Perhaps you haven’t thought of it quite this way, but saliva is one of the true wonders of the human body. This unassuming fluid performs a variety of tasks to aid digestion and help protect your mouth from disease. And you hardly notice it — except when it’s not there.
That’s the case for millions of people in America who have a chronic condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This happens when the salivary glands don’t secrete enough saliva, normally two to four pints daily.
Of course, we can experience mouth dryness when we first wake up (saliva flow ebbs while we sleep), feel stressed, use tobacco, or consume alcohol and certain foods like onions or spices. It becomes a problem, though, when periods of low saliva become chronic. Without its preventive capabilities, you’ll be at much higher risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Chronic dry mouth can occur for various reasons: systemic diseases like cancer or autoimmune deficiencies can cause it, as well as radiation or chemotherapy treatments. One of the most common causes, though, is medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. The surgeon general identifies over 500 known drugs that may inhibit saliva production, including some antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. It’s often why older people who take more medications than younger people suffer more as a population from dry mouth.
Because of its long-term health effects, it’s important to try to boost saliva flow. If your mouth is consistently dry, try to drink more fluids during the day. If you suspect your medication, see if your physician can prescribe a different drug. It also helps to drink a little water before and after taking oral medication.
We may also recommend medication or other substances that stimulate saliva or temporarily substitute for it. Xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that also inhibits bacterial growth, can help relieve dryness. You’ll often find it in gums or mints.
Chronic dry mouth is more than a minor irritation — it can lead to more serious conditions. In addition to these tips, be sure to also keep up your regular dental visits and maintain a daily schedule of oral hygiene to prevent dental disease.
If you would like more information on overcoming 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.”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
You may not be nervous at all about visiting the dentist. But put yourself in a child’s place — a routine dental visit could be an anxious experience for them, and even more so if it involves dental work.
Dental professionals recognize this and go to great lengths to make children’s visits as pleasant as possible. It’s common among pediatric and family dentists to see child-friendly exam rooms and a well-trained staff experienced with interacting with children.
While this helps, some children still struggle with anxiety. Dentists have one other technique that can ease a child’s nervousness: conscious sedation. This technique involves the use of pills, inhaled gas or intravenous drips to help patients relax.
Sedation is different from general anesthesia, which uses drugs to render a patient unconscious so they won’t experience pain. A sedated patient remains in a conscious but relaxed state: they can still breathe independently and, with the most moderate form of oral sedation, be able to respond to touch or verbal instructions.
Oral sedation may also be accompanied by other methods like nitrous oxide gas that also aid with physical discomfort. Many drugs used often have an amnesiac effect — the patient won’t remember details about the procedure, which could contribute to less anxiety in the future.
Typically, a child receives an oral sedative just before the procedure. Most drugs are fast-acting and leave the child’s system quickly afterward.Â A staff member monitors their vital signs (pulse, respirations, blood pressure, etc.) during the procedure and after in recovery. They’ll remain in recovery until their vital signs return to normal levels and then be able to go home. They should stay home the rest of the day under adult supervision, but should be alert enough the next day to return to their normal activities.
Relieving anxiety is an important tool to ensure your child receives the dental care they need. It also creates a positive experience that could encourage a young patient to continue regular dental care when they reach adulthood.
If you would like more information on conscious sedation for children, 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.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
All treatments for periodontal (gum) disease focus on one goal — to remove any bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that are at the heart of the infection. Plaque is a thin surface film of food particles and bacteria that cause gum disease.
Plaque builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. And as the disease progresses brushing and flossing won’t be enough — you’ll need our services and specialized equipment to fully remove the plaque and calculus. The basic technique is called scaling in which we remove plaque and calculus manually from tooth surfaces above and just a few millimeters below the gum line.
As the disease develops, though, the slight natural gap between teeth and gums may begin to increase to form voids known as periodontal pockets. Filled with infection, these pockets can extend below the gum line onto the roots of the tooth. If the pocket extends more than 4 millimeters, basic scaling may not be able to remove all of the plaque and calculus.
Periodontists (dentists who specialize in the treatment and care of gum tissues) can perform a surgical method to access these deeper areas. Known as flap surgery, this procedure aims not only to reach and disinfect periodontal pockets and root surfaces, but also repair damaged gum tissue and create a better environment for future hygiene and treatment.
As the name implies, we create an opening in the gum tissue with one side remaining attached to the gum structure — much like the flap of a paper envelope. Through this opening we’re able to reach areas to remove plaque and calculus, as well as install both bone grafts to regenerate lost bone and growth factors to stimulate tissue growth. Once finished, we stitch the flap back into place with sutures and, in many cases, place a moldable dressing to protect and hold the flap secure while the incision heals.
This relatively minor procedure can be performed with local anesthesia and requires only a few days of recuperation. The results, though, can provide long-term benefits — reduced infection, better bone and gum health, and a more conducive environment for future maintenance of health — that could save your teeth and your smile for many years to come.
If you would like more information on 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 “Periodontal Flap Surgery.”
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