Lansing's Dental Discussion

Posts for tag: oral health

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
May 31, 2022
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
DontLetTheseAgingPitfallsRobYouofGoodOralHealthLaterinLife

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.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
March 02, 2022
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
UnderstandingDentalInsuranceThe3TypesofPlans

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.”

SupermodelAshleyGrahamsUnpleasantDentalEncounterWithaFrozenCookie

Ashley Graham has a beautiful and valuable smile—an important asset to her bustling career as a plus-size model and television host. But she recently revealed on Instagram a “confrontation” between one of her teeth and a frozen oatmeal cookie. The cookie won.

Holding her hand over her mouth during the video until the last moment, Graham explained how she sneaked a cookie from her mom's freezer and took a bite of the frozen treat. Taking her hand from her mouth, she revealed her broken tooth.

Okay, maybe it wasn't an actual tooth that was broken: the denticle in question appeared to have been previously altered to accommodate a porcelain veneer or crown. But whatever was once there wasn't there anymore.

Although her smile was restored without too much fuss, Graham's experience is still a cautionary tale for anyone with dental work (and kudos to her for being a good sport and sharing it). Although dental work in general is quite durable, it is not immune to damage. Biting down on something hard, even as delicious as one of mom's frozen oatmeal cookies, could run you the risk of popping off a veneer or loosening a crown.

To paraphrase an old saying: Take care of your dental work, and it will take care of you. Don't use your teeth in ways that put your dental work at risk, tempting as it may be given your mouth's mechanical capabilities.

 Even so, it's unwise—both for dental work and for natural teeth—to use your teeth and jaws for tasks like cracking nuts or prying open containers. You should also avoid biting into foods or substances with hard textures like ice or a rock-hard cookie from the freezer, especially if you have veneers or other cosmetic improvements.

It's equally important to clean your mouth daily, and undergo professional cleanings at least twice a year. That might not seem so important at first since disease-causing organisms won't infect your dental work's nonliving materials. But infection can wreak havoc on natural tissues like gums, remaining teeth or underlying bone that together often support dental enhancements. Losing that support could lead to losing your dental work.

And it's always a good idea to have dental work, particularly dentures, checked regularly. Conditions in the mouth can change, sometimes without you noticing them, so periodic examinations by a trained dental provider could prevent or treat a problem before it adversely affects your dental work.

We're glad Ashley Graham's trademark smile wasn't permanently harmed by that frozen cookie, and yours probably wouldn't be either in a similar situation. But don't take any chances, and follow these common sense tips for protecting your dental work.

If you would like more information on care and maintenance of cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before” and “Dental Implant Maintenance.”

AstheNewYearBeginsHeresaFreshLookattheEffectsofAlcoholonYourOralHealth

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.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
November 22, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
4ThingsYouCanDoAsanAdultCaregivertoEnsureTheirBestOralHealth

More than 50 million Americans care for an adult neighbor, friend or family member who can't care for themselves. A major part of that care is looking out for their health—including their teeth and gums.

Being a caregiver to someone is a labor of love—but it can be overwhelming. And with oral health especially, it's easy to miss signs of an emerging issue in their mouths that could impact the quality of their lives.

But you can be proactive about your loved one's oral health. In recognition of Family Caregivers Month in November, here are 4 guidelines that can help you ensure their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible.

Make oral hygiene easier for them. Brushing and flossing are basic to a dental disease prevention strategy. But an adult who needs care might have trouble performing these tasks: They may lack the cognitive ability or physical dexterity required. For the latter, larger handled-tooth brushes, floss threaders or water flossers can provide them better maneuverability. With cognitive decline, though, you may have to personally assist them with their hygiene tasks.

Watch for dry mouth. Also known as xerostomia, chronic dry mouth is caused by a lack of adequate saliva needed to fight disease-causing bacteria and to neutralize acid that can erode tooth enamel. For a variety of reasons, older adults are more prone to chronic dry mouth than other age groups. When this occurs, speak with their doctor about their medications (some can cause xerostomia). And, encourage your loved one to drink more water or use products that boost saliva production.

Accompany them to the dentist. Just as you would with other aspects of their health, become an active participant in their dental care. Forging a partnership with their dentist can provide you the information and guidance you need to better manage their daily home care. You can also bring up issues you've noticed with their oral health that can help guide their dentist's treatment.

Monitor their existing dental work. Your loved one may have full or partial dentures, or dental work like crowns or bridges. These existing restorations extend their dental function and protect their oral health from further disease. It's important, then, to have existing dental work checked on a regular basis to ensure its in good shape and functioning properly.

As the old saying goes, "Healthy mouth, healthy body." This is especially true for adults who need ongoing care. Keeping their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible will help them enjoy better health overall.

If you would like more information about oral care for an older adult, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging & Dental Health.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
August 24, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
AcidRefluxCouldLeadtoToothDamage

Your tooth enamel’s main nemesis is oral acid: normally produced by bacteria, foods or beverages, acid can dissolve enamel’s mineral content and cause erosion and decay. But acid might be a bigger problem for you if you also have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.

GERD is a digestive condition in which stomach acid backs up into the digestive tract. Normally, a ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus prevents stomach acid from coming up into it. But if it weakens, this powerful acid can splash up into the esophagus and irritate its more delicate lining and result in a burning sensation known as heartburn or acid indigestion.

