Posts for category: Health
For years my mother smoked cigarettes, from as early as I can remember until she finally quit. Come to think of it, she apparently smoked some while pregnant. This was not entirely uncommon. It’s a well-known fact that smoking causes lung cancer among other health concerns, but it is also known that smoking is an addictive habit not easily stopped by most people who start. Fast forward several decades and e-cigarettes, or vaping as it is also referred to, came along as perhaps a less harmful, possibly less addictive alternative for people trying to move away from traditional (combustible) cigarettes. I think the idea was that these are less damaging than cigarettes and may be used as a transition for those wishing to quit smoking cigarettes because they contain little or no nicotine, but let me tell you, more and more studies are showing that vaping/e-cigarettes are detrimental in their own right. I asked my grandchildren if they were familiar and learned that it is an unfortunate and all too common practice among some high schoolers. Kids congregate in the school bathrooms and inhale. The media has brought forth a host of stories on this alarming trend to be called an epidemic among youth. These have been dubbed the most commonly used tobacco product among teens in the US. As a result, the FDA is pushing hard to restrict access of e-cigarettes to youth and enforcing legal action and fines on retailers that have and continue to sell to underage users. It seems blatantly obvious that the marketing is directed at teens, with the colors and flavors resembling candy and other sweets. E-cigs are often designed to appear like ordinary objects like pens or flash drives. I have recently learned that e-cigarettes can also be used for delivery of marijuana or other drugs as well. I am not even going to address that at this time. I find this particularly concerning because the yet undeveloped adolescent brain is especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction.
Flavored liquid is vaporized and inhaled through a handheld electronic vaping device. A given liquid may or may not contain nicotine, although this trend is still new enough that the long term effects on oral health and overall health are unclear. The liquid also contains propylene glycol, a petroleum byproduct used in antifreeze, paint, liquid detergent and thousands of commercial food products. When heated, studies have shown these e-liquids to contain toxins such as diethylene glycol (also used in antifreeze), lead and chromium. I have seen patients with dry cough or chemical burns on the palate as a result of inhaling the e-liquid, but more often they are unaware because they perceive them as harmless. It makes me wonder how it affects their lungs. Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is another effect that can lead to increased tooth decay. I believe it’s important to educate patients and make them aware that e-cigarettes are not a healthy alternative to smoking. By explaining the negative effects and showing them the oral health issues with the use of the intraoral camera it becomes more real.
Recently my granddaughter experienced a canker sore, not an uncommon occurrence for her, but this one was on her throat. The pain was excruciating, more so because of the location. It hurt to swallow, to speak, and pretty much hurt constantly. It even kept her awake at night. Canker sores, also referred to as an aphthous ulcer, are small, shallow sores inside the mouth, under the tongue, cheeks, or along the gums.These lesions are usually no larger than a centimeter, are usually self-diagnosed and self-treatable and often clear up within a week or two, but the common point is they can be quite painful and irritating. I have seen patients from children to adolescents to adults who get them, but they seem to be more common in adolescents and young adults. The treatments, when necessary, range from over the counter natural remedies to mouth rinses, pastes ointments or sometimes a prescription medication.
Canker sores have varying causes, but can sometimes be prevented. Some people are more susceptible, so avoiding spicy or acidic foods, mouth injuries (like brushing too vigorously), and minimizing stress could help. Canker sores are not directly caused by a virus or bacteria, but are an autoimmune response, meaning the body attacks itself. In some cases, they could be caused by a vitamin or mineral deficiency, a hormonal imbalance, or a food allergy. Some medications can actually make certain individuals more prone, as in the case of some cancer treatments. Canker sores can even be hereditary. Determining the cause is not always easy, although doing so will help prevent them in the future. This is of little comfort to people when they already have one or are unable to directly attribute the cause to any of the aforementioned.
If and when I get the rare canker sore, I use a prescription oral paste to relieve discomfort. There are many different treatments and remedies I have heard of and some I have suggested. Rinsing with warm water and baking soda or salt, rinsing with an over the counter antiseptic oral rinse like Biotene, drinking chamomile tea with honey for the inflammation (not too hot), using an over the counter oral gel, ointment or paste. Clove oil has been shown to have fantastic ability to numb pain. My daughter uses clove oil and other essential oils for her canker sores with excellent results. As for my granddaughter and her canker sore on her throat, she found Chloraseptic sore throat spray brought the most relief. If you happen to get a canker sore you can try one of these suggestions or your own remedies. If you have recurring canker sores or some that last longer than fourteen days it could require more than an over the counter pain reliever and further investigation.
- What about amalgam fillings? Are they still used and do you replace existing ones?
We use porcelain or composite fillings for our patients and have for a number of years. Many patients still have amalgam fillings and if and when they require replacement we use the newer alternative materials. The controversy over the years surrounding amalgam fillings is in regards to mercury. It isn’t definitive whether mercury is a true safety concern or if it is harmless. The FDA had said any ties to diseases and autism, Alzheimer’s and MS is unfounded, but more recently has called for stricter regulations without sufficient evidence. In our practice, we take every precaution possible to ensure we meet and exceed safety guidelines and we use porcelain and composite for fillings.
- If I want to change the shape of my teeth what options do I have?
We can enhance the shape of teeth whether it is to close gaps, repair chipped or cracked teeth or have teeth appear longer. One way is by bonding, applying tooth-colored resin to the tooth surface and then harden it with a special light to “bond” it to the tooth. Crowns are another way to shape teeth. They are basically a cap that fits over the existing tooth, cemented into place and is visible above the gum line. Recontouring is another example of tooth shaping. And then there are veneers, thin translucent pieces of tooth-colored composite or porcelain are used to repair, strengthen and enhance the appearance of teeth. It is ideal for teeth that are chipped, cracked, stained or gapped.
