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.”
Dentists and oral surgeons remove millions of teeth every year, most without any adverse aftereffects. But about 2% of patients experience a dry socket, a condition that, although not dangerous to health, can be quite painful.
Also known as alveolar osteitis, a dry socket occurs when the blood clot that normally forms right after extraction doesn't form or becomes lost later. The clot serves as a barrier for the underlying bone and nerves during the healing process; without it these tissues can become irritated from contact with air, food or fluids.
Dry sockets (which usually occur in the back, lower molars) are fortunately rare, mainly in patients over 25, smokers or women using oral contraceptives. Patients also have a higher risk of developing a dry socket if they attempt certain activities too soon after tooth extraction like vigorous chewing or brushing that may dislodge the protective clot.
You can reduce your chances of a dry socket after a tooth extraction with a few simple guidelines. Unless advised otherwise by your dentist, avoid brushing the day after extraction and gently rinse the mouth instead. It also helps to avoid hot liquids and eat softer foods for a few days. If you smoke, you should avoid smoking during this time and use a nicotine patch if necessary.
Over the next few days, you should remain alert for any signs of a dry socket, often a dull, throbbing pain that radiates outward toward the ears, and a bad taste or mouth odor. A prompt visit to the dentist will help alleviate these symptoms, often in just a few minutes.
To treat it, a dentist will typically irrigate the socket and apply a medicated dressing, which you would need to change every other day for up to a week. After that, you'll leave the dressing in place for a while as you heal.
A dry socket doesn't interfere with the healing process: Your extraction site will heal whether or not you have one. But prevention and treatment for a dry socket will help ensure your healing after an extracted tooth is much less uncomfortable.
If you would like more information on dry socket after tooth extraction, 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 “Dry Socket.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Parents have been dealing with their children's teething pain for as long as parents and children have been around. Along the way, the human race has developed different ways to ease the discomfort of this natural process of dental development. While most are good, common-sense measures, one in particular needs to be avoided at all costs—applying topical oral products to the gums containing Benzocaine.
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic often found in oral products like Anbesol, Orajel or Topex to help ease tooth pain or sensitivity. The agent can be found in gel, spray, ointment or lozenge products sold over-the-counter. As an analgesic, it's considered relatively safe for adults to use.
But that's not the case with infants or younger children. Researchers have found a link between Benzocaine and methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal blood condition. Methemoglobinemia elevates the amount of a hemoglobin-like protein called methemoglobin, which in high concentrations can lower oxygen levels being transported to the body's cells through the bloodstream.
Because of their smaller anatomy and organ systems, younger children can have severe reactions to increases in methemoglobin, which can range from shortness of breath or fatigue to seizures, coma or even death. That's why you should never use products with Benzocaine or similar numbing agents to ease teething pain. Instead, follow these common sense practices:
- Give your child chilled rubber teething rings, wet washcloths or pacifiers to chew or gnaw on. The combination of cold temperatures and pressure from biting on them will help ease the pain. Just be sure the item isn't frozen, which could cause frost burns to soft tissues.
- For temporary relief from soreness, gently massage your baby's gums with a clean, bare finger or with it wrapped in a clean, wet cloth. The massaging action helps counteract the pressure of the incoming tooth.
- For intense episodes of teething discomfort, ask your healthcare provider about using an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be sure you use only the recommended dose size for your child's age.
Teething is in many ways like a storm—it too shall pass. Be sure you're helping your baby weather it safely.
One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth treatment, 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma.”
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