Dr. Bob's Blog

Posts for category: Oral Health

PreventingGumDiseaseCouldHelpMoreThanYourTeethandGums

The top cause for adult tooth loss isn't decay or trauma—it's periodontal (gum) disease. The disease may begin with the gums, but it can ultimately damage underlying bone enough to weaken its support of teeth, causing them to loosen and fall out.

But that's not the end of the havoc gum disease can wreak. The consequences of an uncontrolled infection can ripple beyond the mouth and worsen other health problems like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis.

The common link between gum disease and these other conditions is the inflammatory response, a natural mechanism to fight infection caused by disease or trauma. This mechanism changes blood vessels to increase blood flow to hasten the travel of protective white blood cells to the injury or disease location.

But if this mechanism that supports healing becomes chronic, it can actually do harm. The chronic inflammation that occurs with gum disease can damage mouth structures, just as inflammation from diabetes or arthritis can damage other parts of the body. And any form of chronic inflammation, even that found in gum disease, can worsen other inflammatory diseases.

You can lessen this link between gum disease and other conditions—as well as improve your oral health—by preventing or seeking prompt treatment for any periodontal infection in the following ways:

  • Practice daily brushing and flossing to clear away bacterial dental plaque, the main cause of gum disease;
  • See your dentist regularly for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups;
  • See your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, common signs of a gum infection;
  • Stop smoking to lower your risk for both gum disease and tooth decay;
  • Adopt a healthy diet, which can help you lose weight (a factor in diabetes and other inflammatory diseases) and strengthen your immune system;
  • Manage other inflammatory conditions to lessen their effect on your gum disease risk.

Taking these steps can help you avoid the inflammation caused by gum disease that might also affect the rest your body. Seeking prompt treatment at the first sign of an infection will also minimize the damage to your teeth and gums and the effect it could have on the rest of your health.

If you would like more information on 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 “Gum Disease & Systemic Health.”

4TipsToMakeDentalCareEasierforChildrenWithSpecialNeeds

Even the simplest, everyday things can be challenging for a child with special needs. Dental care is no exception.

If you have a child with a chronic condition that affects their physical, intellectual or behavioral abilities, you know how difficult keeping up with dental care practices can be. Here are 4 tips to help make dental care easier and ensure your child has healthy teeth and gums.

Take an active role in hygiene. Depending on their abilities, you may need to take a more active role in daily teeth cleaning. If you have to brush their teeth for them, it's usually easier to have them face you “knee-to-knee.” You can also use a second brush to keep their mouth propped open if they tend to bite or clench down while brushing.

Model behavior. If your child could eventually brush for themselves, it may still be a long training road. It can be an easier task if you make a habit of brushing your teeth together, or have them brush with a sibling. Not only does this allow you to monitor their progress, their learning process may be easier watching another person brush and then mimicking their actions.

Find the right dentist. Many children with special needs are subject to anxiety surrounding healthcare visits, including going to the dentist. Choosing the right dentist, skilled in the technical aspects of treatment for a special needs child and providing a “kid-friendly” environment, can make all the difference in the world. A pediatric dentist is often a good fit for children with chronic conditions.

Coordinate medical and dental care. A special needs child could have underlying health problems that complicate dental care, so keep your dentist well-informed about their overall health. Do likewise with their medical providers, particularly if their condition or treatments impact dental health, as in the case of medications they're taking that could inhibit saliva flow.

Ongoing dental care for a child with a chronic health condition can be difficult. But keeping their teeth and gums healthy is an important part of fostering greater overall health.

If you would like more information on dental care for special needs children, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”

ProtectYourselfFromGumDiseasefortheHealthofYourMouthANDYourBody

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, when we call attention to the importance of keeping those pearly whites clean. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, protect your teeth and gums from dental disease. It might also lessen the risk or severity of heart disease, arthritis—or even dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Sound far-fetched? A number of years ago, researchers noticed that people with periodontal (gum) disease were also more prone to systemic conditions like chronic heart and lung diseases, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. The common thread: inflammation, the body's response to infection or trauma.

Inflammation in and of itself is a necessary part of the healing process. But if it becomes chronic, as it often does with a gum infection and these other systemic diseases, this defensive response meant to aid healing can instead damage tissues.

We've also learned that inflammation arising from gum disease may worsen inflammation associated with other systemic conditions. It can work the other way as well: If you have an inflammatory disease, your risk for gum disease goes up and any gum infection can be more acute.

What we've learned recently, though, might be even more concerning: Results from a recent study are showing some evidence of a link between gum disease and dementia and decline in cognitive ability. The study, published in the journal Neurology this past July, followed approximately 8,000 Americans for twenty years. Participants came from a variety of locations and demographic subsets, and were on average in their early sixties with no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study.

Of the participants who completed the study, about 19% had developed dementia. Of these participants, those with severe gum disease and tooth loss were slightly more likely to have dementia than subjects with healthy teeth and gums.