- What are dental sealants?
Sealant is a thin plastic coating painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth (usually back molars) to protect enamel in the recesses or grooves. Studies have shown over the last two decades that the protective coating decreases tooth decay. This is ideal for children or people who are prone to cavities.
- Are dental x-rays safe?
The concern people have with x-rays is the exposure to radiation. Keep in mind that x-rays done at a routine dental exam expose a person to very low amounts of radiation, less than a day’s worth of typical background radiation from things like our TVs or spending time outside in the sunshine. Improvements in protective aprons and x-ray equipment allow for much less exposure to radiation than we had decades ago. X-rays allow dentists to see beneath the tooth’s surface and thus are the best diagnostic tool we have for identifying hidden tooth decay and periodontal disease. Uncovering problems before they become bigger is the goal. According to the ADA, how often a patient should have x-rays varies with age and history of tooth decay. The bottom line is that we do not want to do them unnecessarily.
- Can you just not use the drill?
The drill is used to create an opening and remove decay completely before filling and bonding the cavity. Drills are also used to remove plaque or old fillings. Most people’s fear is associated with the high-pitched sound of the drill and once a dentist begins the procedure, the patient is often able to relax as they soon realize it is harmless.
- Why is a teeth cleaning and checkup appointment necessary every 6 months?
Regular visits are so important because it is a preventative measure, avoiding problems before they start. We suggest twice a year, but if your teeth are in great condition and your habits are good then you might get by with once a year. We can usually catch small oral health issues before they become big issues. Many diseases and health conditions have symptoms that appear in the mouth so finding them early is essential to overall health.
Here are some of my go-to food and drink choices that maximize nutrients for our bodies and our teeth. They all offer benefits to build healthier teeth and gums, prevent tooth decay and fight infection by neutralizing harmful acids, providing vitamins and minerals for tooth enamel and stimulating saliva production.
Things like breads, citrus, sugary sweets produce acid-causing tooth decay. Eating cheese, which is high in calcium, raises the pH level in our mouths and can counteract that acid erosion.
- Fatty Fish
My personal favorite, salmon, contains plenty of vitamin D which helps the teeth, gums and body absorb much-needed calcium.
- High Fiber Vegetables and Fruit
The fiber in vegetables and fruit acts like tiny scrub brushes and promotes saliva production, discouraging plaque buildup. Vegetables and fruits also have a high water content which aids in hydration.
While not a food by itself, xylitol is a sweetener found in sugarless gum that fights tooth decay by killing bad bacteria. Chewing gum increases saliva which prevents both tooth decay and bad breath.
- Green Tea
Admittedly I do not drink tea much, because I favor coffee. Green tea, however, contains polyphenol antioxidants which interact with and kill plaque-forming bacteria. Those bad bacteria feed on the sugars in your mouth, but the polyphenols in the tea prevent the forming of acids from those bacteria that destroy tooth enamel.
- Leafy Greens
Another personal favorite of mine that I eat daily. Kale, spinach, romaine for example contain folic acid and again, the calcium. Folic acid purportedly helps with gum disease.
Almonds are an excellent source of calcium, vitamin E, magnesium and fiber. Vitamin E is said to help reduce gum pain and inflammation.
Preferably whole-fat Greek yogurt. The good bacteria from probiotics are not only excellent for your digestive tract, but they also protect your mouth against gum disease by countering the bad bacteria. Yogurt is another great source of calcium.
According to the American Dental Association, oral health is one of the first clear areas affected by a poor diet. Sugars cause cavities, tooth decay and gut inflammation, in addition to harming overall immune system. You can start by making small changes that add up. By making better choices we can improve our oral and overall health and encourage our bodies to heal naturally.
I can recall as a kid, on several occasions, being less than thrilled to visit the dentist. When my mother told me we were going to get my teeth checked it was all she could do to keep me from running to hide. But, I also recall that every time I was apprehensive my fears would quickly disappear when the dentist came into the room. He was gentle and patient and had an amusing sense of humor. I can’t say for sure that my exposure to the dental chair at a young age wasn’t at least a tiny bit of inspiration for my career choice years later.
But, dental fear and anxiety are pretty common actually. For some it is a mild feeling of anxiousness yet for others it can be an intense fear or dread, referred to as a phobia (odontophobia).Their reluctance to visit the dentist is often a source of pain and swelling, lack of nutrition, missed work, medical complications. When those people do eventually seek dental care, their teeth are often in such bad shape that they require more extensive dental work which reinforces their fear. Unfortunately, the fact that seeing the dentist for regular care and maintaining good oral health can be helpful is not enough of a motivation for many people to overcome their fears and see one. While some may have had a traumatic dental experience at some point, for others it may be due to other existing anxieties. According to researchers in Sweden, about five percent of people have severe dental anxiety. The researchers found five strategies people use to get over their fear of the dentist. Their findings were published in the journal, Acta Odontologica Scandinavica. Common strategies are distracting yourself (such as counting or mental games), distancing (telling yourself the pain or discomfort feels like something else), prayer, personal efficacy (telling yourself to be strong), optimism (telling yourself everything will be okay).
One of the things I always like to do whether or not a patient has fear and anxiety is to get to know them. I share a personal story and make my patients feel comfortable by asking them to tell me about themselves. I sit with them and explain diagnoses and procedures. I let patients look at the equipment I will be using. Some of my patients choose to bring earbuds and listen to their own music or an audiobook and that is perfectly fine. The important thing is to allow enough time to accommodate and make patients feel comfortable and their needs heard. Not all patients have anxiety or dental fear, but for those who do it certainly is not a deterrent to us caring for their teeth.