective with subsequent injections.

Of even greater concern are the potential side effects of Botox TMD treatment, ranging from headaches and soreness at the injection site to more serious muscle atrophy and possible facial deformity from repeated injections. There's also evidence for decreased bone density in the jaw, which could have far-reaching consequences for someone with TMD.

The best approach still seems to lie in the more conservative therapies that treat TMD similar to other joint disorders. Finding the right combination of therapies that most benefit you will help you better manage your symptoms.

If you would like more information on treatments for TMD, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”

RefinedSugarCouldBeHarmingMoreThanYourTeeth

You've probably heard your dentist say more than once to cut back on sweets. That's good advice not only for keeping your teeth healthy, but your whole body as well.

As a carbohydrate, a macronutrient that helps supply energy to the body's cells, sugar is prevalent naturally in many foods, particularly fruits and dairy. The form of which we're most concerned, though, is refined sugar added to candy, pastries and other processed foods.

Believe it or not, three out of four of the 600,000 food items on supermarket shelves contain refined sugar, often hiding under names like "high fructose corn syrup" or "evaporated cane syrup." So-called healthy foods with labels like "low fat" or "diet" have added sugar and chemicals to replace the taste of fat they've removed.

But perhaps the biggest sugar sources in the average U.S. diet are sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks. With the added volume of sugar in processed foods, the growing consumption of sweetened beverages has pushed the average American's sugar intake to nearly 20 teaspoons a day—more than three times the recommended daily allowance.

And right along with the increased consumption of sugar, cases of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other systemic diseases have likewise risen. And, yes, preventable tooth decay continues to be a problem, especially in children, with sugar a major contributing factor in the prevalence of cavities.

So, what can you do to keep your daily sugar intake within healthy bounds?

  • Check ingredient labels on packaged food for added sugar, chemicals or preservatives. If it contains sugar or "scientific"-sounding ingredients, leave it on the shelf.
  • Be wary of health claims on food packaging. "Low fat," for example, is usually an indicator of added sugar.
  • Drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sodas, sports drinks or even juices. Doing so will vastly lower your daily intake of sugar.

A healthy diet with much less sugar and regular exercise will help you stay healthy. And with a lower risk for tooth decay, your teeth will also reap the benefits.

If you would like more information on the effects of sugar on your oral and general 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 “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”