Posts for: October, 2017
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.”