When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
Cancer treatment can be an all-out battle with intense side effects for your entire body. One particular area that can suffer is your mouth.
Chemotherapy and radiation target and destroy cancer cells, which can lead to non-cancerous cells caught in the crossfire and also destroyed. The salivary glands in the mouth are prone to such damage, which could greatly impact your ability to ward off dental disease.
Saliva, what salivary glands produce, plays a major role in oral health. The bodily fluid disseminates antibodies throughout the mouth that fight disease-causing bacteria. It also neutralizes acid, which can erode tooth enamel, and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel.
If the salivary glands become damaged, however, they may produce less saliva and create a condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This is a common occurrence for cancer patients, which can rob them of saliva’s benefits and make them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result could be tooth loss.
There are things you and your dentist can do to prevent this. First, have a complete dental checkup before undergoing cancer treatment. If at all possible have any necessary dental work undertaken (with adequate recovery time afterward) before beginning chemo or radiation. Your dentist and oncologist (cancer specialist) may need to coordinate any planned dental work.
You should also practice daily oral hygiene with brushing and flossing, along with keeping up your regular dental cleanings. This will prevent the buildup on teeth of bacterial plaque, which in turn will reduce your chances for dental disease. Your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial as well as fluoride mouth rinses to help limit the growth of oral bacteria.
To minimize dry mouth, increase your water consumption as much as possible. You may also use saliva boosters like xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener found in many gums or mints that promotes salivation (it also deters oral bacterial growth).
And don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet, which will not only benefit your stamina during cancer treatment but can also help you maintain better dental health. Providing good care for your mouth during this trying time will help ensure your teeth and gums stay as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on oral care, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Summer is a great time to go outdoors and get your game on—no matter whether your court is set up for tennis or basketball, whether you’re on the diamond or on the greens. Regular physical activity can help you maintain your optimal weight, reduce your risk for certain diseases, and even lower stress levels. But many of our favorite outdoor sports also carry a risk of accidental injury…and frequently this involves injuries to the mouth.
Because they’re front and center, the incisors (front teeth) are the ones most often affected by accidental injuries. While serious damage is relatively rare, chips and cracks are not uncommon. Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of good ways to restore chipped or broken teeth. Which one is best for you depends on exactly what’s wrong—but a procedure called cosmetic bonding is one of the most common ways to repair small to moderate chips where the tooth’s soft pulp isn’t exposed.
In dental bonding, a tooth-colored material is applied directly to the tooth’s surface to fill in the chip or crack. The material itself is a high-tech mixture of tough plastic resins, translucent glass-like fillers, and other substances. Strong, durable and lifelike in appearance, these composite resins can be matched to the natural shade of your teeth.
Bonding is a conservative procedure, meaning that it requires little or no preparation of the tooth. It can be done right in the dental office, often in a single visit and without the need for anesthesia. Unlike porcelain veneers or crowns (caps), it usually doesn’t involve removing significant amounts of healthy tooth structure.
While the results can last for years, bonded restorations aren’t as durable as porcelain veneers or crowns, which are made in a dental laboratory. Bonding also isn’t suitable to repair major damage, or in cases where the tooth’s pulp could become infected; in this situation, you may need a root canal and a crown. However, for moderate chips or cracks, bonding can be an appropriate and economical way to restore your teeth to full function and aesthetic appearance.
Of course, it’s often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why it’s best to wear a protective mouthguard whenever you’re on the field. We can provide a custom-made mouthguard that’s comfortable to wear and offers maximum protection against dental injury—just ask!
If you have questions about cosmetic bonding or mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth with Composite Resin” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
In the sports world, athletes are always looking for an edge. And it’s not just college or professional sports—even Little Leaguers are focused on enhancing their performance.
That’s why sports and energy drinks have rocketed in popularity. With marketing pitches promising to increase stamina or replace lost nutrients from strenuous workouts, it’s not unusual to find these beverages in sports bags or the team water cooler.
But there’s a downside to them regarding your dental health—they’re often high in sugar and acidity. Both drink types could increase your risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease over time.
Sugar is a primary food source for the bacteria that can trigger a gum infection. They also produce acid, which at high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. The risk for enamel erosion also increases with the drink’s acidity.
You can lessen your risk of these unpleasant outcomes by restricting your consumption of these beverages. In fact, unless your sports activity is highly strenuous for long periods, your best hydration choice is usually water.
But if you do drink a sports or energy drink for an extra lift, be sure to take these precautions for the sake of your teeth:
Try to drink them only at mealtimes. Continually sipping on these drinks between meals never gives your saliva a chance to neutralize mouth acid. Reserving acidic foods and beverages for mealtimes will allow saliva to catch up until the next meal.
Rinse with water after your drink. Water usually has a neutral pH. This can help dilute mouth acid and reduce the mouth’s overall acidity.
Don’t brush right after drinking or eating. Increased acid that can occur right after drinking or eating can immediately soften tooth enamel, but saliva can neutralize and help restore minerals to tooth enamel within an hour. Brushing during this period could remove tiny bits of the enamel’s minerals.
Taking these precautions will help keep sports or energy drinks from eroding your tooth enamel. Once it’s gone, you won’t be able to get it back.
If you would like more information on protecting your tooth enamel, 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 “Think Before You Drink: Sports and Energy Beverages Bathe Teeth in Erosive Acids.”
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