As your mother used to say, “A moist mouth is a healthy mouth.” Well, maybe she didn't — but it's still true. Without the constant flow of saliva, your teeth and gums would be less healthy.
That's because among its many functions, saliva helps keep the mouth from becoming too acidic. Just after eating, your mouth's neutral pH level tips to the acidic side of the scale. Acid is enamel's number one enemy, and it takes little time for it to begin dissolving mineral content. But in thirty minutes to an hour, saliva neutralizes the acid; it also helps restore some of the enamel's minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, acid quickly gets the upper hand. In time, this can greatly increase your risk for dental disease. And for many people, inadequate saliva — dry mouth — is a chronic problem.
There are a number of reasons why. Salivary glands may not produce as much in our later years. In addition, as we age, we may begin taking more medications, some of which can cause dry mouth. Treatments for certain kinds of systemic diseases, particularly cancer, can also inhibit saliva or even damage salivary glands.
If you feel your mouth is continuously dry, make an appointment to find out the cause, which will determine the best course of action to alleviate it. If it's related to your medication, we'll see if there's an alternative. If not, you may need to drink more water when you take your medication and more throughout the day.
There are other things you can do as well. Reduce your intake of acidic foods or caffeinated beverages. Run a cool-air humidifier at night to keep your mouth and nose membranes moist. And you can also try saliva stimulants available by prescription or even over the counter. Chewing gum with xylitol (an alcohol-based sugar) has also been shown to stimulate saliva flow.
Above all, be diligent about daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Keeping a watchful eye will help ensure dental disease doesn't take advantage of your dry mouth.
If you would like more information on managing dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Although energy and sports drinks have different purposes, they have one thing in common: they often contain added citric and other acids to improve taste and prolong shelf life. Their high acid content can harm tooth enamel.
Although enamel is the strongest substance in the body, acid can dissolve its mineral content. And although saliva neutralizes acid after eating or drinking and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel, it may not be able to keep up if the mouth remains acidic for a prolonged period of time.
That could happen with both beverage types. While energy drinks have higher acid levels than sports drinks, both are high compared with other beverages.
A recent laboratory experiment studied the two beverages’ effect on tooth enamel. The researchers submerged samples of enamel in six different beverage brands (three from each category) for fifteen minutes, and then in artificial saliva for two hours to simulate mouth conditions. They repeated this cycle four times a day for five days.
At the end of the experiment the enamel in the energy drinks lost on average 3.1 % of their structure, while the sports drink samples lost 1.5%. Although energy drinks appeared more destructive, the acid in both beverages caused enamel damage. Although there are other factors to consider in real life, the experiment results do raise concerns about both beverages’ effect on dental health.
You can, however, minimize the potential harm to your enamel from energy or sports drinks. First, try other beverage choices lower in acid; water, for example, is a natural hydrator and neutral in pH. Try to only drink energy or sports beverages at mealtimes when your saliva is most active. And after drinking, rinse your mouth out with water to dilute any remaining acid.
And although it sounds counterintuitive, wait about an hour to brush your teeth after drinking one of these beverages. Your enamel can be in a softened state before saliva can re-mineralize it, so brushing earlier could remove tiny amounts of enamel minerals.
Taking these steps with energy or sports beverages could help you reduce the chances for enamel erosion. Doing so may help you avoid unnecessary damage to your teeth and overall dental health.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on dental health, 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 “Think Before You Drink.”
There are several reasons why dental implants are so popular. Perhaps the most important, though, is their longevity: if maintained properly implants can last for decades. However, they’re not indestructible—certain mouth conditions could put them at risk for early failure. But if you address emerging problems early, you may be able to prevent that unfortunate outcome.
Your implants may be in danger, for example, if you have a teeth grinding or clenching habit. This occurs when a person involuntarily and repeatedly bites down on their teeth when not chewing or speaking. Usually triggered in adults by high stress, teeth grinding can subject both natural teeth and implants to damaging levels of force. Over time this can cause bone loss around an implant and weaken their support. It could also cause a direct break in an implant.
But there are ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of teeth grinding. One effective way is a custom-made bite guard you wear while you sleep. Made of hard plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other, reducing the amount of force generated.
A more prominent problem is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by built-up dental plaque on tooth surfaces. This can trigger inflammation, a normal defensive response that when it persists for an extended period of time can damage tissues and supporting bone. It can also cause a specific form of gum disease related to implants called peri-implantitis, in which the tissues that support an implant become infected and weaken, leading eventually to possible implant failure.
If you have implants, then, you should brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease, as well as see your dentist at least every six months for cleanings and checkups. And if you notice anything like reddened, swollen or bleeding gums, see your dentist immediately. The sooner you undergo treatment, the better the outcome for your implants as well as your overall health.
Dental implants can give you years of great service and can prove to be well worth the cost. But you’ll have to stay on your guard against gum disease and other mouth conditions that could endanger them down the road.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method that Rarely Fails.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on dental health, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
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