At the very least, these studies raise more questions about the connections between oral and general health, calling for further exploration. One thing's for sure, though—healthy teeth and gums play an important role in the overall quality of life and health. The time and effort required for the following are well worth it to maintain a healthy mouth.

  1. Brush and floss your teeth every day without fail;
  2. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings;
  3. Eat a “tooth-friendly” diet low in sugar and rich in vitamins and minerals (especially calcium);
  4. See your dentist as soon as possible if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.

We all want to stay fit and active throughout our senior years. Taking care of your teeth and gums—especially with daily oral hygiene—is a key part of the formula for a long and happy life.

If you would like more information about the importance of dental hygiene to overall health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”

HowtoEnsureYourChildsTeethandGumsStayHealthyNowandLater

Being a parent can be a rewarding role. But it's also hard work, especially the effort required in keeping children healthy. In that respect, there's one area you don't want to overlook—their dental health.

Taking care of their teeth and gums has two aspects: their current state of dental health and their ongoing development that impacts future health. Fortunately, you can address both the present and the future by focusing on the following areas.

Prioritizing oral hygiene. From the moment your child is born, you'll want to practice daily oral hygiene to keep their teeth and gums clean of disease-causing bacterial plaque. This starts even before teeth erupt—simply wipe their gums with a clean wet cloth after feeding. As teeth emerge, begin brushing each one with a small amount of toothpaste. Around your child's second birthday, start training them to brush and floss on their own.

Limit their sugar intake. The biggest threat to your child's teeth is tooth decay, which is caused by bacteria. These bacteria multiply when they have plenty of sugar available in the mouth, one of their primary food sources. It's important then to reduce the sugar they eat and limit it to mealtimes if possible. Also avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with sweetened liquids, including juices and even formula.

Visit the dentist. You're not in this alone—your dentist is your partner for keeping your child's teeth healthy and developing properly. So, begin regular visits when your child's first teeth appear (no later than their first birthday). You should also consider having your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 to make sure their bite is developing properly.

Practice oral safety. Over half the dental injuries in children under 7 occur in home settings around furniture. As your child is learning to walk, be aware of things in your home environment like tables and chairs, or hard objects they can place in their mouths. Take action then to move these items or restrict your child's access to them.

Good habits in each of these areas can make it easier to keep your child's teeth and gums healthy and on the right developmental track. That means good dental health today that could carry on into adulthood.

If you would like more information on children's dental 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children.”

MouthBreathingCanLeadtoSeriousOralProblemsEspeciallyforChildren

It's normal for people to breathe through their nose. And for good reason: Nasal breathing filters contaminants, warms and humidifies incoming air, and helps generate beneficial nitric oxide. Chronic mouth breathing, on the other hand, can trigger a number of harmful effects, especially for the teeth and gums.

Because our survival depends on continuous respiration, our bodies automatically seek out the air flow path of least resistance, normally through the nose. But if our nasal passages become obstructed, as with enlarged adenoids or sinus congestion, we may involuntarily breathe through the mouth.

This can lead to oral problems like chronic dry mouth, which not only creates an unpleasant mouth feel, it also produces the ideal environment for dental disease. And, it could cause an even more serious problem for children during jaw and teeth development.

This is because the tongue rests along the roof of the mouth (palate) while breathing through the nose. In this position, the tongue serves as a mold for the upper jaw and teeth while they're growing during childhood. During mouth breathing, however, the tongue moves away from the palate, depriving the jaw and teeth of this molding effect, and possibly resulting in a poor bite.

You can prevent these and other oral problems by seeing a healthcare professional as soon as you notice your child regularly breathing through their mouth. The best professional for this is an ENT, a medical specialist for conditions involving the ears, nose and throat. ENTs provide treatment for diagnosed obstructions involving the tonsils, adenoids and sinuses.

Even so, persistent mouth breathing may already have affected your child's bite. It may be prudent, then, to also have their bite evaluated by an orthodontist. There are interventional measures that can help get jaw development back on track and minimize future orthodontic treatment.

Finally, a child who has undergone treatment to remove nasal breathing obstructions usually reverts to nasal breathing automatically. But sometimes not: To “relearn” normal breathing, a child may need to undergo orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) with a certified therapist to retrain their facial muscles and tendons to breathe through the nose.

Your child's tendency to mouth breathing may not seem like a major problem. But prompt attention and treatment could prevent it from interrupting their dental development.

If you would like more information on correcting mouth breathing, 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 Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”

ThisOralApplianceCouldHelpSolveYourSleepApneaProblem

Millions of people have obstructive sleep apnea—and some don’t even realize it. That’s because even though these airway-blocking episodes can occur several times a night, they may only last a few seconds. The brain rouses the body just long enough to open the airway but not long enough to awaken the person to consciousness.

Even though a person with sleep apnea might not remember what happened to them, they can still experience the effects of sleep disturbance: drowsiness, irritability or an inability to focus. Over time, the accumulation of “bad sleep” could increase their risk for heart disease or other life-threatening conditions.

