Posts for category: Oral Health
We all know how much better we feel after a good night’s sleep: refreshed, energized and ready to handle — even excel at — our day-to-day responsibilities. Yet millions of people, young and old, are robbed of a good night’s rest by sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, in which the soft tissues in the back of the throat block the airway during sleep. This temporarily disrupts airflow, causing numerous “micro-arousals” (sleep interruptions) that we may not even be aware of. A lack of sleep can make us drowsy, irritable and unfocused. In children, these typical symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to mistaken diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The relationship between sleep apnea and behavioral problems has been highlighted in several recent scientific journal articles, including a major study published several years ago in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The lead author, Dr. Karen Bonuck, said at the time: “We found that children with sleep-disordered breathing were from 40 to 100 percent more likely to develop neurobehavioral problems by age 7, compared with children without breathing problems. The biggest increase was in hyperactivity, but we saw significant increases across [other] behavioral measures.” Therefore, an accurate diagnosis of a child’s behavioral problems — leading to the right treatment — is crucial. While sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a physician, treatment for the condition is often provided by a dentist.
What can be done for children suffering from sleep apnea? The most common treatment is surgical removal of the tonsils or adenoids. This treatment can sometimes be performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, a dentist who has received several years of post-graduate surgical training. There are several other procedures oral surgeons can perform to open the airway, depending on what anatomical structures are blocking it.
Sometimes a child with sleep apnea can benefit from a procedure to expand the palate (roof of the mouth) to enlarge the airway. This is not a surgical treatment but rather an orthodontic one. An orthodontist (a dentist who specializes in moving teeth) will fit the child with a palatal expander, a butterfly-shaped device that gradually separates the two bones that form the upper jaw and roof of the mouth. This is often done to prevent crowding of teeth and other bite problems, but has been shown in some cases to improve airflow.
There is another dental approach used to treat adults and older children, whose jaw growth is complete. It’s called oral appliance therapy, and it involves wearing a custom-made device during sleep that resembles a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. An oral appliance can maintain an opened, unobstructed, upper airway during sleep in various ways, including: repositioning the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula; stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue; increasing the muscle tone of the tongue.
If your child has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, we can help you find the best treatment approach. For more information, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Snoring & Sleep Apnea.”
Tooth enamel erosion is a serious issue for many children that can result in permanent impairment of oral health. The problem isn’t just bacterial acid that causes tooth decay — it’s also the high acid content of sodas, energy and sports drinks widely popular among children and teenagers today.
Enamel is made of the strongest substance in the human body, which enables it to shield the inner layers of the teeth from disease and other environmental factors. Its chief nemesis, though, is acid: when enamel interacts with high concentrations of acid for a prolonged time, its mineral content will begin to soften and dissolve, a process known as de-mineralization. Saliva is the enamel’s main protection against acid with the ability to neutralize (or buffer) acid and restore some of the enamel’s mineral content, usually within thirty minutes to an hour after we eat.
The high acid content of many popular beverages, however, can overwhelm saliva’s buffering ability, especially if a person is sipping for an extended time on an acidic drink. This kind of exposure is different from acid produced by bacteria that causes tooth decay: bacterial acid tends to concentrate in specific areas of the teeth, while the constant wash from acidic beverages will have a more generalized eroding effect on teeth.
This level of enamel loss is irreversible, which can leave a tooth in peril of decay and ultimate loss — and increase long-term dental care and costs. The best strategy is to have your child stop or significantly curtail drinking highly acidic beverages. Rather than drink sports beverages for hydration, substitute water, nature’s hydrator. Milk can also be a viable beverage substitute.
If you do allow some acidic beverages, try to limit them to mealtimes and discourage extended sipping. Look for drinks with added calcium as this can reduce the beverage’s erosive potential. The goal is to reduce the amount and duration beverage acid is in contact with tooth enamel.
