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.”
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.”
Although energy drinks are but a blip on the historical timeline compared to coffee or tea, they've displaced these traditional stimulants among nearly half of today's adolescents and young adults. But these sweetened “processed” drinks are also controversial among healthcare experts—particularly the effect they may have on dental health.
Besides the added sugar found in many energy drinks—a prime food source for harmful bacteria—many energy drinks and their cousins sports drinks contain significant amounts of acid. High levels of acid soften and erode tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay.
During one experimental study, portions of tooth enamel were subjected to a number of name-brand energy and sports beverages. Over the course of a few days, researchers recorded significant enamel loss, especially involving the energy drink samples.
Abstaining from both energy and sports drinks is a sound way to avoid enamel erosion (the best hydrator, it turns out, is simply water). But if you do wish to continue consuming these beverages, here are a few common sense precautions for reduce the risk of harm to your teeth.
Partake only at mealtimes. Among its many abilities, saliva is able to neutralize oral acid and bring the mouth to a neutral pH level within 30 minutes to an hour. But if you're sipping on high-acid beverages throughout the day, your saliva may not be able to compensate effectively. Drinking energy drinks only during a meal helps saliva do its acid-buffering job better.
Rinse with water afterwards. Rinsing with a little water after eating or drinking something acidic can help reduce the pH levels in the mouth. That's because water is by and large neutral on the acidic/alkaline scale. Because it's not adding more, rinsing with water dilutes any concentrations of acid that may still be lingering in your mouth.
Don't brush immediately. Brushing is essential to overall hygiene, but if you do it right after you eat or drink, you could be doing more harm than good. That's because elevated acid levels that naturally occur after consuming foods and beverages can temporarily soften and demineralize the surface enamel. Brushing could remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. If you wait an hour to brush, you'll be giving saliva time to “re-mineralize” your enamel.
If you would like more information on the role of beverage acid in dental disease, 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 “Think Before Your Drink.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
As the old Fifties song goes, “Little things mean a lot.” They can also be the most irritating, like a hangnail, a papercut—or a certain kind of oral sore. Although rarely concerning to health, this particular kind of “bump” in the mouth can be unnerving.
Although known as a traumatic fibroma, it's not as dire as it sounds: It's simply a small wound created when your inside cheek gets in the “line of fire” between your teeth while biting or chewing. It's an experience most of us have had, and though it's a minor occurrence, it can make us wince with pain.
But the pain usually lasts only a few seconds—until the next time, which is a distinct possibility. The body creates a protective callous over the wound made of fibers (hence the name fibroma) of a protein called collagen. This creates a rise in the skin surface that increases the chances the area will again get in the way of the teeth and be bitten. Each bite leads to another layer of collagen, a more prominent rise and even greater probability of another bite.
Rather than let this irritating situation repeat itself, you can undergo a minor surgical procedure to remove the fibroma. Usually performed be an oral surgeon or periodontist, the area is numbed first with a local anesthetic and the fibroma removed with a scalpel; the resulting wound is then closed with a few stitches or a laser, in which case no stitches are necessary. As a result, the cheek surface flattens out and becomes less likely to get in between the teeth.
The dentist may also preserve some of the removed tissue and submit it for a biopsy to check for any cancer cells or other abnormalities. You shouldn't be concerned about this: Examining excised tissue is a routine step performed for a variety of surgical procedures. It's used to verify the tissue in question is benign, which in this case is the vast majority of the time.
After the procedure, you might experience some minor discomfort for a few days, usually manageable with a mild pain reliever like aspirin or ibuprofen. The procedure itself only takes about fifteen minutes, but it can provide you lasting relief from that bedeviling little sore in your mouth.
If you would like more information on treating mouth sores, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
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