The first week of April is National Public Health Week, putting the spotlight on health issues that impact us all. The popular practice of vaping is one of those top issues this year due to its connection with recent lung illnesses and deaths. But this isn't a new problem—dentists have been critics of vaping for some time now over the growing evidence of its effect on oral health.
Vaping is the popular term for inhaling aerosol vapors through an e-cigarette (or e-cig for short). The electronic device contains a small reservoir filled with flavored liquids that contain nicotine and other chemicals. The device heats the liquid, turning it into a vapor that's inhaled or “vaped” into the lungs.
Vaping has been touted by proponents as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. But there's growing evidence that vaping isn't a kinder and gentler way to “smoke.” A good portion of that evidence comes from dentists who routinely treat oral problems caused or worsened by vaping.
In reality, the adverse effects of vaping on oral health aren't much different from smoking. Like smoking, vaping ingredients can irritate the inside of the mouth and cause dryness, an ideal environment for dental disease. And nicotine, the main chemical in both vaping and smoking, constricts blood vessels that deliver nutrients and disease-fighting antigens to the gums and teeth.
If these hazards weren't bad enough, recent clinical findings seem to indicate they're only the tip of the iceberg. Researchers from New York University's (NYU) College of Dentistry have found evidence from a combined study of cigarette smokers, e-cig users and non-smokers that vaping may significantly alter the mouth's microbiome to the ultimate detriment of oral health.
A “microbiome” is a term describing the intricate relationship between the millions of microorganisms inhabiting the human body and the body itself. While a few are malicious, many, namely in the gut and mouth, help the body obtain nutrients from food and fight against disease. Disrupting that delicate balance opens the door to diminished health.
The NYU researchers found that both smokers and e-cig users had higher levels of pathogenic bacteria in their saliva than non-smokers, suggesting both habits disrupted the mouth's microbiome balance enough to allow less benevolent bacteria to flourish. They also found that both smokers and e-cig users had significantly higher incidences of gum disease (72.5% and 42.5%, respectively) than non-smokers (28.2%).
If you're a smoker, a cessation program to quit the habit—not switching to vaping—is the way to a healthier life. If you would like more information about the effects of vaping on your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Vaping and Oral Health.”
If you think gum disease only happens to the other guy (or gal), think again. If you’re over 30 you have a 50-50 chance for an infection. After 65 the risk climbs to 70 percent.
Fortunately, we can effectively treat most cases of gum disease. But depending on its severity, treatment can involve numerous intensive sessions and possible surgery to bring the disease under control. So, why not prevent gum disease before it happens?
First, though, let’s look at how gum disease most often begins—with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth and gum surfaces. If plaque isn’t consistently removed through daily brushing and flossing, it doesn’t take long—just a few days—for the bacteria to infect the gums.
While it’s not always easy to detect gum disease early on, there are signs to look for like red, swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, and bad breath or taste. The infection is usually more advanced if you notice pus-filled areas around your gums or loose teeth. If you see any of these (especially advanced signs like loose teeth) you should contact us as soon as possible.
Obviously, the name of the game with prevention is stopping plaque buildup, mainly through daily brushing and flossing. Technique is the key to effectiveness, especially with brushing: you should gently but thoroughly scrub all tooth surfaces and around the gum line, coupled with flossing between teeth.
To find out how well you’re doing, you can rub your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss—you should feel a smooth, almost squeaky sensation. You can also use plaque-disclosing agents that dye bacterial plaque a particular color so you can easily see surface areas you’ve missed. You can also ask us for a “report card” on how well you’re doing during your next dental visit.
Dental visits, of course, are the other essential part of gum disease prevention—at least every six months (or more, if we recommend) for cleaning and checkups. Not only will we be able to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, we’ll also give your gums a thorough assessment. By following this prevention regimen you’ll increase your chances of not becoming a gum disease statistic.
If you would like more information on recognizing and treating gum disease, 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
There's a lot of emphasis — well-placed, of course — on preventing and treating tooth decay. But there's another dental disease just as dangerous to your oral health and nearly half of U.S. adults have it. It's actually a group of diseases known collectively as periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is similar to tooth decay in one respect: they're both triggered by bacteria. These microorganisms thrive in a thin film of food particles called plaque that collects on tooth surfaces.
Certain bacteria can infect gum tissues and trigger inflammation, a response from the body's immune system to fight it. As the battle rages, bone loss can occur and the gums weaken and begin to detach from the teeth. Without treatment, you could eventually lose affected teeth.
Like tooth decay, the best approach with gum disease is to prevent it, and by using the same techniques of daily brushing and flossing. These actions loosen and remove plaque built up since your last brushing. It's also important you visit us at least twice a year for cleanings that remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
If despite your best efforts you do contract gum disease, the sooner you see us for treatment the lower the long-term impact on your health. The treatment aim is the same as your daily hygiene: to remove plaque and calculus. We use specialized hand instruments or ultrasound equipment to mechanically remove plaque; more advanced cases may require the skills of a periodontist who specializes in caring for structures like the gums that support teeth.
So, defend yourself against gum disease by brushing and flossing daily, and visiting us regularly for dental cleanings and checkups. If you notice bleeding, swollen or painful gums, see us as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Don't let tooth decay's evil twin ruin your oral health or your smile.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of gum disease, 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
If you have tooth pain, we want to know about it. No, really—we want to know all about it. Is the pain sharp or dull? Is it emanating from one tooth or more generally? Is it constant, intermittent or only when you bite down?
Dentists ask questions like these because there are multiple causes for tooth pain with different treatment requirements. The more accurate the diagnosis, the quicker and more successful your treatment will be.
Here are 3 different examples of tooth pain, along with their possible causes and treatments.
Tooth sensitivity. If you feel a quick jolt of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold, it may mean your gums have drawn back (receded) from your teeth to leave more sensitive areas exposed. Gum recession is most often caused by gum disease, which we can treat by removing dental plaque, the main cause for the infection. In mild cases the gums may recover after treatment, but more advanced recession may require grafting surgery.
Dull ache around upper teeth. This type of pain might actually be a sinus problem, not a dental one. The upper back teeth share some of the same nerves as the sinus cavity just above them. See your dentist first to rule out deep decay or a tooth grinding habit putting too much pressure on the teeth. If your dentist rules out an oral cause, you may need to see your family physician to check for a sinus infection.
Constant sharp pain. A throbbing pain seeming to come from one tooth may be a sign the tooth's central pulp layer has become decayed. The resulting infection is attacking the pulp's nerves, which is causing the excruciating pain. Advanced decay of this sort requires a root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. See your dentist even if the pain stops—the infection may have only killed the nerves, but is still present and advancing.
Pain is the body's warning system—so heed the tooth pain alert and see your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner the problem is identified and treated, the better your chances of returning to full dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it means, 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!”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.