Posts for category: Oral Health
Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z—we're all different. But regardless of our particular birth generation, we do have one thing in common: we're all getting older. Sooner (Boomers) or later (Gen Z), we're all going to face some challenging realities related to aging—including regarding our teeth and gums.
Even if you've enjoyed optimal oral health throughout your life, aging can still have an impact. As we recognize Older Americans Month this May, here are some potential issues you might face as you get older with your teeth and gums, and how you can start minimizing those issues now.
Wearing. After tens of thousands of meals, you can expect your teeth to show some wear. The question is, how much. Crunching ice or using your teeth as a nutcracker accelerates normal wear, as can an unconscious teeth-grinding habit. It's important, then, to keep an eye on dental wearing and adjust your lifestyle habits (or get help with them from your dentist) to minimize the rate of wear.
Discoloration. Teeth naturally yellow as we get older, but just like dental wearing, there are things that can make it worse: Drinking coffee, tea, or red wine, smoking, or neglecting oral hygiene. Restricting foods that cause staining, quitting smoking, and renewing your brushing and flossing habit (along with regular dental cleanings) can help keep staining to a minimum.
Dental disease. Fifty percent of people over 30 will contend at some point in their lives with gum disease—and that percentage mushrooms to 70 percent after age 65. And, it's not just gum disease—older adults have a higher risk for tooth decay, as well as oral cancer. Besides practicing good oral hygiene habits, it's especially important to visit your dentist regularly for checkups, and to eat a healthy diet of whole foods and less processed, sugar-laden foods.
Disability. Our ability to take care of ourselves can diminish as we get older, which could have an effect on our oral health. Both physical disability and cognitive decline may make it harder to brush and floss, or to keep up with regular dental care. Along the way, you may need to make adjustments to your oral hygiene routine like using larger-handled or power toothbrushes, flossing picks, or water flossers. And if the time comes, seek out help from a caretaker or loved one to help you keep up with your oral care.
A long and happy life isn't challenge-free and your oral health may well be one of those challenges. But with a continuing focus on good personal and dental care, you can meet those challenges with a healthy mouth and a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information about the effects of aging on oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging and Dental Health.”
For most people, dental visits are as routine as a trip to the supermarket, but this is not the case for everyone. Some can become so overwhelmed, anxious, or nervous about seeing the dentist that they might put off their visit, even for a serious dental condition.
This kind of anxiety, often rooted in early childhood, shouldn't be dismissed or ignored. If it prevents you or someone you love from receiving needed dental care, it could disrupt your oral health—not to mention your overall well-being for years to come.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, here are 4 things you can do to prevent dental anxiety from robbing you of the dental care you or a loved one needs.
The right dentist. The partnership between dentist and patient may be the most important element in addressing dental anxiety. It's important to find a provider that accepts and understands your anxiety, and who won't dismiss it with trite aphorisms like, "Your fear is all in your head." Finding a dentist who listens and who will work with you in allaying your concerns is often the first step toward overcoming dental anxiety.
Facing anxiety. It's common for people to try to ignore their inner turmoil and focus instead on "getting their teeth fixed." But as sensible as that sounds, it's not really effective. It's better instead to acknowledge and be forthright about your feelings of nervousness and apprehension. With it out in the open, you and your dentist can then include managing your anxiety as a part of your overall treatment plan.
Sedation therapy. It often takes time to overcome deep-seated phobias like dental anxiety. In the meantime, though, your teeth and gums may still need care. Your dentist can help relieve your anxiety, albeit temporarily, using one or more sedation therapy techniques to help you relax during your visit. These therapies may include an oral sedative taken just before your appointment or gas or IV sedation that helps you relax completely during a treatment session.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Psychotherapists have long used CBT to help patients overcome mental and emotional problems like depression, eating disorders, or phobias. CBT helps people change deep-seated patterns of thinking or behavior regarding a troublesome issue by confronting it and seeking to understand the "why" behind the patterns. Recently, a review of dental patients who underwent CBT for dental anxiety showed a number of positive results.
Overcoming dental anxiety can be a long journey requiring patience, courage, and understanding, but it can be done! With the techniques and methods dentists now have to address it, anxiety over dental treatment no longer need interfere with a person's ability to receive the dental care they need.
If you would like more information about dental anxiety and what to do about it, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Overcoming Dental Fear & Anxiety.”
