Brushing and flossing daily, and dental visits at least twice a year: These are the essential things you should be doing to protect your teeth and gums against dental disease. But you're also getting an automatic assist from your body through saliva, that humble fluid swishing around in your mouth, to protect your oral health.
It's more than simply “mouth water”: Without saliva and its various components, your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease would be much higher. Here are 4 ways saliva helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Cleansing. Chewing prepares your food for digestion, but in the process produces tiny particles of food debris. Settling on tooth surfaces, these bits become part of the dental plaque that forms on your teeth and develops the ideal breeding ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps rinse away much of this debris—particularly sugar, the primary food source for bacteria.
Protection. Saliva is the first line defense against disease-causing microorganisms entering the mouth. The primary source of this protection is a protein-based antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which directly fights infection-causing organisms. Another protein in saliva, lactoferrin (also found in tears), interferes with bacterial growth.
Buffering. The main enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid, produced by oral bacteria and the foods that we eat. Saliva neutralizes acid to help the mouth maintain its normally neutral pH range. And it works fast: Saliva can buffer acid and restore balance within thirty minutes to an hour after eating.
Re-mineralization. It's normal for acid to build up after eating, and for it to quickly remove minerals from surface enamel, a process called de-mineralization that can soften and weaken the enamel. But saliva helps restore some of these lost minerals as it's neutralizing acid. This re-mineralization re-strengthens enamel against tooth decay.
Saliva is so important for maintaining a healthy mouth, it's worth your efforts to protect it. Diminished saliva production not only produces an unpleasant dry mouth, it may increase your risk for disease. If this is a constant problem, speak to your dentist about causes and remedies. You'll be doing your teeth and gums a favor.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in maintaining oral 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Even the simplest, everyday things can be challenging for a child with special needs. Dental care is no exception.
If you have a child with a chronic condition that affects their physical, intellectual or behavioral abilities, you know how difficult keeping up with dental care practices can be. Here are 4 tips to help make dental care easier and ensure your child has healthy teeth and gums.
Take an active role in hygiene. Depending on their abilities, you may need to take a more active role in daily teeth cleaning. If you have to brush their teeth for them, it's usually easier to have them face you “knee-to-knee.” You can also use a second brush to keep their mouth propped open if they tend to bite or clench down while brushing.
Model behavior. If your child could eventually brush for themselves, it may still be a long training road. It can be an easier task if you make a habit of brushing your teeth together, or have them brush with a sibling. Not only does this allow you to monitor their progress, their learning process may be easier watching another person brush and then mimicking their actions.
Find the right dentist. Many children with special needs are subject to anxiety surrounding healthcare visits, including going to the dentist. Choosing the right dentist, skilled in the technical aspects of treatment for a special needs child and providing a “kid-friendly” environment, can make all the difference in the world. A pediatric dentist is often a good fit for children with chronic conditions.
Coordinate medical and dental care. A special needs child could have underlying health problems that complicate dental care, so keep your dentist well-informed about their overall health. Do likewise with their medical providers, particularly if their condition or treatments impact dental health, as in the case of medications they're taking that could inhibit saliva flow.
Ongoing dental care for a child with a chronic health condition can be difficult. But keeping their teeth and gums healthy is an important part of fostering greater overall health.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs children, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”
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.
Each year millions of people endure repeated episodes of congestion, coughing and headaches, all the miseries that come with a sinus infection. Although it seems like all the action is occurring around the nose and upper face, the actual cause could be emanating from somewhere else—your teeth.
It can all begin with decay forming a small cavity in one of the upper back teeth. If it isn't caught and treated early, the decay can spread into the tooth pulp and root canals, tiny passageways to the root and bone. This may or may not cause a severe toothache or sensitivity as the tooth's nerves respond to the infection. These nerves, though, most often eventually die and the pain, if present, will subside—but not the infection.
Left untreated, the infection may then advance into the bone around the root tip, breaking it down and giving bacteria an entryway into the floor of the maxillary sinus that rests just above the upper jaw. Here bacteria can take up residence, occasionally flaring into a sinus infection. This chronic infection could go on for years with allergies mistakenly taking the blame.
If you have frequent bouts of sinusitis, a possible dental connection may be worth investigating. And in the dental profession, there may be no better “detective” for this than an endodontist. Specializing in interior tooth problems and treatments, an endodontist has the diagnostic equipment like CT or 3-D cone beam scanning to accurately image the teeth and upper jaw. With their advanced diagnostics, they're in the best position to uncover hidden tooth decay contributing to sinus problems.
Endodontists are also skilled in treating advanced tooth decay. The main procedure is known as root canal treatment, in which the dentist drills into the tooth's interior to remove infected tissue from the pulp and root canals. They then fill these empty spaces, seal and then crown the tooth for added protection.
After treatment and following up with your physician, you may find your sinus infections are less frequent. And by promptly seeking treatment at the first sign of tooth pain or sensitivity, you might prevent chronic sinusitis from even developing.
If you would like more information on how dental disease can affect overall 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”
A full night's sleep isn't a luxury—we all need it for a healthy mind and body. But 50-70 million people in the U.S. aren't getting enough sleep because of a chronic sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA happens when a sleeper's airway becomes blocked (most commonly by the tongue), cutting off oxygen to the brain. The body rouses from sleep to overcome the blockage. This awakening could last only a few seconds, after which the person immediately goes back to sleep. But it can occur hundreds of times a night and interrupt deeper sleep needed for a good night's rest.
Sleep disorders like OSA are a significant medical problem that could contribute to serious health issues like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. If you're experiencing fatigue, irritability or your family's complaints of you snoring, you should see a physician for diagnosis and treatment options.
You should also consider another health professional who could be helpful in dealing with OSA—and may even be able to provide a treatment option: your dentist. Here's how.
A dentist could discover your OSA. Because of twice-a-year dental visits, dentists often see patients more frequently than other healthcare providers. A properly trained dentist could pick up on signs and symptoms of sleep disorder, including patients falling asleep and even snoring while in the dentist's chair.
Dentists are familiar with the mouth. Few healthcare providers focus on the oral cavity like dentists. Besides the teeth and gums, dentists also have extensive knowledge of the tonsils, uvula and tongue that often play a role in sleep disorders. As such, a dentist may notice abnormalities during routine exams that might contribute to airway obstruction during sleep.
Dentists provide a treatment option. Many OSA patients use a CPAP mask to maintain an open airway during sleep. But CPAP therapy can be uncomfortable for some. For mild to moderate cases of OSA, dentists can create an oral appliance based on the patient's mouth dimensions that prevents the tongue from sinking back into the throat.
If you believe you may have OSA or a similar sleep disorder, by all means speak with your doctor. But also mention it to your dentist—your dental provider might hold the key to a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on how we could help with your sleep apnea symptoms, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
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