Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
Most of us have encountered something hot that’s burned or scalded the inside of our mouth—not a pleasant feeling. But what if you have a similar burning sensation without eating or drinking anything to cause it?
It’s not your imagination: It could be a condition called burning mouth syndrome (BMS), the feeling your mouth is burned or scalded without an apparent cause. It’s often accompanied by dryness, numbness, or tingling. You may feel it throughout the mouth, or just in “hot spots” around the lips, tongue or other mouth structures.
Researchers haven’t pinpointed exact causes yet for BMS. It’s most common in women around menopause, connecting it to a possible hormonal imbalance. It’s also been linked to diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, medication, acid reflux, cancer treatment or psychological issues. Because it can persist for years, BMS can contribute to irritability, anxiety or depression.
If you’re experiencing BMS, there are things you can do to diminish its effect. First, though, have your dentist give you a complete oral exam and take a thorough medical history. They can then give you specific treatment recommendations based on what they reveal.
For example, if symptoms seem to increase after brushing your teeth, you might be having a reaction to a toothpaste ingredient, usually the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate. Your dentist may recommend experimenting with other toothpaste brands.
Other treatment options include:
- Alleviating dry mouth symptoms by changing medications (as your doctor advises), drinking more water and using saliva-boosting products;
- Quitting smoking and reducing your consumption of alcohol, coffee and spicy foods;
- Chronicling your diet to look for connections between individual foods and BMS flare-ups—you may need to restrict these in your diet.
- And because it seems to aggravate BMS symptoms, reducing acute stress with relaxation techniques or therapeutic counseling.
If your dentist can’t fully diagnose your condition or the steps you take aren’t reducing your symptoms, you may be referred to an oral pathologist (a dental specialist in mouth diseases). The key is not to give up until you find a workable treatment strategy. Through a little trial and error, you may be able to overcome the discomfort of BMS.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth Syndrome, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome.”
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Because it requires jaw movement, eating can be difficult and painful if you have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). During flareups you may switch to foods that are easier to eat but may be less nutritious than those you're giving up.
But there are ways to keep healthier foods in your diet while minimizing TMD discomfort. In many cases, it's a matter of preparing your food differently. Here are a variety of food groups known for their nutritional value and what you can do to prepare them for easier eating with TMD.
Fruits and Vegetables. You should peel any fruits or vegetables with hard or chewy skin like apples, peaches or cucumbers. Try chopping or pureeing fruits and vegetables you can eat raw to reduce their size and make them easier to chew. Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, broccoli or cauliflower can be cooked, then chopped or mashed.
Legumes and nuts. Pod-based vegetables like beans or peas provide a number of nutritional elements, as do nuts with their healthy fats. Your motto with these foods should be "Not too large and not too hard." Be sure then to cook, mash or puree legumes that are larger than a pea. With nuts, try nut butters for a softer serving than eating them out of the shell.
Protein and Dairy. Any meats like poultry or beef should be cut into bite-sized pieces; you can also moisten them with broths, gravies or sauces for easier chewing, or braise or stew them in liquid to tenderize them. You can also consume most milk, yogurt or cheese products you can tolerate. If you can't, try alternatives like meal replacement or whey protein beverages.
Grains. Prepare grains by cooking them until they're softened. Hot cereals like oatmeal offer a lot of nutrition and they're relatively easy to eat. Toast your bread and cut the slice into smaller pieces to minimize jaw movement.
One last tip: take your time while eating. A slower rate not only helps you enjoy your food more, it reduces the amount of work your jaws perform while eating. Less jaw work can help further ease the discomfort of TMD.
If you would like more information on how to relieve TMD pain and dysfunction, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
A disease happening in one part of your body doesn’t necessarily stay there. Even a localized infection could eventually affect your general health. Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection that damages gums, teeth and supporting bone, is a case in point.
There’s now growing evidence that gum disease shares links with some other serious systemic diseases. Here are 4 serious health conditions and how gum disease could affect them.
Diabetes. Gum disease could make managing diabetes more difficult—and vice-versa. Chronic inflammation occurs in both conditions, which can then aggravate the other. Diabetics must deal with higher than normal glucose levels, which can also feed oral bacteria and worsen existing gum disease. On the plus side, though, effectively managing both conditions can lessen each one’s health impact.
Heart disease. Gum disease can worsen an existing heart condition and increase the risk of stroke. Researchers have found evidence that chronic inflammation from gum disease could further damage already weakened blood vessels and increase blood clot risks. Treating gum disease aggressively, on the other hand, could lower blood pressure as much as 13 points.
Rheumatoid Arthritis. The increased inflammatory response that accompanies arthritis (and other diseases like lupus or inflammatory bowel disease) can contribute to a higher risk for gum disease. As with the other conditions previously mentioned, chronic inflammation from a gum infection can also aggravate arthritis symptoms. Treating any form of chronic inflammation can ease symptoms in both arthritis and gum disease.
Alzheimer’s disease. The links of Alzheimer’s disease to gum disease are in the numbers: a recent study found people over 70 who’ve had gum disease for ten or more years were 70% more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy gums. There is also evidence that individuals with both Alzheimer’s and gum disease tended to decline more rapidly than those without gum disease.
From the accumulating evidence, researchers now view gum disease as more than an oral problem—it could impact your total health. That’s why you should adopt a disease prevention strategy with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits (or whenever you notice puffy, reddened or bleeding gums). Stopping gum disease could provide you a health benefit well beyond preserving your teeth and gums.
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