During his exploration of the Americas, Christopher Columbus encountered a native in a canoe loaded with water, food and a strange bunching of leaves. This marked the first European encounter with tobacco, a discovery that still haunts us to the present day. Today, millions smoke tobacco—and many suffer serious health problems as a result, including dental diseases like tooth decay and gum disease.
The American Cancer Society is sponsoring its 44th annual Great American Smokeout this November 19 when health providers across the country encourage smokers to kick the tobacco habit. Dentists will certainly be among them: Studies show that smokers are five times more likely to lose teeth than non-smokers due to a higher incidence of dental disease. Here's why.
Increased plaque and tartar. The main cause for tooth decay and gum disease is dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, can keep plaque and its hardened form tartar from accumulating. But substances in tobacco restrict the flow of saliva needed to curb bacterial growth. This in turn can increase plaque accumulation and the risk for disease.
Hidden symptoms. Your gums often “tell” you when you have early gum disease by becoming swollen and red, and bleeding easily. But if you smoke, you might not get that early warning—the nicotine in tobacco interferes with your body's inflammatory response, so your gums, although infected, may look normal. By the time you find out, the infection may have already spread, increasing your chances of tooth loss.
Slow healing. Nicotine can also constrict the mouth's blood vessels, slowing the delivery of nutrients and infection-fighting antibodies to your teeth and gums. As a result, your body may have a harder time fighting tooth decay or gum disease, and diseased tissues can take longer to heal. Slower healing can also complicate the process of getting dental implants.
Increased oral cancer risk. Although it's not as prevalent as other cancers, oral cancer is still among the deadliest with a dismal 50% survival rate after five years. Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancer. But by quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco, you could reduce your oral cancer risk to that of a non-user in just a few years.
Kicking the smoking habit often takes a monumental effort, but it's worth it. Quitting not only improves your overall well-being, it could help you gain healthier teeth and gums. To learn how, see us for an up-to-date dental exam—we can show you how getting Columbus's most notorious discovery out of your life could do wonders for your smile and dental health.
If you would like more information about the effects of tobacco on your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
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.”
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors could only expect to live between 30 and 40 years. But steady improvements in lifestyle and medical care have increased human life expectancy to almost 80 years.
Although a welcome development, it does raise a question: Are our teeth up to the added years? Even though quite resilient, it's natural for teeth to wear after years and tens of thousands of meals biting and chewing.
Fortunately, there have also been phenomenal advances in dental restorations that can effectively replace teeth we lose along the way. Even so, the most advanced artificial replacements can't restore the full benefit of natural teeth to oral and general health. The ideal goal is to preserve and protect our natural teeth for as long as possible.
Here are 4 areas worthy of your attention in protecting your teeth throughout your lifetime.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the top causes for poor dental health and tooth loss. They're caused by bacteria living and feeding primarily in dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, removes this disease-causing plaque. You should also seek treatment as soon as possible at the first sign of dental disease.
Bite correction. A poor bite is more than a smile problem: Teeth out of alignment and not engaging normally with their counterparts on the other jaw may increase tooth wear and make hygiene more difficult to perform. Orthodontic treatment, even if undertaken later in life, can help maintain your teeth's long-term health and longevity.
Bad habits. Your teeth are tough, but not indestructible. Protect them by avoiding harmful habits or practices like crunching ice, gnawing on pencils, nails or other hard objects, cracking open nuts or using your teeth as tools. Not engaging in these kinds of habits will help reduce wear and help you also avoid chipping and fractures.
Teeth grinding. Involuntarily clenching or grinding your teeth, often while sleeping, can accelerate dental wear. If you suspect you have this habit, take steps first to deal with stress, the number one cause of adult teeth grinding. Your dentist can also fashion a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making solid contact with each other and thus help reduce wearing to your teeth.
If you would like more information on tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
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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