You might be noticing some changes as you get older: You're getting winded easier and you're wondering why book or magazine print has suddenly shrunk (it didn't). Perhaps you've also noticed your mouth seems drier more often.
It could be a condition called xerostomia, in which your body isn't producing enough saliva. Older people are more prone to it because it's often a side effect of prescription drugs that can inhibit saliva production. Because seniors tend to take more medications than other age groups, xerostomia is a more common problem for them.
Xerostomia isn't a pleasant experience. More importantly, it's hazardous to your oral health. Saliva contains antibodies that fight bacterial infection, and it also neutralizes mouth acid that causes tooth decay. A lack of saliva puts you at greater risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to alleviate or ease the effects of xerostomia.
Cut back on spicy foods and caffeinated beverages. Spicy or salty foods can irritate your gum tissues and worsen dry mouth symptoms. Because it's a diuretic, caffeine causes you to lose more fluid, something you can't afford with xerostomia. Cutting back on both will improve your symptoms.
Drink more water. Increasing your daily water intake can help you produce more saliva. It also washes away food particles bacteria feed on and dilutes acid buildup, which can reduce your risk for dental disease.
Talk to your doctor and dentist. If you're taking medications with dry mouth side effects, ask your doctor about other alternatives. You can also ask your dentist about products you can use to boost saliva production.
Practice daily hygiene. Daily hygiene is important for everyone, but especially for those whose saliva flow is sub-par. Brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, the top cause for dental disease. Along with regular dental visits, this practice can significantly reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
Taking these steps can help you avoid the discomfort that often accompanies xerostomia. It could also help you prevent diseases that could rob you of your dental health.
If you would like more information on dealing with dry mouth, 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 “10 Tips for Dealing With Dry Mouth.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
If you're an adult, your teeth shouldn't wiggle—not even a little bit. If you have a loose tooth, you need to see your dentist as soon as possible to avoid losing it permanently.
Loose teeth usually happen because of one of two kinds of bite-related trauma. One is known as primary occlusal, which usually happens when the periodontal (gum) structures that help secure teeth encounter higher than normal biting forces. This is usually due to a clenching or grinding habit.
The other and more common kind is secondary occlusal: This happens when the periodontal structures and supporting bone are in a weakened state, usually because of gum disease. In this condition, even normal biting forces can cause damage to a tooth's gum attachment and result in looseness.
To stop a loose tooth from becoming a lost tooth, we'll need to take these immediate steps.
Treat any underlying disease. If a gum infection is the culprit, our first priority is to stop it from doing any more damage. The main treatment for gum disease is to remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that's the usual cause for the infection. Depending on how much the infection has advanced, this could take several sessions to bring it under control.
Reduce abnormal biting forces. If teeth are loose from abnormally high bite forces, there are a few things we can do. One is to selectively reshape the biting surfaces of teeth so that they receive less force while biting. Another approach is to minimize the effect of teeth grinding with an occlusal guard worn in the mouth: Its slick plastic surface prevents teeth from making solid contact while biting.
Splint loose teeth to secure them. We can secure loose teeth by splinting them to more stable teeth with metal strips or other means. Splinting is often done in conjunction with the aforementioned treatments, and is usually temporary until the tooth regains its periodontal attachments. Sometimes, though, it may be necessary to permanently splint a weakened tooth.
A loose tooth isn't necessarily destined to be lost. But we'll have to act quickly—if you have a loose tooth see us as soon as possible to determine how best to save it.
If you would like more information on saving loose teeth, 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
You might be a bit apprehensive if your dentist recommends a root canal treatment, especially if it's your first. That's understandable: Popular culture has portrayed the root canal as an unpleasant experience.
But as a routine dental procedure, root canal treatments have been responsible for saving millions of decayed teeth. And, with local anesthesia, the procedure is painless. In fact, a root canal treatment stops pain that often results from advanced tooth decay.
So, let's take the mystery out of the root canal. Here's the 411 on this vital but often misunderstood dental procedure.
Why the name “root canal”? The terms for the procedure—root canal therapy, root canal treatment or simply “root canal”—arise from one of the principal parts of the tooth involved, root canals. These are tiny passageways that lead from the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp, to the tooth roots. While treatment often focuses on decay or diseased tissue within the pulp, the root canals can be infected too and must be included in the later filling process.
Who can perform a root canal? All general dentists are trained in basic root canal procedures. Depending on your tooth's condition, your family dentist may be able to perform it. But if your tooth has an intricate root canal network or some other complication, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth and root treatments. Endodontists can perform advanced root canal techniques and have the specialized equipment to handle intricate cases.
What happens during a root canal? Although details may vary depending on the type of tooth and extent of decay, there's a basic process for all root canal procedures. After numbing the tooth and surrounding tissues, the dentist drills into the tooth to access the inner pulp chamber and root canals, then removes the diseased tissue and disinfects the empty chamber and canals. After preparing the canals, the dentist then fills the empty spaces. This, and subsequent sealing and crowning, protects the tooth from future decay.
After the procedure you may have some minor soreness for a few days, which is usually manageable with mild pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. This discomfort will diminish with time, and your tooth will have a new lease on life.
If you would like more information on root canal 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 “Root Canal Treatment.”
So…you faithfully brush and floss your teeth every day. Kudos to you! Along with regular dental visits, daily hygiene is the best thing you can do to keep your teeth and gums disease-free.
Dental plaque, that thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on teeth, is the number one cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Thoroughly removing it daily through brushing and flossing drastically reduces your chances for disease.
But just the acts of brushing and flossing aren’t enough—both are skills requiring some level of mastery for truly effective plaque removal. Otherwise, any leftover plaque could be an invitation for infection.
So, how can you tell if you’re getting the job done? One way is a quick swipe of the tongue across your teeth after brushing: If they still feel gritty rather than smooth, chances are you left some plaque behind.
A more comprehensive method, though, is with a plaque disclosing agent, a product found in stores that sell dental care items. These kits contain liquids, tablets or swabs that when applied to the teeth right after brushing or flossing temporarily dye any leftover plaque a particular color. You’ll be able to see the results for yourself in the mirror.
A plaque disclosing agent can also reveal patterns of remaining plaque that indicate where you need to improve your hygiene efforts. For example, a scalloping effect along the gum line could mean you’re not adequately reaching high enough in these areas with your brush as well as your floss.
The dye effect is temporary, but it might take a few hours for the staining to fade away. You should also avoid swallowing any solution and avoid getting it on your clothes. And while disclosing agents can help improve your hygiene skills, your dentist or hygienist is still your best resource for dental care advice—so keep up those regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on best hygiene practices, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
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