While oral hygiene, a nutritious diet and regular dental visits are all crucial to long-term oral health, these efforts complement what your body already does to keep your mouth healthy. One of the major players in this function is saliva.
Produced by hundreds of glands located throughout the mouth, saliva does much more than help you swallow and wash away food. As you chew, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase breaks down starches in your food to make it easier to digest in the stomach. Saliva also contains antibodies, similar to what’s in tears, which can fight bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Perhaps its most important function, though, is its ability to protect and maintain healthy tooth enamel. The strongest substance in the body, enamel nevertheless has one primary enemy — the acid found in certain foods or as a byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates.
When the ideally neutral pH level of the mouth becomes too acidic (nearly every time you eat), minerals in the enamel begin to soften and dissolve. The increased saliva flow when we eat floods the mouth with buffering agents that neutralize the acid and restore the mouth’s normal pH level. Not only does saliva stop demineralization, but it also restores a good bit of the enamel’s mineral content.
In recent years, a new role for saliva has begun to emerge as a means to diagnose disease. Like blood, urine and other bodily fluids, saliva contains molecules that serve as biological markers for disease. Given the right equipment, saliva has the potential to indicate early signs of cancer (including oral), diabetes and other systemic conditions. As the means to examine saliva for these markers increases it promises to be easier and less expensive to collect and sample than blood, while reducing the chances of transmitting bloodborne diseases to healthcare workers.
It’s a lot to consider with this fluid that you hardly notice, except when it isn’t there. Saliva is proof that our efforts at keeping our mouths healthy cooperate and depend on our bodies’ amazing systems.
If you would like more information on saliva and other ways your body maintains a healthy 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 “Saliva.”
As with the rest of the body, tooth pain is an indication that something’s wrong. While the exact cause requires a dental exam, the location, quality and duration of the pain could narrow the possibilities. With that in mind, here are 3 types of tooth pain and what it might be telling you.
Sensitivity. Pain or discomfort when you eat or drink cold foods or bite down could mean you have a small area of decay in the tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root surface from gum recession. Dental work to repair a decayed tooth or filling could alleviate the pain; in the case of gum recession, you may need to reduce overaggressive brushing or seek treatment for periodontal (gum) disease, the two main causes of the condition.
Dull or lingering pain. A dull ache in the rear sinus area could indicate a problem with a back tooth — they share the same nerve pathways as the sinuses, so you may be feeling referred pain. In the case of lingering pain after eating or drinking something hot or cold, there may be decay within the inner pulp chamber of the tooth that’s damaging or even killing the nerve tissue. If so, a root canal treatment might be in order.
Sharp pain. That sudden, excruciating pain when you bite down could mean you’re experiencing advanced decay, a loose filling or possibly a cracked tooth. If the pain seems to radiate from the gums — and they’re swollen and sensitive — you may have developed an abscess brought on by periodontal (gum) disease. In all these cases, appropriate dental treatment like decay removal and filling, root canal treatment or plaque removal may be necessary, depending on the cause and extent of the problem.
Regardless of what kind of pain you’re feeling, you should see us as soon as possible — in many situations waiting will only make the problem worse. The sooner we discover the cause, the sooner we can begin the right treatment to solve the issue and alleviate your pain.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of tooth pain, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!”
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.”
The fast-paced world of sports and entertainment isn’t all glitz and glamour. These high-profile industries create a unique kind of emotional and mental stress on celebrities. For many of them, a way to “let off steam” is an oral habit known as teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is an involuntary habit in which a person bites and grinds their teeth outside of normal activities like eating or speaking. It’s common among young children, who usually grow out of it, but it can also affect adults, especially those who deal with chronic stress. If not addressed, teeth grinding can eventually wear down teeth, damage gum attachments or fracture weaker teeth. It can even contribute to tooth loss.
A number of well-known personalities in the spotlight struggle with teeth grinding, including actress Vivica Fox, model and TV host Chrissy Teigen, and star athletes Tara Lipinski and Milos Raonic of ice skating and tennis fame, respectively. The habit represents not only a threat to their dental health, but also to one of their most important career assets: an attractive and inviting smile. Fortunately, though, they each use a similar device to manage their teeth grinding.
Besides seeking ways to better manage life stress, individuals with a teeth-grinding habit can protect their teeth with a custom mouthguard from their dentist. Made of slick plastic, this device is worn over the teeth, usually while sleeping, to minimize dental damage. During a grinding episode, the teeth can’t make contact with each other due to the guard’s glossy surface—they simply slide away from each other. This reduces the biting forces and eliminates the potential for wear, the main sources of dental damage.
Chrissy Teigen, co-host with LL Cool J on the game show Lip Sync Battle, wears her custom-made guard regularly at night. She even showed off her guard to her fans once during a selfie-video posted on Snapchat and Twitter. Vivica Fox, best known for her role in Independence Day, also wears her guard at night, and for an additional reason: The guard helps protect her porcelain veneers, which could be damaged if they encounter too much biting force.
Mouthguards are a prominent part of sports, usually to protect the teeth and gums from injury. Some athletes, though, wear them because of their teeth grinding habit. Tara Lipinski, world renowned figure skater and media personality, keeps hers on hand to wear at night even when she travels. And Milos Raonic, one of the world’s top professional tennis players, wears his during matches—the heat of competition tends to trigger his own teeth-grinding habit.
These kinds of mouthguards aren’t exclusive to celebrities. If you or a family member contends with this bothersome habit, we may be able to create a custom mouthguard for you. It won’t stop teeth grinding, but it could help protect your teeth—and your smile.
If you would like more information about protecting your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
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.”
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