Posts for category: Oral Health
We're all interested in how our toothpaste tastes, how it freshens breath or how it brightens teeth. But those are secondary to its most important function, which is how well our toothpaste helps us remove dental plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Daily brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, resulting in a much lower risk for dental disease. But while the mechanical action of brushing loosens plaque, toothpaste helps complete its removal. It can do this because of two basic ingredients found in nearly every brand of toothpaste.
The first is an abrasive (or polishing agent), a gritty substance that boosts the effectiveness of the brushing action (which, by the way, alleviates the need for harmful aggressive brushing). These substances, usually hydrated silica, hydrated alumina or calcium carbonate, are abrasive enough to loosen plaque, but not enough to damage tooth enamel.
The other ingredient, a detergent, works much the same way as the product you use to wash greasy dishes—it breaks down the parts of plaque that water can't dissolve. The most common, sodium lauryl sulfate, a safe detergent found in other hygiene products, loosens and dissolves plaque so that it can be easily rinsed away.
You'll also find other ingredients to some degree in toothpaste: flavorings, of course, that go a long way toward making the brushing experience more pleasant; humectants to help toothpaste retain moisture; and binders to hold bind all the ingredients together. And many toothpastes also contain fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical that strengthens tooth enamel.
You may also find additional ingredients in toothpastes that specialize in certain functions like reducing tartar buildup (hardened plaque), easing tooth or gum sensitivity or controlling bacterial growth. Many toothpastes also include whiteners to promote a brighter smile. Your dentist can advise you on what to look for in a toothpaste to meet a specific need.
But your first priority should always be how well your toothpaste helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy. Knowing what's in it can help you choose your toothpaste more wisely.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products and aids, 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 “Toothpaste: What's in It?”
Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.
But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.
For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.
The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.
So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.
It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.
If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.
Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.
As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.
Your gums don't just attractively frame your teeth—they protect them as well. If they shrink back (recede) from their normal covering, portions of the teeth could become exposed to bacteria and other hazards.
Unlike the visible crown, which is protected by enamel, the tooth root depends largely on the gums as a shield against bacteria and other hazards. When the gums recede, it exposes the roots and makes them more susceptible to disease or trauma. It may also cause sensitivity to hot and cold foods as the now exposed dentin gets the full brunt of temperature and pressure sensations once muffled by the gums.
There are actually a number of causes for gum recession. In rare cases, a tooth may not have erupted normally within its bony housing, which inhibits the gums from covering it fully. Thinner gum tissues, passed down genetically, are also more susceptible to recession. And a person can even damage their gums and cause them to recede if they brush too aggressively.
The most common cause, though, is advanced periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection arises from dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, usually because of poor hygiene practices. As the infection and resulting inflammation in the gums worsens, they lose their attachment to teeth resulting in a number of harmful outcomes that include recession.
The first step then in treating gum recession is to treat the underlying problem as much as possible. In the case of gum disease, effective treatment could stop mild to moderate recession and sometimes reverse it. For more extensive recession, a patient may need gum grafting surgery to help regenerate lost gum tissue.
You can help prevent gum disease, and thus lower your risk for recession, with daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque. Likewise, see your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque).
You should also visit your dentist promptly if you notice swollen or bleeding gums, or more of your teeth surfaces showing. The earlier your dentist diagnoses and begins treatment for gum recession, the better your chances for a healthy and more attractive outcome.
If you would like more information on maintaining good gum 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 “Gum Recession.”
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
When you see your dentist about mouth pain, you expect to hear that it's a decayed or fractured tooth, or maybe a gum infection. But you might be surprised if your dentist tells you there's nothing going on inside your mouth to cause the pain.
It's not that far-fetched: The pain could be originating elsewhere. This is known as referred pain, where pain radiates from its origin to another part of the body.
Unless there's an obvious oral cause for the pain, it's best not to undertake any treatment involving the mouth until we've pinpointed the actual cause. That said, the cause is usually not too far away.
Facial nerve disorders. The trigeminal nerve courses on either side of the face from the upper skull through the cheeks and ends around the lower jaw. But if portions of the nerve's protective sheathing become damaged, the slightest touch on the face could trigger prolonged pain. Because of its proximity to the jaw, the pain can often be misidentified as a toothache.
Jaw joint pain. When joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull become traumatized and inflamed, a condition known as Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), the pain can radiate toward the jaw. In some cases, the person may easily mistake the muscle pain and spasming for a toothache.
Ear infection. As with TMD, your "toothache" may actually stem from an ear infection or congestion radiating pain into the jaw. It can also happen in the opposite direction—ear pain could actually be the referred pain of an infected back tooth—emphasizing the importance of precisely determining the originating source of any pain in the jaws or face.
Sinus pain. The large maxillary sinuses are located on either side of the face just above the back of the upper jaw. Because of its proximity, pain from a sinus infection can seem to be coming from one of the back molars. And as with ear infections, frequent sinus infections could in fact be caused by an infected tooth penetrating through the sinus floor.
These and other examples of possible referred pain illustrate how "tricky" a presumed toothache can be. Finding the true source of oral or facial pain will ensure you receive the proper treatment for lasting relief.