For one out of three Americans, a bite of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee can set off a sudden jolt of pain. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce these painful episodes of tooth sensitivity and their severity.
To understand the primary reasons that people experience tooth sensitivity, we must first consider a little tooth anatomy. Just below a tooth's outer enamel is a layer of tooth structure called dentin, composed of tiny tunnels or tubules that transmit sensations of temperature or pressure to the nerves in the central pulp. These tubules are analogous to conduits through which electrical wires pass.
Enamel on the crown, along with gum tissue and a thin material called cementum covering the roots, help muffle sensations so as to prevent an overload on the nerves. But if either of those protective areas become compromised the nerves could in turn experience the full brunt of these sensations.
As such, softened and eroded enamel from tooth decay could expose the dentin. Receding gums, commonly caused by gum disease, can also expose dentin near the roots since the remaining cementum offers little protection. In either case, nerves in the pulp may become subject to extreme sensations caused by temperature or while biting down, which then causes them to fire off pain signals to the brain.
Thus, to treat sensitive teeth we must first determine whether it's the result of tooth decay, gum disease or some other condition, and then treat any underlying disease. If it's decay-related, we'll want to repair any cavities with a filling, or perform a root canal if the infection has spread deeper into the tooth.
For receded gums, we'll first want to treat any lingering gum disease. Once we've brought the infection under control, it's possible then for the gums to heal and regenerate, eventually treating the roots with desensitizing products. In some cases, though, we may have to surgically graft new tissue to the receded area to cover the roots.
The good news is that you can lower your chances of tooth sensitivity by preventing these dental diseases. To do that, be sure you're brushing and flossing daily to remove disease-causing plaque, and visiting your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
Emma Roberts, star of American Horror Story (and niece of actress Julia Roberts), welcomed her first child at the end of 2020. She confessed that her love of sweets made pregnancy challenging. She couldn't get enough of cupcakes with sprinkles and a Salt & Straw ice cream flavor called The Great Candycopia. But Roberts isn't unique. Hormonal changes in pregnancy often bring heightened cravings for certain foods. Unfortunately, this can increase an expectant mother's risk for dental disease, especially if they're consuming more sugary foods.
In fact, around four in ten expectant women will develop a form of periodontal disease called pregnancy gingivitis. It begins with dental plaque, a thin film that forms on tooth surfaces filled with oral bacteria that can infect the gums. And what do these bacteria love to eat? Yep—sugar, the same thing many women crave during pregnancy.
So, if you're expecting a baby, what can you do to minimize your risk for dental disease?
Practice oral hygiene. Removing dental plaque by brushing and flossing daily is the most important thing you can do personally to prevent both tooth decay and gum disease. It's even more important given the physical and hormonal changes that occur when you're pregnant. Be sure, then, that you're diligent about brushing and flossing every day without fail.
Control your sugar intake. If you have strong cravings for sweets, cutting back may be about as easy as stopping an elephant on a rampage through the jungle. But do give your best effort to eating more dairy- and protein-rich foods rather than refined carbohydrates like pastries or candies. Not only will reducing sugar help you avoid dental disease, these other foods will help strengthen your teeth.
Maintain regular dental visits. Seeing us for regular cleanings further reduces your disease risk. We can clean your teeth of any plaque deposits you might have missed, especially hardened plaque called tartar that's nearly impossible to remove with brushing and flossing. We'll also monitor your teeth and gums for any developing disease that requires further treatment.
Undergo needed treatments. Concerned for their baby's safety, many expectant mothers are hesitant about undergoing dental procedures. But both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Dental Association endorse necessary dental treatments during pregnancy, even if they include local anesthesia. We will make you have only a safe type of anesthesia, and we can advise you when it is prudent to postpone certain treatments, such as some elective procedures, until after the baby is born.
Emma Roberts got through a healthy pregnancy—cravings and all—and is now enjoying her new baby boy. Whether you're a celebrity like Emma Roberts or not, expecting a baby is an exciting life moment. Follow these tips to keep your teeth and gums healthy throughout your pregnancy, and be sure to let the dental team know of your pregnancy before any treatment.If you would like more information about dental care during pregnancy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”
Health insurance is an important part of life, helping to even out the high costs of medical treatment. Without it, many of us would find it extremely difficult to financially weather physical illness or injury.
