Although there are several potential problems people could encounter involving their teeth, gums or mouth, most fall into three basic categories. That's the finding of a recent survey conducted by the American Dental Association of more than 15,000 U.S. adults.
These categories are a triad of symptoms, each of which could arise from a variety of causes. If you're encountering any one of these, you should see your dentist as soon as possible.
Tooth pain. A toothache—or any form of pain from the mouth—could be sign of a number of possible issues. It could mean you have a decayed tooth, especially if the pain is sharp and localized. It could also indicate a gum abscess (accompanied by red and puffy gums), a sinus or ear infection, or inflammation of the jaw joints. The intensity, duration and location of the pain are all clues to its actual cause and what treatments it might require.
Biting difficulties. Does it hurt when you bite down? Among other things, you could have a loose tooth or one that's deeply decayed. The former could be the sign of advanced gum disease, which itself must be treated and the tooth stabilized (splinted) to other teeth. If the problem is advanced decay, you may need a root canal to remove diseased tissue from within the interior of the tooth, which is then filled and crowned to prevent re-infection.
Dry mouth. We're not talking about that "cotton mouth" feeling we all get now and then. This is a chronic condition known as xerostomia in which the mouth feels dry all the time. Xerostomia has several causes including smoking or treatments for cancer or other serious diseases. It might also be a medication you're taking, which has reduced your mouth's saliva production. Because dry mouth could lead to dental disease, you should take steps to relieve it.
Even if you're not having symptoms like these, there may still be something going on in your mouth that needs attention. That's why you should see your dentist on a regular basis, besides when you notice a problem, to keep your oral health in tip-top shape.
If you're a fan of former NFL player and current host of Good Morning America Michael Strahan, then you're well aware of his unique smile feature—a noticeable gap between his front teeth. So far, Strahan has nixed any dental work to correct the gap, often saying it was part of "who I am."
But if you follow him on Twitter, you may have been shocked by a video he posted on March 30th of him sitting in a dentist's chair. Calling it a "moment fifty years in the making," Strahan said, "Let's do it." After some brief video shots of a dental procedure, Strahan revealed a new gapless smile.
But some of his Twitter fans weren't buying it—given the timing, they sniffed an elaborate April Fool's Day ruse. It turns out their spider senses were on target: Strahan appeared once again after the video with his signature gap still intact, grinning over the reaction to his successful prank.
The uproar from his practical joke is all the more hilarious because Strahan has let it be known he's truly comfortable with his smile "imperfection." But it also took him awhile to reach that point of acceptance, a well-known struggle for many people. On the one hand, they want to fix their dental flaws and improve their smile. But then again, they're hesitant to part with the little "imperfections" that make them unique.
If that's you, here are some tips to help you better navigate what best to do about improving your smile.
See a cosmetic dentist. A cosmetic dentist is singularly focused on smile enhancement, and particularly in helping patients decide what changes they want or need. If you're looking for such a dentist, seek recommendations from friends and family who've changed their smiles in ways you find appealing.
Get a "smile analysis." Before considering specific cosmetic measures, it's best to first get the bigger picture through an examination called a "smile analysis." Besides identifying the defects in your smile, a cosmetic dentist will use the analysis to gauge the effect any proposed improvements may have on your overall facial appearance.
Embrace reality. A skilled cosmetic dentist will also evaluate your overall oral health and assess how any cosmetic procedures might impact it. This might change your expectations if it whittles down the list of enhancement possibilities, but it may help determine what you can do to get the best improved smile possible.
A great cosmetic dentist will work diligently with you to achieve a new smile that's uniquely you. Even if, like Michael Strahan, you decide to keep a trademark "imperfection," there may still be room for other enhancements that will change your appearance for the better.
As summer wanes, thousands of high school grads will begin the new adventure called college. For many of these "freshmen," it will also be their first taste of true independence—mom and dad and the guidance they normally provide will be far away.
This is generally a good thing. But there are also consequences to making (or not making) your own choices that can have long-lasting effects, some of which may not be pleasant. For example, neglecting teeth and gum care could disrupt oral health (as well as overall health) for years or even decades to come.
As your newly minted college student sets off on their new academic journey, be sure that among the advice you give them are these 3 important dental care habits.
Brush and floss daily. It's important to stress that among the things of childhood to leave behind, oral hygiene isn't one of them. Dental disease is mainly caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing greatly reduces disease risk. It's a top priority, even with a hectic college schedule.
