Perhaps you haven’t thought of it quite this way, but saliva is one of the true wonders of the human body. This unassuming fluid performs a variety of tasks to aid digestion and help protect your mouth from disease. And you hardly notice it — except when it’s not there.
That’s the case for millions of people in America who have a chronic condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This happens when the salivary glands don’t secrete enough saliva, normally two to four pints daily.
Of course, we can experience mouth dryness when we first wake up (saliva flow ebbs while we sleep), feel stressed, use tobacco, or consume alcohol and certain foods like onions or spices. It becomes a problem, though, when periods of low saliva become chronic. Without its preventive capabilities, you’ll be at much higher risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Chronic dry mouth can occur for various reasons: systemic diseases like cancer or autoimmune deficiencies can cause it, as well as radiation or chemotherapy treatments. One of the most common causes, though, is medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. The surgeon general identifies over 500 known drugs that may inhibit saliva production, including some antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. It’s often why older people who take more medications than younger people suffer more as a population from dry mouth.
Because of its long-term health effects, it’s important to try to boost saliva flow. If your mouth is consistently dry, try to drink more fluids during the day. If you suspect your medication, see if your physician can prescribe a different drug. It also helps to drink a little water before and after taking oral medication.
We may also recommend medication or other substances that stimulate saliva or temporarily substitute for it. Xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that also inhibits bacterial growth, can help relieve dryness. You’ll often find it in gums or mints.
Chronic dry mouth is more than a minor irritation — it can lead to more serious conditions. In addition to these tips, be sure to also keep up your regular dental visits and maintain a daily schedule of oral hygiene to prevent dental disease.
If you would like more information on overcoming 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: Learn about the Causes and Treatment of this Common Problem.”
Bright, naturally white teeth are a key component in a beautiful smile. But the opposite is also true: nothing diminishes an otherwise attractive smile more than stained or discolored teeth.
There is good news, however, about tooth staining: it can be greatly reduced with the right whitening technique. But before taking action we need to first uncover the cause for the staining — whether from the outside or inside of the tooth, or a combination of both.
If it’s an external cause — known as extrinsic staining — our diet is usually the source. Foods and beverages that contain tannins, like red wine, coffee or tea fall in this category, as do foods with pigments called carotenes as found in carrots and oranges. Besides limiting consumption of stain-causing foods and maintaining daily oral hygiene, you can also diminish extrinsic staining with a bleaching application.
There are two basic ways to approach this: with either a professional application at our office or with a home kit purchased at a pharmacy or retail store. Although both types use similar chemicals, the professional application is usually stronger and the whitening effect is obtained quicker and may last longer.
Discoloration can also occur within a tooth, known as intrinsic staining, and for various reasons. It can occur during tooth development, as with childhood overexposure to fluoride or from the antibiotic tetracycline. Poor development of enamel or dentin (the main sources of natural tooth color), tooth decay, root canal treatments or trauma are also common causes of intrinsic discoloration.
There are techniques to reduce the effects of intrinsic staining, such as placing a bleaching agent inside the tooth following a root canal treatment. In some cases, the best approach may be to restore the tooth with a crown or porcelain veneer. The latter choice is a thin layer of dental material that is permanently bonded to the outer, visible portion of the tooth: it’s life-like color and appearance covers the discoloration, effectively renewing the person’s smile.
If you’ve been embarrassed by stained teeth, visit us for a complete examination. We’ll recommend the right course of action to turn your dull smile into a bright, attractive one.
If you would like more information on treatments for teeth staining, 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 “Teeth Whitening.”
We've all done it — suddenly bit the inside of our mouth while chewing food. All too often our cheek, lip or tongue finds itself in the way of our teeth.
The small wound caused by these types of bites usually heals quickly. But it's also common for the natural swelling of these wounds to cause the skin to become prominent and thus more in the way when we eat. As a result we bite it again — and again. If bit a number of times, the old wound can form a bump made of tougher tissue.
Also known as a traumatic fibroma, this growth is made up of a protein called collagen that forms into strands of fibers, similar to scar tissue or a callous. As you continue to bite it, the fibers form a knot of tissue that becomes larger with each subsequent bite and re-healing.
Unlike malignant lesions that form relatively quickly, these types of lumps and bumps usually take time to form.Â They're not injurious to health, but they can be irritating and painful when you re-bite them. We can alleviate this aggravation, though, by simply removing them.
The procedure, requiring the skills of an oral surgeon, periodontist or a general dentist with surgical training, begins with numbing the area with a local anesthetic. The fibroma is then removed and the area closed with two or three small stitches. With the fibroma gone, the tissue surface once again becomes flat and smooth; it should only take a few days to a week to completely heal with mild pain medication like ibuprofen to control any discomfort.
Once removed, we would have the excised tissue biopsied for any malignant cells. This is nothing to cause concern: while the fibroma is more than likely harmless, it's standard procedure to biopsy any excised tissue.
The big benefit is that the aggravating lump or bump that's been causing all the trouble is no more. You'll be able to carry on normal mouth function without worrying about biting it again.
If you would like more information on minor mouth sores and wounds, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
Like other living tissue, your teeth can feel. Dentin, the layer below the enamel, houses fluid-filled conduits that transmit temperature or pressure sensations to a nerve network within the tooth’s inner pulp. It’s so effective that incoming sensations must be buffered — “toned down”— to avoid a painful overload of the nerves. The enamel above the gum line and a bone-like substance called cementum below help do this.
Unfortunately, if teeth lose this protection they can become hypersensitive. This can cause a flash of sharp pain while eating or drinking something cold or hot or just biting down.
There are a number of causes for tooth sensitivity, any of which can influence how we treat it. While you’ll need a dental exam to know for sure, your hypersensitivity will more than likely stem from one of these 3 problems.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This is an infection caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on the teeth due to poor oral hygiene. The inflamed gum tissues weaken and detach from the teeth, causing them to shrink back or recede. This leaves the cementum unprotected, which easily erodes and exposes the dentin to acid and bacteria — and hypersensitivity. Clinically removing the plaque helps the affected gums heal. In extreme cases, the gums may need surgical grafting to regenerate.
Overaggressive brushing. While a lack of oral hygiene can contribute to gum recession, ironically too much hygiene — brushing too hard for too long — can damage your gums and cause them to recede. Brushing really doesn’t require a lot of elbow grease — a gentle scrubbing motion over all tooth surfaces is sufficient to remove plaque. Fine-tuning your brushing will help your gums to recover and heal.
Mouth acid. Although quite strong, enamel has one formidable enemy: acid, which can erode enamel and expose the dentin. Over-indulgence in acidic foods and beverages can make your mouth more acidic; more likely, though, bacterial plaque will again be the culprit, because bacteria excrete an acidic waste product. You can reduce mouth acid with daily brushing and flossing and consuming less acidic foods and beverages.
If you’re experiencing any kind of tooth pain, see us for an examination. We’ll determine the cause and initiate the appropriate treatment to regain your oral health.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
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