Posts for: September, 2020
E-cigarettes have taken the world by storm, especially among younger adults. The reason: the widespread perception that “vaping” is healthier than smoking tobacco.
But a deeper look at this wildly popular habit reveals a product that doesn't live up to its reputation as smoking's “safer alternative.” One aspect of health that's especially in harm's way is the mouth: Teeth and gums could in fact be just as prone to disease with an e-cigarette as the tobacco variety.
E-cigarettes are handheld devices that hold a cartridge of liquid vaping product, which is then heated to produce an inhalable vapor. Technically, it's an aerosol in which solid chemical compounds within the vaping liquid are suspended in the vapor. The aerosolized vapor thus serves as a transporting medium for these chemicals to enter the user's body.
It's these various chemicals inhaled during vaping that most concern dentists. Top on the list: nicotine, the addictive chemical also found in regular tobacco. Among its other effects, nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, causing less blood flow of nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the gums and teeth. This not only heightens the risk for gum disease, but may also mask initial infection symptoms like swelling or redness.
Flavorings, a popular feature of vaping solutions, may also contribute to oral problems. These substances can form new chemical compounds during the vaping process that can irritate the mouth's inner membranes and trigger inflammation. There's also evidence that e-cigarette flavorings, particularly menthol, might soften enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay.
Other chemicals commonly found in vaping solutions are thought to increase plaque formation, the sticky film on teeth that is a major cause for dental disease. And known carcinogens like formaldehyde, also included in many formulations, raise the specter of oral cancer.
These are just a few of the possible ways vaping may damage oral health. Far from a safe tobacco alternative, there's reason to believe it could be just as harmful. The wise choice for your body and your mouth is not to smoke—or vape.
If you would like more information on the oral hazards of e-cigarettes, 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”
Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk of tooth decay, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
Do you remember when one of your baby teeth began to wiggle? You knew it wouldn't be long before it came out, followed by a little something from the “tooth fairy” under your pillow.
Those were the days! But a loose permanent tooth is something else entirely: Often a sign of advanced periodontal (gum) disease, you may be on the verge of losing the tooth forever.
This sad affair begins with dental plaque, a thin biofilm found on tooth surfaces and the ideal haven for oral bacteria that can trigger a gum infection. You might not notice such an infection in its early stages, other than a few initial signs like gum redness, swelling, or bleeding. If these occur, it's imperative you seek treatment promptly.
Without treatment, the infection can spread below the gum line, weakening gum attachments to teeth (which actually hold teeth in place) and eventually doing the same to underlying bone. All of this damage can lead to a tooth becoming loose and eventually falling out.
But it's not inevitable a loose tooth will eventually be lost, though it may require long-term efforts to save it. We may first need to do a bite adjustment, which will often allow a tooth to decrease its mobility. If the mobility has not been reduced enough, we may recommend stabilizing the teeth through splinting: These are techniques used to join the loose tooth to more stable teeth, usually with a thin strip of metal or other dental material.
We'll also need to treat the underlying cause, which in the case of gum disease requires aggressive plaque removal. Our goal is to manually remove all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) deposits, particularly below the gum line. It may also require surgery to fully access deep pockets of infection. But once we remove the offending plaque, the gums can begin to heal.
The best strategy, though, is to avoid gum disease altogether. You can substantially lower your infection risk by brushing and flossing daily and getting a dental cleaning every six months. Dental visits also allow us to check your gums for any signs of infection that might require prompt action.
A loose tooth for a kid is a cause for celebration. It's the exact opposite for an adult loose tooth. Taking care of your gums with daily hygiene and receiving prompt treatment for any emerging infection could help you avoid it.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma.”