Posts for tag: oral health
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.”
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
What does November make you think of? Pumpkins? Turkeys? Dry leaves and frosty mornings? How about cigarette butts?
If you’re wondering about the last item, remember that November 15 is the date of the Great American Smokeout—a day set aside for those who want to take the first steps toward quitting the tobacco habit. While the percentage of smokers in the U.S. has dropped to less than 16% in recent years, according to the American Cancer Society there are still some 38 million Americans who smoke cigarettes. Smoking causes over 480,000 deaths every year, and is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Even if it doesn’t kill you, the effects of tobacco use can be devastating to your entire body—including your mouth. Whether you smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco, your risk of oral cancer is greatly increased, as is your chance of developing periodontal (gum) disease. What’s more, smoking can mask the symptoms of gum disease, so your condition is actually worse than it appears. Severe gum disease is one reason why smokers tend to lose more teeth than non-smokers.
In addition, because smoking interferes with the natural healing process, smokers have a much greater chance of dental implant failure. Tobacco use also can lead to increased amounts of plaque, which results in tooth decay and other oral health problems. It also stains your teeth, reduces your senses of smell and taste, and gives you bad breath.
Ready to quit yet? If so, there are lots of resources to help you on the road to a healthier life. The American Cancer Society, sponsor of the Smokeout, can help you make a plan to quit tobacco—and stay off it. It’s not easy, but over a million Americans do it every year. See their website for more information, plans and tips on quitting. Your health care professionals are also a great source of information and help when it’s time to get off the tobacco habit. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have.
And here’s the good news: The moment you quit, your body begins to recover from the effects of tobacco use. In just one year, you’ll have cut your risk of heart attack and stroke in half. After 5 to 15 years, your risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and several other conditions is the same as someone who has never smoked.
If you have questions about smoking and oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Dental Implants and Smoking.”
Cardiovascular disease and periodontal (gum) disease are two different conditions with their own set of symptoms and outcomes. But they do share one common element: inflammation. In fact, this otherwise normal defensive response of the body might actually create a link between them.
When tissues become damaged from disease or injury, the body triggers inflammation to isolate them from the rest of the body. This allows these tissues to heal without affecting other tissues. If inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can damage rather than protect the body.
This happens with both cardiovascular disease and gum disease. In the former, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) in animal fat leave behind remnants that can build up within arteries. This stimulates inflammation of the vessel’s inner linings, which accelerates hardening and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
With gum disease, bacteria living in a thin, built-up film of food particles on the teeth called plaque infect the gum tissues, which in turn trigger inflammation. A struggle ensures between the infection and inflammation, causing the gum tissues to weaken and detach from the teeth. Coupled with erosion of the supporting bone, the risk of tooth loss dramatically increases.
Recent research now seems to indicate the inflammatory responses from these two diseases may not occur in isolation. There is evidence that gum inflammation could aggravate inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and vice-versa. The research, though, points to some possible good news: treating inflammation in either disease could have a positive effect on the other.
Making heart-friendly lifestyle changes like losing extra weight (especially around the waist), improving nutrition, and exercising regularly can help reduce LDL and lower the risk of arterial inflammation. Likewise for your gums, daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist at least twice a year reduces the risk for gum disease. And at the first sign of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—seeking immediate treatment will stop it and reduce any occurring inflammation.
Taking steps to prevent or reduce inflammation brought on by both of these diseases could improve your health and save your life.
If you would like more information on how your oral health affects your whole body, 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 Link between Heart & Gum Disease.”