Posts for category: Oral Health
We're all familiar with optical illusions, which our brain visually perceives in a way different from the actual reality. A kind of optical illusion may also happen in your mouth: Your teeth appear to have gotten "longer." They haven't actually grown—instead, the gums have shrunk back (or receded) to reveal more of the tooth.
Unfortunately, this isn't an amusing visual trick! Gum recession isn't healthy, and it could endanger your teeth.
Receding gums occur for a variety of reasons. Some people are simply more genetically disposed to recession because they've inherited thinner gum tissues from their parents. You can also damage your gums through over-aggressive brushing.
But the most common cause for gum recession is periodontal (gum) disease, caused by bacteria inhabiting a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces called dental plaque. The more plaque present on your teeth, the more plentiful the bacteria, which can sharply increase your risk of infection. Unless treated, gum disease can eventually weaken the gums' attachment to teeth that can then cause the gums to recede.
Normally, the gums cover and protect the tooth roots from bacteria and other hazards, similar to the way enamel protects the tooth's visible crown. But teeth lose this protection when the gums recede, exposing them to disease-causing bacteria and other oral hazards.
Fortunately, there is hope for receded gums. The primary way is to first treat the gum disease that caused it: If the recession has been mild, this may help the tissues regain their former coverage. More severe recession, however, may require highly technical grafting surgery with donor tissue to promote new tissue growth at the site.
But the best approach is to avoid recession in the first place by preventing gum disease. This requires removing bacterial plaque daily through brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental visits for more thorough cleanings. Dental visits are also important if you have a higher risk profile for gum recession like thinner gum tissues.
Gum recession isn't just an inconvenience. It can put your oral health at long-term risk. But you may be able to avoid its occurrence by practicing daily oral hygiene and seeing your dentist regularly.
If you would like more information on gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”
There are few things sweeter to hear than for your dentist to tell you your periodontal (gum) disease is under control. Depending on how deep the infection may have advanced, your treatment journey may have been a long one.
Unfortunately, while the battle may be over, the threat still lingers—once you've experienced a gum infection, you're at higher risk for a recurrence. To minimize that risk, you may need to undergo dental cleanings on a more frequent basis than before.
The average patient typically sees their dentist for cleanings every six months. The aim of these visits is to remove dental plaque, a thin film of bacterial-laden particles that is the prime source for gum disease. These cleanings are meant to supplement a daily habit of brushing and flossing, which should remove the bulk of plaque that builds up throughout the day.
After gum disease treatment, though, you may need to have these cleanings more frequently, and of a more involved nature than the normal cleaning. For patients who've overcome advanced gum disease, that frequency could initially be every other week, every couple of months or every three months. This frequency may change depending on the status of your gum health.
Besides a thorough cleaning, a specialized periodontal maintenance visit may include other interventions. For example, your dentist may apply topical antibiotics or other anti-bacterial products to keep bacterial growth under control.
Protecting you from further gum infection isn't totally on your dentist's shoulders—you also have a role to play. You'll need to brush and floss your teeth thoroughly every day, along with using any other hygiene products prescribed or recommended by your dentist. Daily hygiene will help prevent the buildup of dental plaque and subsequent bacterial growth.
You'll also need to keep a watchful eye on your gums for any emerging signs of infection. If you begin to notice swelling, pain or bleeding, contact your dentist as soon as possible to initiate remedial treatment.
Gum disease treatment can bring your gums back to a reasonable state of good health. But that state could be reversed with a returning gum infection. Only vigilance practiced by both you and your dentist can stop that from happening.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Although the air we breathe has one destination—the lungs—it can arrive there via two possible routes: through the nose or the mouth. In terms of survival, it matters little through which path air travels—just so it travels one of them!
In terms of health, though, breathing through the nose is more beneficial than through the mouth, and is our default breathing pattern. The nasal passages filter minute noxious particles and allergens. Air passing through these passages also produces nitric oxide, a gaseous substance that relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.
On the other hand, chronic mouth breathing during childhood can impact oral health. While breathing through the nose, the tongue rests against the roof of the mouth and thus becomes a mold around which the upper jaw and teeth develop. But mouth breathing places the tongue on the lower teeth, which deprives the upper jaw of support and can lead to an abnormal bite.
So why would people breathe through their mouth more than their nose? Simply put, it's more comfortable to do so. Because breathing is so critical for life, the body takes the path of least resistance to get air to the lungs. If obstructions caused by allergic reactions or swollen tonsils or adenoids are blocking the nasal pathway, the action moves to the mouth.
But chronic mouth breathing can often be treated, especially if addressed in early childhood. This may require the services of an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) and possible surgical intervention to correct anatomical obstructions. It's also prudent to have an orthodontist evaluate the bite and institute corrective interventions if it appears a child's jaw development is off-track.
Even after correcting obstructions, though, it may still be difficult for a child to overcome mouth breathing because the body has become habituated to breathing that way. They may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), which retrains the muscles in the face and mouth to breathe through the nose.
Chronic mouth breathing isn't something to be ignored. Early intervention could prevent future oral and dental problems and help the person regain the overall health benefits for nose breathing.
If you would like more information on overcoming chronic mouth breathing, 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 Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”