The problem for teeth, though, is that GERD could cause stomach acid to potentially come up into the mouth. Because of its high acidic pH (2.0 or less), stomach acid can cause major erosion in tooth enamel, leaving them pitted, yellow and sensitive. If not caught and treated early, some of your teeth could be damaged to the point that they have a questionable prognosis.

There are some things you can do to minimize GERD’s effect on your dental health. First and foremost, see a doctor about managing your symptoms, which might include medication. Be sure you also inform your dentist that you have GERD and what medications you’re taking.

One way to lessen the effect of higher acid in the mouth is to stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid. You can do this by drinking plenty of water, taking a saliva booster or chewing xylitol-sweetened gum. You can also rinse with plain water or water mixed with baking soda (1/2 teaspoon to a cup of water), or chew an antacid tablet to help balance your mouth’s pH level.

And don’t forget to look out for your enamel. Be sure you’re practicing daily brushing and flossing and using fluoride hygiene products to strengthen it. Your dentist can also apply topical solutions or prescribe special rinses with higher concentrations of fluoride.

GERD can be an unpleasant experience that escalates into major problems. Don’t let it compromise your dental health.

If you would like more information on managing oral health with acid reflux disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
July 15, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
AlthoughItSoundsExoticThisMouthSoreIsntaBigConcern

Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.

Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.

Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.

But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.

As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.

In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.

As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.

Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.

If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Lichen Planus.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
July 05, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral hygiene  
TakeCareofYourTeethandGumsEvenWhileCamping

July is Park and Recreation Month, a great time to pack up the tent, bed roll and camp stove and head for your nearest state or national park. Just don't take the concept of "getting away from it all" too literally. It's not a good idea to leave all of civilization behind, particularly your daily oral hygiene and dental care habits.

You might think, What's the harm going a few days without brushing and flossing? Actually, there's plenty of harm—even a brief period of neglected oral hygiene is sufficient to give oral bacteria a chance to trigger a case of tooth decay or gum disease.

It's true that you're limited on what you can take with you into the great outdoors (that's kind of the point). But with a little forethought and wise packing, you can take care of your dental care needs and still tread lightly into the woods. Here then, are a few tips for taking care of your teeth and gums while camping.

Bring your toothbrush. There are some things in your personal toiletry you may not need in the wild (looking at you, razor). But you do need your toothbrush, toothpaste and a bit of dental floss or floss picks. We're really not talking about a lot of room, particularly if you go with travel sizes. Just be sure everyone has their own brush packed separately from each other to discourage bacterial spread.

Dry and seal hygiene items. Bacteria love moist environments—so be sure you thoroughly dry your toothbrush after use before you pack it away. You should also stow toothpaste in sealable bags so that its scent won't attract critters (bears seem partial to mint). And, be sure to clean up any toothpaste waste or used floss and dispose of items properly.

Be sure you have clean water. Brushing and flossing with clean water is something you might take for granted at home—but not in camp. Even the clearest stream water may not be as clean as it may look, so be sure you have a way to disinfect it. Alternatively, bottled water is a handy option for use while brushing and flossing your teeth.

Easy on the trail mix. Although seeds and nuts make up most popular snacking mixes for hiking or camping, they may also contain items like raisins or candy bits with high sugar content. Since sugar feeds the bacteria that cause dental disease, keep your snacking on these kinds of trail mixes to a minimum or opt for snacks without these sweetened items.

Camping can be a great adventure. Just be sure you're not setting yourself up for a different kind of adventure in dental treatment by taking care of your teeth and gums on your next big outing.

If you would like more information about taking care of your teeth no matter the season, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
June 05, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
FocusonThese4OralHealthAreasWhileCaringforanOlderFamilyMember

Millions of people are currently caring for an elderly family member. If that describes your family, then you know how overwhelming that responsibility can be at times.

A part of that responsibility is making sure they have healthy teeth and gums, a critical part of their overall well-being. But as with the rest of the body, teeth and gums can wear and become disease-prone as a person gets older. To further complicate things, an older adult may not be able to take care of their own oral health due to physical and cognitive decline.

Maintaining an older loved one's oral health is difficult, but not impossible. Here are 4 areas on which you should focus to ensure they have the healthiest teeth and gums possible.

Oral hygiene. It's important for all of us to avoid tooth decay and gum disease by brushing and flossing daily to remove bacterial plaque, the prime cause for dental disease. You can switch an older adult who is having trouble performing these tasks because of physical impairment to large handled toothbrushes or a water flosser to make things easier. In some cases, you may have to perform these tasks for them.

Dental visits. Dental cleanings at least twice a year further lower the risk of disease, especially in older adults. Regular dental visits are also important to monitor an older person's oral health, and to initiate treatment when the need arises. Catching dental disease early at any age improves outcomes.

Dental work. An older person may have various forms of dental work like fillings, crowns, bridges or dentures. Keeping them in top shape helps them maintain their oral health and protect any of their remaining teeth. Have their dental work checked regularly by a dentist, especially dentures that can lose their fit over time.

Oral cancer. Although not as prevalent as other forms, this deadly cancer does occur in higher rates among people over 65. Be sure, then, that an oral cancer screening is a component of your older family member's regular dental evaluations. And any time you notice a sore or other abnormality in their mouth, have it evaluated by their dentist as soon as possible.

If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”



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