Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Before we begin correcting a malocclusion (poor dental bite), we need to ask a few questions: How extensive is the malocclusion? How far must we move the teeth to correct it? How might the patient's jaw size impact treatment?
Answering these and other questions help us develop an effective treatment plan. And depending on the answers, we might need to look at other procedures before we install braces—like removing one or more of the teeth.
This isn't a subject to approach lightly: All teeth play an important role in dental function and smile appearance, and ordinarily we want to preserve teeth, not remove them. Sometimes, however, it may be a necessary action to achieve our goal of an improved dental bite.
For example, it might be necessary for correcting a malocclusion caused by severe teeth crowding. This occurs when one or both of the jaws hasn't grown to a sufficient size to accommodate all of the teeth erupting on it. As a result, some of the teeth could come in out of their proper alignment.
If caught early before puberty, we may be able to use other techniques to alleviate crowding, like a device called a palatal expander that influences an upper jaw to widen as it grows. If successful, it could provide later teeth more room to erupt in their proper positions.
But even if additional jaw growth occurs, it may not be enough to avoid a malocclusion or treatment with braces. Alleviating further crowding by removing teeth in little noticed areas could help with subsequent orthodontics.
Removing teeth may also be the answer for other problems like an impacted tooth, in which the tooth has not fully erupted and remains submerged in the gums. It's sometimes possible to use a technique to “pull” the tooth down where it should be; but again, that will still require jaw space that may not be available. The more effective course might be to remove the impacted tooth.
Whether or not tooth extraction will be needed can depend on a thorough orthodontic evaluation and full consideration of all the available options. Even though the ideal situation is to correct a bite with all teeth present and accounted for, it may be for the better good to sacrifice some.
If you would like more information on orthodontic techniques, 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 “Removing Teeth for Orthodontic Treatment.”
Infancy is perhaps the only time in a person's life where a smile with just a few tiny teeth is still endearing. More will come—and then each will gradually depart, succeeded by permanent replacements.
That short lifespan, though, doesn't diminish their importance. Primary teeth not only provide children the ability to eat solid food and develop speech, but they set the stage for future dental health.
The latter arises from primary teeth's role as placeholders for incoming permanent teeth. Because permanent teeth eruption occurs in stages, primary teeth prevent earlier erupted teeth from drifting into the space intended for a later tooth. If they're lost prematurely and other teeth crowd into the space, the intended tooth may not have enough room to erupt properly, cascading from there into a poor bite (malocclusion).
The most common reason for premature loss is an aggressive form of tooth decay in children under 6 called early childhood caries (ECC). About one in four U.S. children encounter ECC, with those in poverty at higher risk. Infection in one tooth can spread to others, including newly erupted permanent teeth.
The goal then is to prevent ECC as much as possible, and initiate prompt treatment should it still occur. A good prevention strategy has two prongs: the actions and habits of parents or caregivers; and the prevention and treatment measures taken by dental providers.
At home, it's important that you wipe your newborn's gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding to reduce bacterial growth. As teeth erupt, switch then to gentle brushing with a rice grain-sized amount of baby toothpaste. You should also limit their sugar consumption, including not allowing them to sleep with a bedtime bottle of any liquid other than water.
It's also important that you start your child's regular dental visits around their first birthday. This allows us to detect any developing cavities, as well as apply sealants and topical fluoride to help prevent decay. And should a cavity develop, regular visits help ensure prompt treatment to preserve the tooth.
Your child's set of primary teeth only last a few short years, but their contribution echoes for a lifetime. Taking these measures to protect them from tooth decay ensures they'll fully make that contribution.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Little things add up. Like your three meals a day, which could total over 87,000 by the time you're eighty. If you average a full night's sleep every night, you will have whiled away over a quarter of a million hours in slumber by your diamond birthday. And if you're the typical American, you will also have spent over 900 hours (or nearly 40 days) brushing your teeth.
If that last example sounds like a lot, it's actually not: If it's a daily habit, that's about two minutes of brushing a day. But that little bit of time could have an incredible impact on your dental health over a lifetime. That's why dental providers commemorate October as National Dental Hygiene Month to call attention to just how important those 900-plus hours can be to a healthy mouth.
Brushing is important because of what a few strains of bacteria can do to your oral health. While most of your mouth's microscopic inhabitants do no harm (and some are even beneficial), the malevolent few cause tooth decay and gum disease, both of which could lead to tooth loss.
These bacteria live in and feed off of a thin biofilm of food particles called dental plaque. Over time, plaque and tartar (a hardened, calcified form) can build up on tooth surfaces. As it grows, so does the mouth's bacterial population and the risk for disease. In fact, just a few days of undisturbed plaque growth is enough time for a gum infection to get started.
Brushing your teeth removes this plaque accumulation, which reduces the bacterial levels in your mouth. A thorough brushing of all surfaces usually takes about two minutes, but it must be done every day to keep plaque at bay. So, yes, a little time spent brushing every day can be a big deal. That said, though, it's not the be-all and end-all of oral hygiene. You should also floss daily since plaque accumulates just as readily in the spaces between teeth where brushing can't reach. We, along with the American Dental Association, recommend brushing twice a day and flossing once a day for optimal oral health.
But no matter how proficient you are with brushing and flossing, you may still miss some spots. Be sure, then, that you also see us regularly for dental cleanings to thoroughly clean your teeth of plaque and fully minimize your risk of dental disease.
Oral hygiene only takes a little of your time each day. But it does add up—not only in the “days” you'll spend doing it, but in a lifetime of better dental health.
If you would like more information about getting the most out of your daily oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
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.