When your mouth is dry, you know it: that sticky, uncomfortable feeling when you first wake up or when you're thirsty. Fortunately, it usually goes away after you eat or drink. But what if your mouth felt like that all the time? Then, it's no longer an irritation—chronic dry mouth could also increase your risk of dental disease.
Chronic dry mouth occurs because of inadequate saliva flow. Saliva plays an important role in preventing dental disease because it neutralizes acid, which can cause the mineral content in tooth enamel to break down and lead to tooth decay. The mouth becomes more acidic right after eating, but saliva can restore its normal pH levels in about an hour—as well as some of the enamel's lost mineral content. Without saliva, your tooth enamel is at greater risk from acid.
While a number of things can potentially interfere with normal saliva production, medication is the most common. More than 500 prescription drugs, including many antihistamines, diuretics or antidepressants, can cause dry mouth. Cancer radiation or chemotherapy treatment and certain metabolic conditions like diabetes or Parkinson's disease can also increase symptoms.
If you are experiencing unusual dry mouth symptoms, see your dentist first for a full examination. Your dentist can measure your saliva flow, check your prescriptions and medical history, and examine your salivary glands for abnormalities. With this more accurate picture of your condition, they can help direct you to the most effective remedies and treatments for the cause.
If medication is the problem, you can talk to your doctor about alternative prescriptions that have a lesser effect on saliva flow. You can also drink more water before and after taking oral medication and throughout the day to help lubricate your mouth. Chewing gums or mints with xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar, can also help: xylitol helps reduce the mouth's bacterial levels, as well as stimulate saliva flow.
Easing your dry mouth symptoms can make your life more pleasant. More importantly, it can reduce your risk of future dental problems caused by a lack of saliva.
If you would like more information on dealing with chronic dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and treatment of this Common Problem.”
We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is as common as it is destructive. Almost half of all adults 30 and older have some form—and those numbers increase to nearly three-quarters by age 65.
Fortunately, we have effective ways to treat this bacterial infection, especially if we catch it early. By thoroughly removing all plaque, the disease-causing, bacterial biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, we can stop the infection and help the gums return to normal.
Unfortunately, though, you're at a greater risk for a repeat infection if you've already had gum disease. To lower your chances of future occurrences, we'll need to take your regular dental exams and cleanings to another level.
Although everyone benefits from routine dental care, if you've had gum disease you may see these and other changes in your normal dental visits.
More frequent visits. For most people, the frequency norm between dental cleanings and exams is about six months. But we may recommend more visits for you as a former gum disease patient: depending on the advancement of your disease, we might see you every three months once you've completed your initial treatment, and if your treatment required a periodontist, we may alternate maintenance appointments every three months.
Other treatments and medications. To control any increases in disease-causing bacteria, dentists may prescribe on-going medications or anti-bacterial applications. If you're on medication, we'll use your regular dental visits to monitor how well they're doing and modify your prescriptions as needed.
Long-term planning. Both dentist and patient must keep an eye out for the ongoing threat of another gum infection. It's helpful then to develop a plan for maintaining periodontal health and then revisiting and updating that plan as necessary. It may also be beneficial to perform certain procedures on the teeth and gums to make it easier to keep them clean in the future.
While everyone should take their oral health seriously, there's even greater reason to increase your vigilance if you've already had gum disease. With a little extra care, you can greatly reduce your chances of another bout with this destructive and aggressive disease.
If you would like more information on preventing recurring gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
During pregnancy, your body isn’t the only part of your life that changes. Instead of “me,” you’re now thinking about “us”—you and the new person growing inside you. Because of this change in focus you may be re-examining your current habits to see if any could adversely affect your baby.
If you’re concerned your regular dental visits might be one of these, don’t be. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend continuing regular dental exams and cleanings even during pregnancy.
In fact, professional dental care is often more important during pregnancy. Because of hormonal changes, you may develop food cravings for more carbohydrates like sugar. Unfortunately, eating more sugar could increase your risk for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
These same hormonal changes can also make you more prone to gum disease. There’s even a specific form of it known as pregnancy gingivitis that often occurs in expectant mothers. You may also experience “pregnancy tumors,” large, reddened areas of swelling on the gums.
To decrease your risk of pregnancy-related dental disease, you should certainly keep up your regular dental visits—and more if you begin to notice signs like swollen or bleeding gums. And although it’s usually best to postpone elective procedures like cosmetic dental work, you should be able to safely undergo any essential treatment for disease even if it requires local anesthesia. But do discuss any proposed dental work with both your dentist and obstetrician to be sure.
There are also things you can do for yourself during pregnancy that support your dental health. Be sure you’re practicing good oral hygiene habits like daily brushing and flossing. And by all means eat a well-balanced diet and restrict your sugar intake if at all possible. Taking care of these things will help you avoid dental problems and help make this memorable time in your life as joyous as possible.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth during pregnancy, 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 “Dental Care During Pregnancy.”
If you have chronic jaw pain, you know how difficult eating, speaking or even smiling can be. Many sufferers will do anything to gain relief, even surgery. But before you go down that road, consider the traditional conservative approach to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) management first—it could provide the most relief with the least risk of side effects.
The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the head. These ball and socket joints also contain a cushioning disk to facilitate movement. This disk is believed to be the primary focus for jaw pain problems known collectively as TMD.
Doctors now believe injury, stress, metabolic issues, jaw anatomy defects or similar factors trigger the chain reaction of muscle spasms, pain and soreness that can erupt during a TMD episode. A TMD patient may experience pain within the jaw muscles or joints themselves, clicking sensations, or an inability to open the jaw to its full range.
TMD therapy has traditionally followed an orthopedic path—treating jaw joints like any other joint. In recent years, though, a more aggressive treatment model has emerged that promotes more invasive techniques like orthodontics, dental work or jaw surgery to relieve discomfort. But the track record for this model, especially concerning jaw surgery, remains hazy at best and offers no guarantee of relief. These techniques are also irreversible and have even made symptoms worse in some patients.
It’s usually prudent, then, to try conservative treatments first. This can include pain and muscle relaxant medication, jaw exercises, stretching and massage, and dietary changes to reduce chewing force. Patients with teeth grinding habits may also benefit from a bite guard worn at night to reduce the biting force during sleep and help the joints relax.
By finding the right mix of treatments, you may be able to find significant relief from TMD symptoms with the conservative approach. If not, you might then discuss more invasive options with your dentist. But even if your dentist recommends such a procedure, you would be wise to seek a second opinion.
TMD can definitely interfere with your quality of life and peace of mind. But there are ways to reduce its effects and make for a happier life.
If you would like more information on managing chronic jaw pain, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”