Along with tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease is a primary enemy of oral health. If not caught and treated, a gum infection could spread and eventually cause tooth loss.
But although prevalent among the general population, one demographic in particular is highly susceptible to gum disease—smokers and tobacco users in general. It's estimated over 60 percent of all smokers will contend with a gum infection at some point during their lifetimes. Smokers are also twice as likely as non-smokers to develop advanced gum disease that could lead to serious dental damage.
The high rate of gum disease among smokers (and to some extent, all tobacco users) is connected to the effect that tobacco has on oral health in general. Studies show that nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, which in turn reduces their delivery of antibodies to fight disease-causing bacteria. As a result, smokers have more harmful bacteria in their mouths than non-smokers, which increases their risk of dental disease.
Smokers are also less likely than non-smokers to display inflammation or redness, the initial signs of a burgeoning gum infection. This too has to do with the constricted blood vessels in the gums that can't deliver adequate oxygen and nutrients to these tissues. As a result, the gums can appear pink and healthy, yet still be infected. This could delay diagnosis of gum disease, allowing the infection to become more advanced.
Finally, smoking can interfere with the treatment of gum disease. Because of nicotine, a tobacco users' infections and wounds are often slower to heal. Combined with late diagnoses of gum disease, this slower healing creates an environment where smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to lose teeth from gum disease.
If you do smoke, it's important to let your dentist know how much and for how long you've smoked, which could be relevant to any dental care or treatment. Better yet, quitting the habit could improve your oral health and lower your risk for teeth-destroying gum disease.
If you would like more information on the effects of smoking on 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
There are different ways to ease a child's potential nervousness with dental visits, like starting those visits around their first birthday or seeing a pediatric dentist who specializes in children. But even doing those things won't guarantee your child won't develop some form of dental anxiety, which could complicate their dental care.
To help make appointments easier for anxious children, many dentists use conscious sedation as a means of helping them relax. With this technique, the dentist administers a mild sedative to the child to take the edge off their nervousness, while allowing them to remain awake during treatment.
Sedation isn't anesthesia, the means we use to stop pain during treatment (although sedation may be used with anesthesia). Rather, sedation reduces emotional fear and anxiety. And unlike general anesthesia, a sedated child can still breathe without assistance and, depending on the depth of the sedation, respond to physical and verbal stimuli.
In most cases, children are administered sedation medications by mouth, usually as a syrup, although on occasion it might be delivered intravenously with an IV. The dose is usually given some time before their treatment session after the dentist has evaluated them. Dentists mostly use mild sedatives like Midazolam or Hydroxyzine with very little risk of side effects for children.
During the procedure, a designated staff member continually monitors the child's vital signs. Besides heart rate, pulse and respirations, they may also check the child's exhaled carbon dioxide levels to ensure they're breathing normally.
After the treatment session is over, staff will continue to monitor the child until their vital signs return to pre-sedation levels. If the child is of driving age, they'll need someone to drive them home. Children who've been sedated should remain home for the rest of the day, but they can usually return to school the next day depending on what kind of dental work they've undergone.
Dentists follow strict protocols for pediatric sedation adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Society, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. In addition, many states have also established processes for administering sedation therapy. It's a safe and effective method to ease a child's anxiety over their dental visit.
If you would like more information on making dental visits easier for kids, 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 “Sedation Dentistry For Kids.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
By the time a person passes the half-century mark, they've done quite a bit of living: their share of ups and downs, successes and failures, and joys and sorrows. But while aging can take its toll on their physical and cognitive health, older adults still have much to offer from their life experience. It often falls to other family members to keep them in the best health possible—including their oral health.
Helping an older adult maintain healthy teeth and gums is crucial to their overall well-being. So in recognition of Older Americans Month in May, here are 4 tips for helping an older family member keep a healthy mouth.
Support their daily hygiene. Age-related physical and cognitive impairment can make the simple tasks of brushing and flossing much more difficult. You can help by providing an older family member with tools that make it easier for them to clean their teeth, like larger handled toothbrushes or water flossers. In some cases, you may have to perform their hygiene tasks for them, but it's worth the effort to reduce their risk of dental disease.
Watch for "dry mouth." If an older person complains of their mouth being constantly dry, take it seriously. Chronic dry mouth is a sign of not enough saliva, which could make them more prone to dental disease. The likely culprits, especially for older adults, are prescription medications, so speak with their doctor about alternatives. You can also encourage them to use saliva boosters or to drink more water.
Ask for oral cancer screens. Ninety percent of oral cancer occurs in people over the age of 40, with the risk increasing with age. Be sure, then, to ask for an oral cancer screen during their dental visits, presuming it's not already being done. Screenings usually involve visual and tactile examinations of the inside of the mouth and the sides of the neck, looking for unusual lesions, swelling or discolorations. The sooner oral cancer is found, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Have dental work checked. An older person may have acquired various forms of dental work like bridges, implants or removable dentures. Because these play an important role in their oral health, you should have their dental work checked routinely. This is particularly true for dentures, which can lose their fit and comfort over time. Dental work in need of repair makes dental function more difficult and can increase their risk of disease.
Given the depth of responsibility in caring for an older adult, it's easy to let some things slip by the wayside. Their oral health shouldn't be one of them—giving it the priority it deserves will pay dividends in their health overall.
If you would like more information about oral care for an older adult, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
It often begins without you realizing it—spreading ever deeper into the gums and damaging tissue attachments, teeth and supporting bone in its way. In the end, it could cause you to lose your teeth.
This is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces. It in turn triggers chronic inflammation, which can cause the gum attachments to teeth to weaken. Detaching gum ligaments may then produce diseased voids—periodontal pockets—that can widen the gap between the teeth and the gums down to the roots.
There is one primary treatment objective for gum disease: uncover and remove any and all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). If the infection has advanced no further than surface gum tissues, it may simply be a matter of removing plaque at or just below the gum line with hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment.
The disease, however, is often discovered in more advanced stages: The initial signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums might have been ignored or simply didn't appear. Even so, the objective of plaque and tartar removal remains the same, albeit the procedures may be more invasive.
For example, we may need to surgically access areas deep below the gum line. This involves a procedure called flap surgery, which creates an opening in the gum tissues resembling the flap of an envelope. Once the root or bone is exposed, we can then remove any plaque and/or tartar deposits and perform other actions to boost healing.
Antibiotics or other antibacterial substances might also be needed for stopping an infection in advanced stages. Some like the antibiotic tetracycline can be applied topically to the affected areas to directly stop inflammation and infection; others like mouthrinses with chlorhexidine might be used to fight bacteria for an extended period.
Although effective, treatment for advanced gum disease may need to continue indefinitely. The better approach is to focus on preventing a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. And at the first sign of problems with your teeth and gums, see us as soon as possible—the earlier in the disease progression that we can begin treatment, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on preventing and 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
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