Lansing's Dental Discussion

Posts for tag: oral health

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.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
October 18, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
4WaysSalivaProtectsYourMouthAgainstDisease

Brushing and flossing daily, and dental visits at least twice a year: These are the essential things you should be doing to protect your teeth and gums against dental disease. But you're also getting an automatic assist from your body through saliva, that humble fluid swishing around in your mouth, to protect your oral health.

It's more than simply “mouth water”: Without saliva and its various components, your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease would be much higher. Here are 4 ways saliva helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Cleansing. Chewing prepares your food for digestion, but in the process produces tiny particles of food debris. Settling on tooth surfaces, these bits become part of the dental plaque that forms on your teeth and develops the ideal breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps rinse away much of this debris—particularly sugar, the primary food source for bacteria.

Protection. Saliva is the first line defense against disease-causing microorganisms entering the mouth. The primary source of this protection is a protein-based antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which directly fights infection-causing organisms. Another protein in saliva, lactoferrin (also found in tears), interferes with bacterial growth.

Buffering. The main enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid, produced by oral bacteria and the foods that we eat. Saliva neutralizes acid to help the mouth maintain its normally neutral pH range. And it works fast: Saliva can buffer acid and restore balance within thirty minutes to an hour after eating.

Re-mineralization. It's normal for acid to build up after eating, and for it to quickly remove minerals from surface enamel, a process called de-mineralization that can soften and weaken the enamel. But saliva helps restore some of these lost minerals as it's neutralizing acid. This re-mineralization re-strengthens enamel against tooth decay.

Saliva is so important for maintaining a healthy mouth, it's worth your efforts to protect it. Diminished saliva production not only produces an unpleasant dry mouth, it may increase your risk for disease. If this is a constant problem, speak to your dentist about causes and remedies. You'll be doing your teeth and gums a favor.

If you would like more information on the role of saliva in maintaining oral health, 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
October 08, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
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.”

YourDentistcanHelpGuideyouintheBestTreatmentOptionforSleepApnea

Do you still feel tired or unfocused even after a full night’s sleep? Do others complain about your snoring? It’s possible these are signs that you may have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while you sleep. Your brain will awaken you to breathe, although you may not consciously realize it since the waking period can be less than a second. But it does disrupt your sleep rhythm, especially during the all-important deep sleep period called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). These disruptions don’t allow your body to receive the full benefit of sleep, hence your lack of energy and focus during the day.

One of the most common causes for sleep apnea is the collapse of soft tissues near the throat as they relax during sleep that restrict the airway. Snoring is an indication this may be occurring: air vibrates rapidly (and loudly) as it passes through this restriction when you breathe in.

As your dentist, we’re well-trained in the anatomy and function of the entire oral structure, and qualified to offer solutions for sleep apnea. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea (after a complete examination, including an observation session at a sleep laboratory), we can then help you decide on a treatment approach. The following are three such options, depending on the severity of your sleep apnea.

Oral Appliance Therapy. An oral appliance you wear while you sleep is a first line treatment for mild or moderate sleep apnea. The appliance, which we custom design for you, helps hold the lower jaw in a forward position: this moves the tongue and other soft structures away from the back of the throat, thereby opening the airway.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). Intended for more moderate to severe forms of sleep apnea, a CPAP machine produces continuous air pressure to the throat through a mask you wear during sleep. This forces the tongue forward and the airway open.

Surgical Intervention. These procedures remove excess tissue that may be obstructing the airway. Due to its invasiveness and permanent alteration of the throat area, surgery is reserved for patients who haven’t responded to other therapies in a satisfactory manner.

Whether mild or severe, it’s possible to effectively treat sleep apnea. If successful, not only will you benefit from better sleep and greater alertness, you’ll also improve your long-term health.

If you would like more information on treating 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
April 21, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
FriendlyBacteriaCanHelpProtectOurMouthsFromDisease

If you know anything about dental disease, then you know bacteria ranks high on the Usual Suspects list. Tooth decay gets its start from acid produced by bacteria; periodontal (gum) disease is often triggered by bacteria that infect the gums.

But the particular strains of bacteria that can cause dental disease are a small percentage of the 10,000-plus species inhabiting your mouth. The rest, numbering in the millions, are fairly benign—and some, as recent research is now showing, play a sizeable role in protecting your teeth and gums against other malicious bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a dental researcher at Case Western Reserve University, has been investigating these protective bacteria for many years. His research began with a scientific conundrum: although the mouth has one of the highest densities of bacterial populations, wounds in the mouth tend to heal quickly.

The answer, he believes, originates with human beta defensins (hBDs), substances produced by cells in the lining of the mouth that are natural antibiotics against disease. He has found that certain bacteria actually help stimulate their production.

This isn't just an interesting fact about the body's defenses and immune system. During his research, Dr. Weinberg was able to identify the agent within the bacteria that triggered hBD production. This has opened up a new line of research: The possibility that harnessing this agent might help assist in our treatment of infection by boosting the body's defensive capabilities.

For example, researchers have proposed including a form of the agent in toothpaste. Over time, this might stimulate hBD production and guard the mouth against the development of dental diseases like gum disease.

These possibilities all come from our increasing knowledge and understanding of the microscopic world around us, especially in our mouths. Bacteria are much more complex than we may have realized—not all are our enemies, and some are definitely our friends. Learning more may open up new ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy.

If you would like more information on the mouth's healing abilities, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
December 23, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition  
4WaystoEnjoyHolidaySnackingandStillKeepYourTeethHealthy

‘Tis the season to be merry—and with plenty of edible goodies! During the holidays, families fill their homes with all sorts of delectable treats for friends and loved ones. But there can be unintended consequences with all this joyous feasting, and not just added pounds come January: eating more sugar could increase your risk for dental disease.

