Perhaps you haven’t thought of it quite this way, but saliva is one of the true wonders of the human body. This unassuming fluid performs a variety of tasks to aid digestion and help protect your mouth from disease. And you hardly notice it — except when it’s not there.
That’s the case for millions of people in America who have a chronic condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This happens when the salivary glands don’t secrete enough saliva, normally two to four pints daily.
Of course, we can experience mouth dryness when we first wake up (saliva flow ebbs while we sleep), feel stressed, use tobacco, or consume alcohol and certain foods like onions or spices. It becomes a problem, though, when periods of low saliva become chronic. Without its preventive capabilities, you’ll be at much higher risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Chronic dry mouth can occur for various reasons: systemic diseases like cancer or autoimmune deficiencies can cause it, as well as radiation or chemotherapy treatments. One of the most common causes, though, is medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. The surgeon general identifies over 500 known drugs that may inhibit saliva production, including some antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. It’s often why older people who take more medications than younger people suffer more as a population from dry mouth.
Because of its long-term health effects, it’s important to try to boost saliva flow. If your mouth is consistently dry, try to drink more fluids during the day. If you suspect your medication, see if your physician can prescribe a different drug. It also helps to drink a little water before and after taking oral medication.
We may also recommend medication or other substances that stimulate saliva or temporarily substitute for it. Xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that also inhibits bacterial growth, can help relieve dryness. You’ll often find it in gums or mints.
Chronic dry mouth is more than a minor irritation — it can lead to more serious conditions. In addition to these tips, be sure to also keep up your regular dental visits and maintain a daily schedule of oral hygiene to prevent dental disease.
If you would like more information on overcoming dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and Treatment of this Common Problem.”
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be a priority.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Treating advanced periodontal (gum) disease takes time. If you have this destructive disease, it wouldn’t be uncommon for you to undergo several cleaning sessions to remove plaque from tooth and gum surfaces. This built-up film of bacteria and food particles is primarily responsible for triggering and fueling gum disease.
These cleaning sessions, which might also involve surgery and other advanced techniques to access deep pockets of infection, are necessary not only to heal your gums but to preserve the teeth they support. With these intense efforts, however, we can help rescue your teeth and return your reddened and swollen gums to a healthy, pink hue.
But what then — is your gum disease a thing of the past?
The hard reality is that once you’ve experienced gum disease your risk of another occurrence remains. From now on, you must remain vigilant and disciplined with your oral hygiene regimen to minimize the chances of another infection. You can’t afford to slack in this area.
Besides daily brushing and flossing as often as your dentist directs, you should also visit your dentist for periodontal maintenance (PM) on a regular basis. For people who’ve experienced gum disease, PM visits are more than a routine teeth cleaning. For one, your dentist may recommend more than the typical two visits a year: depending on the severity of your disease or your genetic vulnerability, you may need to increase the frequency of maintenance appointments by visiting the dentist every two to three months.
Besides plaque and calculus (tartar) removal, these visits could include applications of topical antibiotics or other anti-bacterial substances to curb the growth of disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. You may also need to undergo surgical procedures to make particular areas prone to plaque buildup easier to clean.
The main point, though, is that although you’ve won your battle with gum disease, the war isn’t over. But with your own daily hygiene maintenance coupled with your dentist’s professional attention, you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding a future infection.
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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Major league baseball player Aaron Judge made news in July by breaking Joe DiMaggio's record for most home runs scored by a New York Yankees rookie. Then he made news again, this time for breaking something else. Following their game-winning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 11th inning, the Yanks met for a spontaneous victory celebration at home plate. It was all fun and games… until an errant helmet accidentally slammed into Judge's mouth, breaking off half his left front tooth. Ouch!
Even if you're not playing big-league baseball, accidents sometimes happen. So what's the best dental treatment if you chip or break a tooth? It all depends on how much is broken off.
When a tooth has a small chip in it, dental bonding may be sufficient. Layering on tooth-colored bonding material results in a natural look, and it can be completed in one dental visit. However, bonding material in time will discolor, and it is not as strong as real tooth structure, so eventually it may need re-treatment.
Dental veneers or crowns may be used to restore more seriously damaged teeth. Veneers, thin porcelain shells that cover the front surface of teeth, can be used to restore minor to moderate chips. A crown (“cap”) is used when the damage is greater and more structural support is required. A crown replaces the visible part of the tooth above the gum line.
When the soft pulp tissue inside the tooth is damaged, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. Despite the outdated rumors some people have heard, root canal procedures don't cause pain — they actually relieve it. During the procedure, exposed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is sealed. Then a lifelike crown is placed so the tooth looks as good as new.
If the tooth cannot be saved — for example, it breaks off below the gum line — a dental implant may be your best option. Dental implants are small titanium posts that are surgically inserted and then capped with an artificial crown. Implant-supported teeth can last a lifetime and are usually indistinguishable from natural teeth.
So what happened with Judge's tooth? Thanks to a Friday morning visit to the dentist, he was smiling again with a temporary crown — and smiling over the fact that his tooth garnered more attention than the Yankees' dramatic 11th inning win.
If you have questions about cosmetically-pleasing tooth restorations, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. (If you have a dental injury, call us immediately!) You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “A Step-by-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.