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.”
One in ten Americans has diabetes, a serious condition that may increase the development and severity of other health problems—including gum disease. Because of this latter connection, dental providers join other health professionals during November's National Diabetes Month to call attention to this chronic disease and its effect on health and well-being.
There's another health condition with a diabetes connection that isn't as well known: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It's also of keen interest to dental providers, as dentists are often involved in the discovery and treatment of this common sleep disorder.
OSA is the temporary blockage of the airway during sleep by the tongue or other anatomical structures. The subsequent drop in oxygen awakens the body to remove the obstruction. People with OSA may not realize they have the condition, but their bed partner can often attest to their snoring, snorting and gasping for breath during the night. Such episodes can occur several times per night, depriving the person of sufficient sleep.
Chronic OSA can contribute to the development of other health problems, among them Type 2 diabetes. It can do this first by interfering with the metabolization of glucose (blood sugar). It may also increase the body's resistance to insulin, the primary hormone regulating glucose.
Fortunately, properly managing OSA can lower your risk for diabetes, and that's where dentists may be able to help. For one thing, we dentists are often the first to notice early signs of OSA—sometimes even before our patients do.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, as many as 80% of the estimated 22 million Americans with OSA may not know they have it. But dentists often identify OSA indicators while examining patients: signs like an enlarged tongue or tonsils, or patients falling asleep in the exam chair. While we can't formally diagnose OSA, we often refer symptomatic patients to a sleep specialist.
Dentists also offer an alternative to the most common OSA therapy, which is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This therapy employs a motorized pump that delivers pressurized air into the throat via face mask to keep the airway open during sleep. Although effective, some people find a CPAP machine noisy and uncomfortable to use.
Alternatively, dentists can provide an oral device that can often help patients with mild to moderate OSA that's worn in the mouth during sleep. Most of the various types of these appliances either reposition the lower jaw with a hinge mechanism to keep the throat open or pull the tongue away from the airway through a suction effect.
Diabetes is one part of a chain reaction that can bring unexpected challenges to your health, including to your teeth and gums. You can slow or even stop its development with proper diet, exercise and good, restful sleep. Dealing with OSA is often part of that equation—and we may be able to help.
If you would like more information about the prevention and treatment of diabetes, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”
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?”
Fluoride is an important part of your child's dental development. But if children take in too much of this important mineral, they could experience enamel fluorosis, a condition in which teeth become discolored with dark streaking or mottling.
That's why it's important to keep fluoride levels within safe bounds, especially for children under the age of 9. To do that, here's a look at the most common sources for fluoride your child may take in and how you can moderate them.
Toothpaste. Fluoridated toothpaste is an effective way for your child to receive the benefits of fluoride. But to make sure they're not getting too much, apply only a smear of toothpaste to the brush for infants. When they get a little older you can increase that to a pea-sized amount on the end of the brush. You should also train your child not to swallow toothpaste.
Drinking water. Most water systems add tiny amounts of fluoride to drinking water. To find out how much your water provider adds visit “My Water's Fluoride” online. If it's more than the government's recommendation of 0.70 parts of fluoride per million parts of water, you may want ask your dentist if you should limit your child's consumption of fluoridated drinking water.
Infant formula. Many parents choose bottle-feeding their baby with infant formula rather than breastfeed. If you use the powdered form and mix it with tap water that's fluoridated, your baby could be ingesting more of the mineral. If breastfeeding isn't an option, try using the premixed formula, which normally contains lower levels of fluoride. If you use powdered formula, mix it with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
It might seem like the better strategy for preventing fluorosis is to avoid fluoride altogether. But that can increase the risk of tooth decay, a far more destructive outcome for your child's teeth than the appearance problems caused by fluorosis. The better way is to consult with your dentist on keeping your child's intake within recognized limits to safely receive fluoride's benefits of stronger, healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on fluoride and your baby's dental 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
As far as your appearance goes, the most important teeth you have are those in the “smile zone.” These are the teeth most visible when you smile—and the ones that awkwardly stand out if they're chipped, worn or otherwise flawed. More than any other teeth, they determine how inviting your smile is to others.
You might think you'll need extensive cosmetic dental work to fix these kinds of dental defects. But that may not be necessary: We may be able to use a dental material known as composite resin to repair the defects in your “smile zone” teeth in one office visit.
Composite resins are a combination of ceramics and plastics that have been around for some time. They've only recently come into wide use, though, with the development of new techniques to bond them to tooth surfaces. They're ideal for chips, cracks, or decayed areas where front teeth make contact with one another. They may also be used occasionally to reshape irregular or misaligned teeth.
You'll first need a complete dental examination to determine if composite resin bonding is an appropriate approach for your situation. If so, we'll begin by preparing the tooth surface to better accept the resin material. We'll then apply the liquid form of the material in layers, along with other agents to increase the material's strength. Each layer is cured (hardened) before applying the next layer.
As the layers build up, we shape the material to achieve a normal tooth appearance. We'll also incorporate your individual color shadings, so that the prepared tooth blends well with surrounding natural teeth. In effect, the procedure requires as much artistry as technical skill to create a natural look.
Though not as strong as porcelain veneers or crowns, composite resins are durable if not subjected to heavy biting forces. And for a few hours in the dentist's chair with minimal tooth preparation, a composite resin treatment can create a dramatic and exciting change in your appearance.
If you would like more information on composite resin bonding, 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
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