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.”
Before we begin correcting a malocclusion (poor dental bite), we need to ask a few questions: How extensive is the malocclusion? How far must we move the teeth to correct it? How might the patient's jaw size impact treatment?
Answering these and other questions help us develop an effective treatment plan. And depending on the answers, we might need to look at other procedures before we install braces—like removing one or more of the teeth.
This isn't a subject to approach lightly: All teeth play an important role in dental function and smile appearance, and ordinarily we want to preserve teeth, not remove them. Sometimes, however, it may be a necessary action to achieve our goal of an improved dental bite.
For example, it might be necessary for correcting a malocclusion caused by severe teeth crowding. This occurs when one or both of the jaws hasn't grown to a sufficient size to accommodate all of the teeth erupting on it. As a result, some of the teeth could come in out of their proper alignment.
If caught early before puberty, we may be able to use other techniques to alleviate crowding, like a device called a palatal expander that influences an upper jaw to widen as it grows. If successful, it could provide later teeth more room to erupt in their proper positions.
But even if additional jaw growth occurs, it may not be enough to avoid a malocclusion or treatment with braces. Alleviating further crowding by removing teeth in little noticed areas could help with subsequent orthodontics.
Removing teeth may also be the answer for other problems like an impacted tooth, in which the tooth has not fully erupted and remains submerged in the gums. It's sometimes possible to use a technique to “pull” the tooth down where it should be; but again, that will still require jaw space that may not be available. The more effective course might be to remove the impacted tooth.
Whether or not tooth extraction will be needed can depend on a thorough orthodontic evaluation and full consideration of all the available options. Even though the ideal situation is to correct a bite with all teeth present and accounted for, it may be for the better good to sacrifice some.
If you would like more information on orthodontic techniques, 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 “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
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.
Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.
If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.
Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.
Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.
Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.
Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.
It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.
If you would like more information on dental care during cancer treatment, 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.”
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.”
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