Posts for category: Oral Health
Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
Unlike the months on either side, August isn't known for major holidays. But it does have one cause for celebration: National Fresh Breath Day! True, this observance will probably never achieve big-time recognition. Yet everyone would agree that fresh breath is something to appreciate! Unfortunately, bad breath is a persistent problem for many people. The first step in treating it is to identify the cause. Here are 5 common causes of bad breath:
1. Poor oral hygiene. Certain types of oral bacteria cause bad breath, and the mouth provides a perfect environment for them—especially when dental plaque and food debris is not well cleansed. So to keep your breath fresh, maintain a diligent oral hygiene routine. This includes brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once a day. For an extra-clean mouth, use a tongue scraper—a plastic tool about the size of a toothbrush that's available in most drug stores. This will remove bacteria and food debris from your tongue for extra freshness.
2. Oral diseases. Bad odors in your mouth may also be caused by infections—which is what tooth decay and gum disease actually are. Sometimes old fillings wear out, allowing bacteria to re-infect a tooth that was once treated for decay. Other signs of these common oral diseases include tooth pain and bleeding or puffy gums. If you notice any of these, don't ignore it—make a dental appointment today!
3. Diet. Smelly foods will give you smelly breath; it's that simple. And the odors may linger after you have eaten them. When onion, garlic and other pungent foods are digested, their odor-producing substances enter your bloodstream and proceed to your lungs—which can affect how your breath smells. If you suspect your dietary habits are causing bad breath, try eliminating certain foods (at least temporarily) and see if that helps.
4. Dry mouth. Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, so reduced saliva flow can lead to bad breath. This accounts for "morning breath," which is caused when the mouth dries out during sleep (especially if you are a mouth-breather). However, some people don't produce enough saliva throughout the day. Sometimes it's just that they don't drink enough water. But a very common cause of chronic dry mouth is regular use of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. If you notice that medication is drying out your mouth, let your doctor know. And stay hydrated!
5. Smoking. Given that smoking increases your risk for many serious diseases, including oral cancer, the fact that it can lead to bad breath seems almost trivial. Still, it's worth noting that smoking causes mouth odor both directly and indirectly by reducing the flow of saliva and promoting gum disease. In fact, tobacco in all forms is a hazard to your health.
If you'd like more information on bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease” and “Dry Mouth.”
On your way to a more attractive smile, you’ll have to deal with some inconveniences while wearing braces like avoiding certain foods or habits or dealing with possible embarrassment about your new “metal smile.” But there’s one consequence of wearing braces that could dramatically affect your dental health: the difficulty they pose for keeping your teeth clean of dental plaque.
Dental plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food particles that if allowed to build up on tooth surfaces could trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing and flossing thoroughly every day helps prevent this buildup.
Unfortunately, metal brackets and wires can get in the way and cause you to miss areas while performing these hygiene tasks. This could cause plaque buildup in those isolated areas that could trigger an infection. And if you (or someone you love) are also a teenager, the natural adolescent surge in hormones can increase your infection risk.
If while wearing braces you notice your gums are reddened, swollen or bleeding when you brush, these are all signs of infection and the body’s inflammatory response to it. The longer the infection continues, the weaker the tissues become, causing them to gradually detach from the teeth. Along with bone deterioration (another effect of the disease), this can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
To prevent this from happening, you’ll need to be as thorough as possible with daily brushing and flossing. To help make it easier, you can use special tools like an interproximal brush that can maneuver around the braces better than a regular brush. For flossing you can use a floss threader to more readily guide floss between teeth or a water flosser that uses a pressurized stream of water rather than floss thread to remove plaque.
This extra cleaning effort while wearing braces can greatly reduce your disease risk. But you’ll still need to keep an eye out for any symptoms like swollen or bleeding gums, and see your dentist as soon as possible. If the symptoms become severe you may need your braces removed until the disease can be brought under control. The health and future vitality of your teeth and gums is what’s of primary importance.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Physical pain is never pleasant or welcomed. Nevertheless, it’s necessary for your well-being—pain is your body telling you something isn’t right and needs your attention.
That fully applies to tooth pain. Not all tooth pain is the same—the intensity, location and duration could all be telling you one of a number of things that could be wrong. In a way, pain has its own “language” that can give us vital clues as to what’s truly causing it.
Here are 3 types of tooth pain and what they might be telling you about an underlying dental problem.
Sensitivity to hot or cold. If you’ve ever had a sharp, momentary pain after consuming something hot like coffee or cold like ice cream, this could indicate several causative possibilities. You might have a small area of tooth decay or a loose filling. You might also have an exposed root due to gum recession, which is much more sensitive to temperature or pressure changes. The latter is also a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
Acute or constant pain. If you’re feeling a severe and continuing pain from one particular area of your teeth (even if you can’t tell exactly which one), this could mean the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, has become infected with decay. The pain is emanating from nerves within the pulp coming under attack from the decay. To save the tooth, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the decayed tissue and seal the tooth from further infection. You should see your dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain suddenly stops—that only means the nerves have died, but the decay is still there and threatening your tooth.
Severe gum pain. If there’s an extremely painful spot on your gums especially sensitive to touch, then you may have an abscess. This is a localized area of infection that develops in the gums either as the result of periodontal (gum) disease, or an infection spreading from the tooth pulp into the gum tissues. You’ll need to see a dentist immediately for both pain relief and appropriate treatment (including a possible root canal) to heal the abscessed tissue.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and how to treat it, 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 Pain? Don’t Wait!”
It takes only a few days of inadequate oral hygiene for bacterial plaque to trigger the periodontal (gum) disease gingivitis. Though sometimes subtle, there are signs to watch for like inflamed, reddened or bleeding gums.
Untreated gingivitis can develop into more advanced forms of gum disease that infect deeper levels of the gums and supporting bone and ultimately cause bone and tooth loss. Fortunately, though, prompt treatment by a dentist removing plaque from teeth and gums, along with you reinstituting daily brushing and flossing, can stop gingivitis and help restore health to your gums.
If you’re under acute stress or anxiety, however, basic gingivitis can develop into something much more serious and painful, a condition called Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG). It’s also known as “trench mouth” from its common occurrence among World War I soldiers experiencing stressful periods in front line trenches without the means for proper oral hygiene.
ANUG develops from a “perfect storm” of conditions: besides anxiety and deficient hygiene practices, ANUG has a high occurrence risk in people who smoke (which dries the mouth and changes the normal populations of oral bacteria) or have issues with general health or nutrition.
In contrast to many cases of basic gingivitis, ANUG can produce highly noticeable symptoms. The gum tissues begin to die and become ulcerative and yellowish in appearance. This can create very bad breath and taste along with extreme gum pain.
The good news is ANUG can be treated and completely reversed if caught early. In addition to plaque removal, the dentist or periodontist (a specialist in the treatment of gum disease) may prescribe antibiotics along with an antibacterial mouthrinse to reduce bacteria levels in the mouth. A person with ANUG may also need pain relief, usually with over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.
It’s important that you seek treatment as soon as possible if you suspect you have ANUG or any gum disease. It’s possible to lose tissue, particularly the papillae (the small triangle of tissue between teeth), which can have an adverse effect on your appearance. You can also reduce your risk by quitting smoking, addressing any stress issues, and practicing diligent, daily oral hygiene and visiting your dentist for cleanings and checkups twice a year or more if needed.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatments for 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”