Making these changes will help greatly to protect your child’s tooth enamel, and give saliva a chance to do its job protecting it. Your efforts will also increase your child’s chances of better dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental erosion, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Erosion.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
’Tis the season for holiday joy with sweet treats at every turn. Don’t let it be the season for dental woes as well. You've heard that sugar causes cavities. That’s because bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid as a by-product. The acid eats away at tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay if not checked. To protect your smile during the December onslaught of cookies, candies and other goodies, follow these tips:
Seek balance. Foods that stick to your teeth like candy canes, chewy candies or potato chips provide more opportunity for cavities to develop. To help keep your smile sparkling for the New Year, mix it up with healthy options. Chances are you will come across tooth-healthy offerings like raw vegetables, a cheese plate or mixed nuts. Vegetables scrub your teeth while you chew and stimulate the production of saliva, which helps neutralize acid and rebuild tooth enamel. Cheese also neutralizes acid in the mouth and has minerals that strengthen teeth, while nuts stimulate saliva production and provide vitamins and minerals that keep teeth strong and healthy.
Consider your timing. There’s a higher risk of developing tooth decay when sweets are consumed as standalone snacks, so when you do eat sugary treats, try to have them at mealtime. Repeated snacking between meals exposes teeth to food particles throughout the day, and the acids produced can continue to act on your teeth for 20 minutes after a treat is consumed. During meals, however, other foods present help balance out the sugar and stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acid and wash away food particles, sugar and acid from your teeth.
Watch what you drink. Sipping sweet drinks over time can have ill effects on your teeth because of prolonged contact with sugar. If you consume sugary beverages, try to do so in moderation and preferably along with a meal. Sipping your drink through a straw can help keep the beverage away from direct contact with your teeth. Consider opting for water—there are plenty of other opportunities for extra sugar and calories! Besides, water washes away food bits and dilutes acidity. After eating the sweet stuff, it’s a good idea to drink water or at the very least swish a little water around in your mouth.
Keep up good oral hygiene. With all the holiday busyness—shopping, gatherings with friends and family, school functions—you may find yourself exhausted at the end of the day. Still, this is an especially important time to keep up your oral hygiene routine. Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste morning and night and flossing every day are key to keeping your teeth for the long haul.
Finally, if you are due for a dental checkup or cleaning, give us a call to make sure you start the New Year with a healthy smile. If you have a flexible spending account that will expire with the calendar year, make it a priority to fit in an end-of-year dental appointment. Please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation if you would like more information about keeping in the best oral health. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
A couple of years ago the Associated Press published an article claiming the health benefits of flossing remained unproven. The article cited a number of studies that seemed to conclude the evidence for the effectiveness of flossing in helping to prevent dental disease as “weak.”
As you can imagine, dental providers were a bit chagrined while flossers everywhere threw away their dental floss and happily declared their independence from their least favorite hygiene task. It would have seemed the Age of Flossing had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
But, the demise of flossing may have been greatly exaggerated. A new study from the University of North Carolina seems to contradict the findings cited in the AP article. This more recent study looked at dental patients in two groups—those who flossed and those who didn’t—during two periods of five and ten years respectively. The new study found conclusively that the flosser group on average had a lower risk of tooth loss than the non-flossers.
While this is an important finding, it may not completely put the issue to rest. But assuming it does, let’s get to the real issue with flossing: a lot of people don’t like it, for various reasons. It can be time-consuming; it can be messy; and, depending on a person’s physical dexterity, difficult to perform.
On the latter, there are some things you can do to make it a less difficult task. You can use a floss threader, a device that makes it easier to thread the floss through the teeth. You can also switch to an oral irrigator or “water flosser,” a pump device that sprays a fine, pressurized stream of water to break up plaque between teeth and flush most of it away. We can also give you tips and training for flossing with just your fingers and thread.
But whatever you do, don’t give up the habit. It may not be your most favorite hygiene task but most dentists agree it can help keep your teeth healthy for the long-term.