But there are effective ways to alleviate or lessen obstructive sleep apnea. The main “go-to” treatment is a method called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP utilizes an electric pump that supplies a constant flow of pressurized air through a mask worn by the patient while sleeping. The increased air pressure around the throat helps keep the airway open.

But although it’s effective, CPAP is unpopular with many people who have tried it. Many find the hose and other equipment cumbersome, or the mask too uncomfortable or restrictive to wear. As a result, quite a number simply avoid using it.

If you’ve had a similar experience with CPAP or would rather explore other options, we may have an alternative: an oral appliance you wear while you sleep. It can help prevent or lessen symptoms in cases of mild to moderate airway obstruction caused by the tongue or other forms of tissue.

Sleep apnea appliances come in two basic forms. One uses metal hinges to help move the lower jaw and tongue forward. The other form has a compartment that fits around the tongue and applies suction to help keep the tongue moved forward.

These appliances may not be suitable for patients with severe sleep apnea or whose cause is something other than a physical obstruction like abnormal neurological signaling patterns. But where they are appropriate, they can be an effective alternative to CPAP and the key to a better night’s sleep.

If you would like more information on this dental solution for sleep apnea, 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 Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”

HaveFunThisSummerButPlayitSafeforYourDentalHealthsSake

As summer reaches its apex here in the western hemisphere, warmer weather beckons many of us out of doors. And there's plenty of fun to be had, from hiking and camping to frolicking in the pool, so long as you're playing it safe—and that includes with your family's dental health.

As physical activity increases during the summer months, so does the potential for accidents. And our mouths—especially the teeth, gums and jaws—aren't immune: In the blink of an eye an accident could cause a serious oral injury that can reverberate for weeks, months or even years. Not only that, but dental diseases like tooth decay or gum disease don't take the summer off.

So have fun this summer, but take precautions with your family's dental health. Here are a few top things that deserve your focus.

Sports-related injuries. Summer often means outdoor sports like basketball and baseball. Even if you are shooting hoops alone or honing batting and catching skills with family members, accidents can happen, possibly resulting in an injury to the mouth. To guard against this, be sure the athletes in your family wear appropriate protective gear like helmets or mouthguards.

Slips and falls. Moving around outdoors, especially in unfamiliar territory, increases the risk for falls that could injure the mouth. A pool area can be especially hazardous: Hard surfaces that are slippery when wet, for example, are a tooth injury waiting to happen. So, try to eliminate structural hazards around pools or other high-risk areas as much as possible, and insist that everyone adhere to safety rules like “No running.”

Oral hygiene. Although not in the category of an accidental blow or fall, dental disease is still a year-round risk: Your family may be taking a break from routine, but disease-causing oral bacteria don't. So, encourage your family even in the more laid-back summer months to continue to brush and floss every day to minimize the development of tooth decay or gum disease.

Sugary snacks. Summer may also occasion a break from what your family normally eats. As a result, you may be munching more on foods with added sugar. Remember, though, oral bacteria love this particular carbohydrate as much as your family does. More sugar in the mouth means more bacteria and a higher risk of tooth decay. So, choose items like nuts or fresh fruit as much as possible in lieu of sugary treats.

Summer is a great time for relaxing in the open air and building fond family memories. Just be sure to exercise these preventive measures to keep oral accidents or dental disease from ruining the fun.

If you would like more information about dental prevention measures, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”

TreatingGumDiseaseisGoodforYourWholeBodyNotJustYourMouth

Periodontal (gum) disease can do unpleasant things to your mouth, including losing teeth. Its effects, though, may not be isolated to the oral cavity: Gum disease could make other diseases in the body worse.

Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. At the outset it may infect your gums causing them to swell, redden or bleed. Eventually, though, the infection can advance deeper toward the tooth roots and bone.

There are various methods to treat gum disease depending on the extensiveness of the infection. But these methods all share the same objective—to remove all uncovered plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). Plaque fuels the infection, so removing it starves out the disease and helps the body to heal.

The damage gum disease can do to the teeth and the surrounding gums is reason enough to seek treatment. But treating it can also benefit your overall health. That's because the weakened gum tissues often serve as an open portal for bacteria and other toxins to enter the bloodstream. From there they can travel to other parts of the body and cause disease.

Gum disease also shares another feature with some systemic conditions: inflammation. This is the body's response to disease or trauma that isolates damaged tissues from healthy ones. But with gum disease, this inflammation can become chronic and ironically do more harm than good.

A gum infection may also increase the body's overall inflammatory response, in turn aggravating other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. Treating gum disease lowers inflammation, which in turn could ease inflammation in other conditions. Likewise, reducing your body's overall inflammatory response by properly managing these other conditions might make you less susceptible to gum disease.

It's important then to prevent and treat gum disease as if your overall health depended on it—because it does. You can prevent it by brushing and flossing daily and undergoing regular dental cleanings to remove plaque. And see your dentist promptly at the first signs of gum problems. Likewise, follow a physician-supervised program to manage any inflammatory conditions.

If you would like more information on preventing or 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”