We’re not here to throw a wet blanket on your holiday fun. Instead, we have 4 commonsense tips to help you keep your holiday snacking from ultimately causing tooth and gum woes.

Blend in healthier choices. The problem with sugar is that it’s a prime food source of disease-causing oral bacteria. The more sugar available in the mouth, the more these bacteria multiply and increase the disease threat to your teeth and gums. So, try reducing sugar by adding savory treats like nuts or flavored popcorn to your sweeter offerings. And don’t forget cheese and other dairy—eating dairy products along with sweets can help blunt some of sugar’s effect on bacteria.

Avoid “grazing.” While it’s tempting to do so during the holidays, continuous snacking increases the mouth’s acidity, which is like Superman’s kryptonite to your tooth enamel. The longer acid directly contacts your enamel, the more it can soften it and open the door to tooth decay. Saliva neutralizes after-meal acid; but if you’re constantly snacking, you could prevent saliva from completely buffering the acid present. So, limit your snacking time—or better yet, reserve your sweet treats for mealtime.

Don’t neglect your hygiene. The hectic pace of the holidays can interfere with people’s normal routines. Don’t let that happen to your daily practice of brushing and flossing. These essential hygiene tasks clean your teeth of a disease-causing biofilm called dental plaque. Miss a few days and the accumulated plaque could trigger an infection that could damage your gums and ultimately your teeth. You can help avoid this by brushing and flossing every day.

Don’t brush right after eating. The mouth’s acidity naturally increases during and just after eating. As we alluded to earlier, saliva’s on the job getting the mouth back to a more neutral state and reducing the effect of acid on enamel. That takes about an hour, though, and in the meantime your enamel may be in a slightly softened state. If you brush right after eating, you might inadvertently brush tiny bits of enamel. So, wait an hour or so after eating before you brush.

The holidays are all about enjoying friends and family and ringing in the new year. Follow these tips to ensure it’s a healthy and happy one for your teeth and gums.

If you would like more information about dental care during the holidays, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
November 23, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
PatchyDiscolorationsontheTongueArentaCauseforWorry

Some things in life look worse than they really are. A condition known as “geographic tongue” is a good example: while it may look serious, it’s not a cause for real concern.

If you’ve never heard of geographic tongue it’s because it’s not a common ailment: it only affects one to three percent of the population. The name comes from patches of redness on the top surface of the tongue surrounded by grayish white borders, which gives the red patches a look similar to land masses on a map.

It’s known formally as “benign migratory glossitis,” which tells us more about the condition: “benign” means the patches aren’t cancerous; “migratory” indicates the patches tend to move and take different shapes along the surface of the tongue. In fact, it’s possible for them to appear, disappear, and then reappear over the course of a few days.

The exact causes of geographic tongue haven’t been fully substantiated. Researchers believe emotional stress, psychological problems or hormonal disturbances (especially women during pregnancy or ovulation) could be triggers for its occurrence. Certain dietary deficiencies like zinc or vitamin B, or acidic foods are also believed to be factors.

While geographic tongue isn’t painful, it can leave your tongue feeling more sensitive with a mild burning or stinging sensation. If you’re prone to having geographic tongue, there are some things you can do to reduce the irritation. Try to avoid eating acidic or spicy foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits or mint, as well as astringent substances like alcohol or certain mouthwashes. We may also prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments to help ease any discomfort.

The good news, though, is that this harmless condition is more irritating than anything else. With a little care and forethought you won’t even know you have it.

If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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 “Geographic Tongue.”

By Holly Scott-Hetchler DDS
November 13, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition  
EatingtheRightCarbsHelpsKeepYourGumsHealthy

As with most Western countries, we in the U.S. love our carbs. While fats and proteins make an appearance in our diets, many of us go full-tilt on sugars, starches and fibers.

Regardless of what some diet gurus say, we do need these organic compounds to generate energy for our cells. But carbs can also fuel inflammation: This is a mechanism in the body that isolates and protects healthy tissues from damaged tissues or toxins. Chronic inflammation, though, contributes to systemic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and, yes, gum disease.

And it's not just a matter of too many carbs in your diet. Not all carbs are equal: Some can actually stimulate inflammation, making conditions like gum disease worse. Others, though, might actually help decrease inflammation.

So, in terms of your gum health in particular, how do you know which carbs are better for you and which are worse?

It depends on their ranking on the glycemic index, a measure of how fast the body digests a particular carbohydrate to form glucose, the blood sugar that fuels our cells. The faster the digestion (higher on the glycemic index), the more likely they'll overload the bloodstream with glucose, requiring the release of the hormone insulin to bring the levels back to normal. Continuous insulin increases ultimately lead to higher inflammation.

High glycemic foods include those with added sugar, bakery items made with white flour, white rice or mashed potatoes. But there are also carb foods low on the glycemic scale—most vegetables, greens, beans, nuts and whole grains—whose slower digestive rates avoid the big blood sugar spikes and excessive insulin—and actually hinder inflammation.

So, if you want to control inflammation, reduce your consumption of high glycemic foods like chips, French fries, cookies and similar items. Instead, eat low glycemic foods like apples, bulgur wheat products, oatmeal, and other fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.

In short: steer clear of processed foods with added sugar, and indulge yourself in fresh “real” food. These also have the added bonuses of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that keep your body functioning normally. And that can also make a big difference toward keeping your gums healthy and disease-free.

If you would like more information on diet and dental health, 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”



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