Eat "tooth-friendly." That hectic schedule may also tempt them to grab whatever food is quick and available. Unfortunately, such food isn't always the healthiest, especially for teeth and gums. Foods and snacks loaded with sugar are especially perilous to oral health—sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Healthier food choices contribute to healthier teeth and gums.
Avoid bad habits. The exhilaration of new independence can lead to a flurry of bad habits, some of which could affect teeth and gum health. Using tobacco increases the risk of dental disease and oral cancer. Wearing lip piercings or tongue jewelry may cause tooth damage. And certain forms of unprotected sex raise the chances of viral infection and an increased risk of oral cancer.
College can be an exciting adventure. But there are pitfalls along the way, especially for oral health. Advising your college student to follow these tips will help ensure their teeth and gums stay healthy beyond graduation.
If you would like more information on ways to keep your student's teeth and gums healthy, 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 “10 Health Tips For College Students.”
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people around the world have a disability. That's one in eight individuals of all ages who may need assistance managing their daily lives. One area in particular that often requires caregiver attention is oral health, which isn't always easy.
Depending on the disability, addressing a disabled individual's health needs can be overwhelming—and such concerns may be even greater now due to COVID 19. In light of all these and other pressing issues, caring for a disabled person's teeth and gums could easily take a back seat.
But oral health has a far greater impact on a person's health than just their mouth. Inflammation related to gum disease, for example, could worsen other systemic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. And, unhealthy (or missing) teeth could inhibit a person in meeting their nutritional needs.
But you can effectively manage their oral health by keeping your focus on a few principal items related to dental care. In recognition of International Day of People with Disabilities this December 3rd, here are some practical guidelines for ensuring your friend or family member maintains their oral health.
Stay consistent with daily hygiene. Brushing and flossing can be very effective toward preventing dental disease, but only if it's consistently practiced every day. Someone with a disability may need help maintaining that consistency, so be sure you set a regular time and place for them to brush and floss to help reinforce the habit.
Make brushing and flossing easier. These twin hygiene tasks may also pose challenges for a disabled person who has issues with physical dexterity or cognitive function. You can help ease those challenges by making sure they have the best tools to help them perform the task at hand, like large-handled brushes, flossing picks or water flossers.
Brush and floss together. For some individuals with a disability, a caregiver may need to perform their hygiene tasks for them. But even if they're able to do it for themselves, it may still be overwhelming for them on their own. In that case, brushing and flossing with them, and injecting a little fun into the activity, can help positively reinforce the habit for them.
Accompany them to the dentist. If you're heavily involved in a disabled person's daily oral care, you may want to go with them and sit in on their regular dental visits. This is a time when you and their dentist can "exchange notes," so to speak, to better be in sync with what needs to be done to improve your loved one's oral care.
Until recently, the standard treatment for tooth decay remained essentially the same for nearly a century: Remove any decayed structure, then prepare and fill the cavity. But that singular protocol has begun to change recently.
Although "drilling and filling" saves teeth, it doesn't fully address the causes of decay. In response, dentists have broadened their approach to the disease—the focus now is on an individual patient's particular set of risk factors for decay and how to reduce those.
At the heart of this new approach is a better understanding of oral bacteria, the true cause of decay. Bacteria produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and create a gateway into the tooth for decay to advance. We therefore want to lower those risk factors that may lead to bacterial growth and elevated acidity.
One of our major objectives in this newer approach is to reduce plaque, a thin film of food particles used by bacteria for food and habitation. Removing plaque, principally through better oral hygiene, in turn reduces decay-causing bacteria.
Plaque isn't the only mechanism for bacterial growth and acidity. Appliances like dentures or retainers accumulate bacteria if not regularly cleaned. Reduced saliva flow, often due to certain medications or smoking, limits this fluid's ability to buffer acid and acid reflux or acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks can disrupt the mouth's normal pH and increase the risk for enamel erosion.
Our aim, then, is to develop a long-term strategy based on the patient's individual set of oral disease risk factors. To determine those, we'll need to examine their medical history (including family), current health status and lifestyle habits. From there, we can create a specific plan targeting the identified risk factors for decay.
Some of the elements of such a strategy might include:
- Daily brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings;
- Fluoride dental products or treatments to strengthen enamel;
- Changes in diet and excess snacking, and ceasing from any tobacco use;
- Cleaning and maintaining appliances, as well as monitoring past dental work.
Improving the mouth environment by limiting the presence of oral bacteria and acid can reduce the occurrence of tooth decay and the extent of treatment that might be needed. It's a more nuanced approach that can improve dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention and 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
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