Lansing's Dental Discussion

Posts for tag: oral 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.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
March 17, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
AcidRefluxCouldBeDamagingYourTeeth

Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.

But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.

It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.

If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.

  • Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
  • Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
  • If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.

You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.

Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.

If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
February 05, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   toothache  
WhatToDoandNotDoforThese3CommonChildhoodDentalProblems

Knowing what to do—and what not to do—when your child is sick can greatly affect their health and well-being. That's especially true with dental problems.

Here then are some Dos and Don'ts for 3 common problems children experience with their teeth and gums.

Teething. An infant's first teeth breaking through the gums is a normal but often unpleasant experience. Fortunately, teething episodes only last a few days. And, there's usually no need to see the dentist unless they have a fever or diarrhea while teething. In the meantime:

  • Do: provide them chilled (not frozen) cloth or plastic items to bite and gnaw, and massage their gums to relieve painful pressure. You can also give them an age-appropriate dose of a mild pain reliever.
  • Don't: rub any medication on their gums, which can irritate them and other soft tissues. Never use alcohol or aspirin to alleviate teething discomfort. And avoid using anything with benzocaine, a numbing agent which can be hazardous to young children.

Toothache. Whether a momentary sensitivity to hot or cold or a sharp, throbbing pain, a child's toothache often signals tooth decay, a bacterial disease which could eventually lead to tooth loss.

  • Do: make a dental appointment at your child's first complaint of a toothache. Ease the pain with a warm-water rinse, a cold compress to the outside of the jaw, or a mild pain reliever.
  • Don't: rub medication on the teeth or gums (for similar reasons as with teething). Don't apply ice or heat directly to the affected tooth or gums, which can burn them.

Bleeding gums. Gum bleeding from normal brushing or flossing, along with red or swollen gums, may indicate periodontal (gum) disease. Although rare in children, it can still happen—and it can put an affected tooth in danger.

  • Do: see your dentist if bleeding continues for a few days. Continue to brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush around the gums to remove plaque, a thin-biofilm most responsible for gum infection.
  • Don't: brush aggressively or more than twice a day, which could unnecessarily irritate and damage the gums. And don't stop brushing—it's important to remove plaque buildup daily to lessen the gum infection.

If you would like more information on dental care for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
January 26, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
4ThingsYouCanDoToProtectOralHealthDuringCancerTreatment

Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.

If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.

Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.

Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.

Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.

Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.

It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.

If you would like more information on dental care during cancer treatment, 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 Health During Cancer Treatment.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
December 27, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
BoostYourDentalHealthWithSoon-To-ExpireFSAFunds

If you're among the estimated 14 million families with a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA), New Year's Eve has an added meaning—that's typically the deadline for using any current year funds. Since any remaining money in your FSA could go poof at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, you might be looking for a way to spend it. If so, consider a dental health boost for you and your family.

FSAs were created in the 1970s by the U.S. Government as a salary benefit that employers could offer employees. Instead of receiving all of their pay as taxable income, employees could designate a portion of it (currently up to $2,650) in a non-taxable account to use for certain medical and dental expenses. An FSA thus provides families a way to pay for uncovered healthcare costs while saving on their taxes.

But because most FSAs expire by the end of the year and then restart with a fresh balance in the new year, there's a natural concern that you will “use or lose” remaining money. People thus begin looking for eligible expenses like treatments, prescribed medications or eyeglasses. They can't, however, use them for items like over-the-counter medical products (though some pain relievers get a pass this year because of COVID-19), as well as most things cosmetic.

The same generally holds true for dental expenses—you won't be able to use FSA funds for procedures like teeth whitening or veneers. Toothbrushes and other routine oral care products are also ineligible, although you may be able to buy items like a water flosser if your dentist issues you a Letter of Medical Necessity (LMN).

Still, there's a wide range of eligible dental items you could pay for with remaining FSA funds.

Prevention measures. Any procedures or treatments intended to prevent disease are typically FSA-eligible. These can include measures like regular dental cleanings, sealants or fluoride applications.

Disease treatment. FSAs cover procedures like fillings, extractions, gum surgery or root canals. This could include repairing damage from disease through dental bonding or crowns, which might also improve your smile.

Dental restorations. Missing teeth restorations like bridgework, dentures or dental implants are also covered. These may improve your appearance, but they primarily restore disrupted dental function.

Out-of-pocket expenses. Although you can't pay for dental insurance premiums, an FSA may be able to help in other ways. You can use FSA funds for co-pays or any remaining out-of-pocket expenses.

If you're not sure what dental expenses might be eligible for FSA funds, give our office a call and we can provide you guidance. If FSA funds can help, you'll be able to improve your dental health—and possibly your appearance—before you ring in 2021.

If you would like more information about managing your dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation.

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
December 17, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition  
KeepaLidonSugarThisHolidayforHealthierTeethandGums

During this time of year, many of us dust off traditional family recipes and make our favorite holiday treats. There is, however, a small price to pay for all that nostalgic goodness in the shape of a few extra pounds to deal with in the new year. We may also be increasing the risk for something even more unpleasant: tooth decay.

The main cause, of course, is a certain carbohydrate integral to many holiday goodies: sugar.  We humans love it, but so do oral bacteria that readily devour any sugar lingering in our mouth after eating. This fuels bacterial reproduction, which in turn increases the production of acid that softens tooth enamel.

There are a number of strategies you can follow to reduce this effect. You can remove sugar completely from your holiday preparations—and risk family and friends “voting you off the island.” Or, you can try these tips for easing the impact of holiday sugar on your dental health.

Look for ways to reduce sugar. Just because you're not throwing the sugar bowl out the window doesn't mean you have to go all out using it. Instead, try to modify older recipes (or look for newer versions) to decrease the amount of sugar in candies and baked goods. You may also consider alternative sweeteners like sucralose that tolerate high baking temperatures.

Balance savory with sweet. Not all holiday treats need to be sweet—you can add items that take advantage of more savory seasonings. For example, try offering up popcorn with a sprinkling of cinnamon or other holiday spice, or a creative assortment of cheeses (which in turn promote saliva flow to neutralize acid).

Combine treats with mealtimes. Continuous snacking may be part of the holiday tradition, but it can also raise the risk for tooth decay. Acidity increases when we eat, but saliva normally neutralizes it within thirty minutes to an hour. However, saliva can get overwhelmed during continuous snacking, resulting in longer periods of high acidity that damages tooth enamel. Instead, try to combine snack times with mealtimes.

Don't neglect your oral hygiene. Even though things can get hectic during the holidays, make a point of keeping up daily brushing and flossing. Regular hygiene keeps dental plaque, a thin film of harmful bacteria and food particles (including sugar), from building up on your teeth. Reducing plaque lowers your overall decay risk. Attention to oral health through your day-to-day dental hygiene routine along with regular professional cleanings and checkups is the best thing you can do to avoid dental disease.

The holidays should be a joyous time for you and your family. They can also be a healthy time for your teeth and gums, if you minimize the role of sugar in your holiday treats.

If you would like more information about boosting your dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”



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