But many also view health insurance as frustratingly complicated, including policies that cover dental care. Regarding the latter, people often view it as medical insurance's identical twin—which it's not. While insurance for clinical services and hospitalization manages cost in a comprehensive manner, the majority of dental plans function more like a discount coupon.
The great majority of dental policies today are paid for by employers as a salary benefit to their employees. There can still be differences in policies and it's important to know what kind of plan your workplace has provided you. Here's a rundown of the three basic types of dental insurance plans.
Fee-for-Service. This is the most common dental plan in which the employee is able to choose their dentist and the insurance company pays the dentist for services rendered. Each individual policy outlines the treatments covered, as well as the percentage of payment.
Direct reimbursement. With this approach, the employer pays employees' dental bills directly out of company funds. Even so, an insurance company is often still involved, but as a paid administrator for the employer, reimbursing the dental provider on behalf of the company.
Managed care. An insurance company may also create a network of dental providers that all agree to a set schedule of fees for services rendered. These dental health maintenance organizations (DHMOs) or preferred provider organizations (PPOs) can reduce patients' out-of-pocket expenses. But covered patients can only use dentists within the DHMO or PPO network to receive benefits.
You can, of course, purchase dental insurance as an individual rather than receive it as an employee benefit. If so, you'll need to weigh what you pay out for the policy and what you receive in benefits with what you would pay out-of-pocket without it to see if you're truly realizing any savings.
Either way, understanding a dental insurance plan can be a challenge for the average person. Fortunately, most dental offices are well experienced with these plans. Your dentist's staff can be a valuable resource for helping you get the most out of your insurance benefits.
If you would like more information on the financial side of dental care, please contact our office. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Insurance 101.”
Throughout much of the world, January 1st signifies the first day of a brand new year. It's also commemorated by many as National Hangover Day—aptly so, as scores of New Year's Eve celebrants spend the day nursing their headaches and upset stomachs. It may also be an appropriate time to assess the health impact of alcohol—especially on your teeth and gums.
First, the bad news is that immoderate alcohol consumption increases your risk for tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer. One of the reasons why has to do with sugar found in varying amounts in alcoholic beverages, often included during brewing or distilling to feed the yeast that produce the alcohol. Sugar is a primary food for oral bacteria, which can infect the gums and produce enamel-eroding acid, a prelude to both gum disease and tooth decay.
Along the same lines, alcoholic beverages are often paired with mixers, many of which like sodas and energy drinks contain sugar and high levels of acid. A mixed drink could thus contribute to an even more hostile environment for teeth and gums.
The frequency of your alcohol consumption may also contribute to enamel erosion. Ordinarily, saliva can neutralize oral acid in about thirty minutes to an hour. But saliva can't keep up if you're drinking one round after another, leading to sustained periods of acid contact with the teeth.
Alcohol—or specifically, too much—may also contribute to oral problems. Being under the influence increases your risk for tripping, falling and, shall we say, engaging in fisticuffs, any of which could result in traumatized teeth and gums. And, heavy drinking over a lifetime could increase your risk for oral cancer.
You could avoid these and other outcomes by abstaining from alcohol altogether. But if you do like the occasional wine, beer or spirit, here are a few tips to lower the risk of harm to your mouth, teeth or gums.
Limit your daily consumption. A rule of thumb, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to have no more than two drinks a day if you're a man, one if you're a woman.
Pause between drinks. Rather than downing one drink after another, wait at least an hour before your next round to allow saliva to neutralize any accumulated mouth acid.
Go easy on mixers. While it's fine to indulge in the occasional Old Fashioned or Margarita, choose unmixed beverages like beer, wine or straight spirits more often.
Brush and floss afterward. After a night on the town, don't turn in until you've cleaned your teeth and gums of any residual sugar or acid.
If you would like more information about how alcohol could affect your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition—It's Role in General and Oral Health.”
Some things you hear at the dentist don't surprise you: You have more plaque buildup or (yuck!) you have a new cavity. On a more positive note, you might hear your teeth look fine. But what you might not expect to hear is that your dentist—your longtime dentist—is retiring.
Then again, it might be you telling your dentist you're moving to another city—or you just feel like it's time for a change. Whatever the reason, there could come a time when you must find a new dental care provider. And when you do, it's very important that your dental records go with you.
And, yes, your dentist does have such records on you. Just like medical physicians, they're obligated legally and professionally to maintain a formal record of all your visits and treatments (including all your x-ray films). They may also include notations on your other health conditions and medications that could impact your dental care.
