A wave of madness is about to sweep across Indianapolis and onto television screens across America—March Madness, that is. That's right: After its cancellation in 2020 due to COVID-19, the famed NCAA men's basketball tournament is back with all 68 games scheduled to be played in and around Indianapolis. As you can imagine, there will be numerous health precautions, and not just for the pandemic—there should also be mouthguards aplenty.
Why mouthguards? Although you might think football and hockey would be rougher on players' teeth, gums and jaws, basketball actually tops the list of sports with the most dental injuries. Such an injury occurring from a split-second contact with another player could take years to overcome.
Fortunately, mouthguards are a proven way to reduce sports-related mouth injuries among professional and amateur basketball athletes. Made of a pliable plastic, mouthguards cushion against blunt forces to the mouth generated during play (and not only formal games—practices and scrimmages too).
But while wearing a mouthguard is a no-brainer, choosing one can be a little intimidating. True, they all work on the same principle, but there are dozens of types, designs and price ranges.
We can, however, distill them down to two basic categories: “boil and bite” and custom mouthguards. You'll find the first kind online or in a local retail sporting goods store. It's named so because you first place it in hot water to soften it, and then place it in the mouth and bite down to create an individual fit.
As an inexpensive option, boil and bite mouthguards provide a level of protection. But they also tend to be bulky and uncomfortable, which can tempt players to wear them less. And the softer plastic (compared to custom guards) allows for a lot of jaw (and in turn, teeth) movement, which can cause teeth to loosen over time.
Custom mouthguards, on the other hand, are created by dentists based on impressions made of the wearer's mouth. As such, the fit tends to be more precise, requiring less material than the boil and bite variety, thus affording a greater degree of comfort. And there's less potentially damaging jaw movement with a custom mouthguard. As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive, but compared to the potential treatment cost for a sports-related dental injury, it's money well spent.
Investing in a custom mouthguard for your family basketball (or football, hockey or baseball) player is a sound way to protect their dental health. And that's not madness at all.
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
When dental implants hit the scene in the 1980s, they revolutionized the field of dental restorations. But as groundbreaking as they were then, they're even more advanced now.
Some of the advancements have to do with improvements in implant design and manufacturing. Implant sizes and shapes were once quite limited, but today they come in a variety of forms to better match the types of teeth they replace.
But there has also been important progress in complementary technologies that help us realize better outcomes. Many of these other advances have had a positive impact on the planning and surgical stages of implant installation.
CT/CBCT scanning. For the best outcome, it's critical to install an implant at the most appropriate location on the jaw. This can be difficult to determine, however, because of the location of oral and facial structures like nerves or sinuses that might interfere with implant placement. But using a type of computer tomography (CT) scanning called cone beam CT, we can produce a 3-D computer graphic image that helps us navigate possible obstructions as we pinpoint the ideal location for an implant.
Digital smile displays. We're now able to produce digital models of the mouth, which can assist with more than implant placement—we can also use them to visualize what a new smile with implants will look like before we install them. This is especially helpful in situations where only a few teeth need to be replaced: We want to ensure that the new implant crowns blend seamlessly with the remaining teeth for the most natural appearance.
Custom-made surgical guides. We've been using surgical guides to mark the exact drilling locations during implant surgery for many years. But 3-D printing technology can now help us produce surgical guides that are even more useful and precise. Using a 3-D printer, we can produce oral devices based on the patient's individual dental dimensions captured through digital scanning. That produces a better fit for the guide on the teeth and more accurate implant placement.
Together, these and other technological advances are helping us achieve even more successful results. Not only can they help us produce implant outcomes that can last for years or even decades, but also the most beautiful smiles possible.
If you would like more information on dental implant restorations, 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 Technology Aids Dental Implant Therapy.”
Dental patients have amazing options for tooth replacement. Dental implants, for example, can replace the entire tooth, root and crown, giving patients a new tooth nearly as good as the old one.
Nearly—but not exact. Even implants can't match the full benefits of a natural tooth, including one in less than perfect shape. Our first goal as dentists, then, is to save a diseased tooth if at all practical before considering replacing it.
That often involves a root canal treatment to address decay threatening a tooth's interior. The procedure requires drilling into the tooth to access its innermost pulp, cleaning out the pulp and root canals, and then filling the empty spaces. Since all dentists are trained in basic root canal treatment, your general dentist may be able to perform it.
But some dental situations call for more advanced endodontics, the dental specialty for treating disease and other problems inside a tooth. So, in what situations would you see an endodontist?
When your dentist refers you. Your dentist wants you to receive the level of treatment necessary to save your tooth. After examination, they may determine your situation would be better served by the advanced training, equipment and techniques (including surgery) of an endodontist.
When your tooth has complications. Patients often need an endodontist when existing factors complicate treatment of advanced tooth decay. A patient may have dental pain that's difficult to pinpoint, requiring the diagnostic resources of an endodontist. It's also common for a tooth's root canal network to be highly intricate, and which respond better to treatment with specialized endodontic tools and techniques.
When root canal treatment fails. Most root canal treatments are successful in protecting the tooth from further infection. That said, it's still possible for a root-canaled tooth to become re-infected or develop more problems. Again, an endodontist and their “tool chest“ re-treating a root-canaled tooth may be the best option for saving it.
You also don't have to wait for a referral—you can see an endodontist if you believe they would be best to treat your decayed tooth. You can find one near you by visiting an online endodontist directory at www.aae.org/find. An endodontist may be the lifesaver your diseased tooth needs.
If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
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.”
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