Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
After years battling disease, your troubled tooth reached its useful life's end. It's been extracted, and we've replaced it with a life-like dental implant. So now, as far as the implant goes, disease is no longer an issue…right?
Sorry, no—though not to the same degree as a natural tooth, an implant could be endangered by gum disease. Although the implant's materials can't be infected, the supporting gums and bone can.
In fact, there's a particular type of gum disease associated with implants known as peri-implantitis (“peri” around an implant; “itis” inflammation) that first affects the gums surrounding an implant. Although peri-implantitis can arise from an excess of dental cement used to affix the crown to the implant, it most commonly starts like other forms of gum disease with dental plaque.
Dental plaque, and its hardened form calculus (tartar), is a thin, bacterial biofilm that builds up on teeth surfaces. It can quickly accumulate if you don't remove it every day with proper brushing and flossing. The bacteria living in plaque can infect the outer gum tissues and trigger inflammation.
Gum disease around natural teeth can spread quickly, but even more so with implants. That's because the natural attachment of the gums helps supply antibodies that impede infection. Implants, relying solely on their connection with the bone, don't have those gum attachments. As a result, peri-implantitis can move rapidly into the supporting bone, weakening the implant to the point of failure.
The good news, though, is that peri-implantitis can be treated successfully through aggressive plaque removal and antibiotics. But the key to success is to catch it early before it progresses too far—which is why you should see your dentist at the first sign of gum swelling, redness or bleeding.
You can also prevent peri-implantitis by practicing daily brushing and flossing, including around your dental implant. You should also see your dentist twice a year (or more, if they advise) for cleanings and checkups.
Dental implants overall have a greater than 95% success rate, better than any other tooth restoration system. But they still need daily care and regular cleanings to ensure your implants are on the positive side of those statistics.
The subject of allergies covers a wide swath in medicine. Among other things, people have allergic reactions to animal fur, various foods and plant pollen. The effects are equally wide-ranging, anything from a mild rash to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening shutdown of the body's vital systems.
Approximately 5% of people are also allergic to various metals including nickel, cobalt, chromium and gold. Reactions to metal can occur when an allergic person comes in contact with items like jewelry, clothing or even mobile phones. There's even a chance of a metal allergy reaction from certain kinds of dental work.
It's unlikely, though, that you should be concerned if you're considering dental treatment or cosmetic work to upgrade your smile. Although allergic reactions like inflammation or a rash have been known to occur with amalgam “silver” fillings, it's quite rare. It's even less of a concern since “tooth-colored” materials for fillings are now outpacing the use of amalgam fillings, which are used in out-of-sight back teeth.
Of course, metal is used for other dental treatments besides fillings, including the most popular of tooth replacement systems, dental implants. An implant is essentially a metal post, usually made of pure titanium or a titanium alloy, which is imbedded into the jawbone. Even so, there's little chance you'll develop an allergic reaction to them.
For one thing, titanium is highly prized in both medical and dental treatments because of its biocompatibility. This means titanium devices like prosthetic joints and implants won't normally disrupt or cause reactions with human tissue. Titanium is also osteophilic: Bone cells readily grow and adhere to titanium surfaces, a major reason for dental implants' long-term durability.
That's not to say titanium allergies don't exist, but their occurrence is very low. One recent study detected a titanium allergy in only 0.6% of 1,500 implant patients who participated.
At worst, you may need to consider a different type of tooth replacement restoration in the rare chance you have a titanium allergy. More than likely, though, you'll be able obtain implants and enjoy the transformation they can bring to your smile.
If you would like more information on allergic reactions and dental restorations, 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 “Metal Allergies to Dental Implants.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
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