Without those records, your new dentist essentially starts from scratch, depending on what you tell them and what they may ascertain from examining your mouth. It means new x-rays and new treatment plans that can take time to form. But with your old records in hand, dental care with your new dentist hardly misses a beat.
Technically, those records belong to your dentist. You are, however, legally entitled to view them and to obtain a copy, although you may have to reimburse the dentist for printing and mailing costs. Usually, though, you can simply request they be transmitted to your new dentist, which can often be done electronically.
But what if, for whatever reason, you're not comfortable asking for your records from your former dentist? In that case, you can ask your new dentist to request them. Even if you still have an outstanding balance with your former dentist's office, they can't refuse a transfer request.
HIPAA regulations require dental offices to retain adult patient records for at least six years. But don't wait that long! The sooner your dental records are in the hands of your new dentist, the less likely your dental care hits any speed bumps.
If you would like more information on the importance of your dental records, 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 “Why Your Dental Records Should Follow You.”
Know how to get the better of an age-guesser at the carnival? Smile! A recent study found that people tend to underestimate a person's age if they're smiling.
If true, smiling—naturally associated with youthfulness—might help you look younger than you are. Unfortunately, many older people smile less, self-conscious about the effects of aging on their teeth and gums. Their smile doesn't have the same zing as when they were younger.
If that's how you feel about your smile, a cosmetic dentist can help. Here are 3 common age-related problems a skilled dentist can help you improve.
Discoloration. After decades of eating, drinking and possibly smoking, teeth enamel can yellow and dull. But there are ways to brighten discolored teeth. One simple measure is to undergo teeth whitening with a bleaching solution. On a more permanent note, bonding tooth-colored materials, porcelain veneers or life-like dental crowns to teeth can mask stains and other imperfections.
Wearing. Speaking of all those meals, you can expect some teeth wearing later in life that makes them look shorter, and their shape and edges sharper rather than softer and rounded like a youthful smile. Dentists can improve the appearance of worn teeth by reshaping and contouring them to soften harsh edges. A procedure called crown lengthening can reposition the gums to display more of the teeth. Veneers or crowns can also transform the appearance of severely worn teeth.
Receding gums. There's also a contrasting gum problem. What some call "getting long in the tooth," The teeth look longer because the gums have receded from their normal coverage. This is often caused by gum disease, which older people encounter more than other age groups. After treating the infection, the gums may need help regaining their former position by grafting donor tissue to the area to encourage regrowth.
The effects of aging on teeth and gums are quite common, but you don't have to live with them. With a few appropriate techniques and procedures, your dentist can bring back the smile you once had—or one even better.
If you would like more information on maintaining a youthful smile, 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 “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
Morning tiredness, brain fog and snoring are just some of the indicators of a medical condition known as sleep apnea. And, it's worse than waking up on the wrong side of the bed—over time, sleep apnea could increase your risk for heart disease or other life-threatening conditions.
Sleep apnea occurs when air flow becomes restricted during sleep, usually by the tongue blocking the airway. As oxygen levels begin to fall, the brain signals the body to wake up to "fix" the air flow problem.
As this arousal may only last a second or two, you may not remember it when you awaken in the morning. But it can happen numerous times a night, depriving you of the deep sleep your body needs for rest and repair.
Fortunately, there are ways to treat sleep apnea. In extreme instances, you may need surgery to correct anatomical defects causing the condition. For most cases, though, the most common treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which consists of a portable pump delivering pressurized air through a face mask that keeps the throat open while you sleep.
Used by millions of patients, CPAP can be quite effective. Some patients, though, feel uncomfortable using a CPAP machine for various reasons. If you're one of those unhappy CPAP campers or you would like to consider a possible alternative, your dentist might have the answer: oral appliance therapy (OAT).
An OAT device is worn in the mouth during sleep to prevent the tongue from falling back against the back of the throat and blocking the airway. There are various forms of OAT appliances, but they're all custom-made by a dentist to fit an individual patient's mouth. They work best for mild to moderate sleep apnea in which the tongue is the primary culprit in airway blockage.
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you should undergo a complete examination by a doctor or dentist to confirm it. If you've been diagnosed with mild to moderate sleep apnea, talk to your dentist about an OAT device. You may find OAT can provide you the relief you need for a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on oral treatments 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 “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”