You may think an office cleaning is mainly cosmetic — giving your teeth that polished look and you that pleasant, “squeaky clean” feeling. But your dental hygienist is doing more than making your teeth look great during your cleaning session — they’re also providing a valuable service keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
Here, then, are 3 things your dental hygienist is doing during a cleaning session that protects your health.
Removing disease-causing plaque. An office cleaning produces more than a fresh and clean smile. Your hygienist is manually removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) in hard to reach places or where it has built up despite your best efforts at brushing and flossing. This built-up plaque is a ready source of bacteria producing acids, which give rise to both tooth decay and gum disease. And for actual occurrences of the latter, plaque removal is an important part of the treatment to restore your gums to a healthy pink.
Checking for signs of dental disease. As your hygienist cleans your teeth, they’re also looking for abnormalities in the mouth’s soft tissue — lumps, bumps, sores, or swelling — that may indicate something more serious requiring further examination. They’re also assessing your overall gum health, probing any areas that might indicate gum disease. And, of course, they’re looking for cavities, softened enamel or other signs of tooth decay.
Helping you improve your oral hygiene.Â As proficient as they are, a dental hygienist can only do so much to help prevent dental disease; the rest — daily brushing and flossing — is on your shoulders. But you’re not completely on your own, because your hygienist is your best personal hygiene training partner: not only can they assess how well you’re doing in your daily regimen, but they can also give you expert advice and tips on improving your brushing and flossing performance.
If you would like more information on the role of your hygienist in your dental care, 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 Hygiene Visit.”
For generations, dentures have helped people avoid the dire consequences of total teeth loss. Now, implant technology is making them even better.
Composed of life-like prosthetic teeth fixed within a plastic or resin gum-colored base, dentures are manufactured to fit an individual patient’s mouth for maximum fit, comfort and performance. But dentures also have a critical drawback—they can’t stop bone loss in the jaw.
Bone is constantly regenerating as older cells dissolve and then are replaced by newer cells. In the jawbone, the forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this new cell growth. When teeth are missing, though, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus and may not regenerate at a healthy rate, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can’t transmit this chewing stimulus to the bone. In fact, the pressure they produce as they rest on top of the gums may actually accelerate bone loss. Over time then, a denture’s once secure and comfortable fit becomes loose.
In the past, most patients with loose dentures have had them relined with new dental material to improve fit, or have new dentures created to conform to the changed contours of the jaws. But implant technology now offers another alternative.
Implants are in essence a tooth root replacement. Dentists surgically implant a titanium metal post directly into the jawbone that naturally attracts bone cells to grow and adhere to it over time (a process called osseointegration). This not only creates a secure and lasting hold, it can also stop or even reverse bone loss.
Most people know implants as single tooth replacements with a porcelain crown attached to the titanium post. But a few strategically placed implants can also support either removable or fixed dentures. Removable dentures (also called overdentures) usually need only 3 or 4 implants on the top jaw and 2 on the bottom jaw for support through built-in connectors in the dentures that attach to the implants. A fixed bridge may require 4-6 implants to which they are permanently attached.
There are pros and cons for each of these options and they’re both more expensive than traditional dentures. In the long run, though, implant-supported dentures could be more beneficial for your bone health and hold their fit longer.
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Last year, over 1.5 million people heard the words no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.” While only a small portion of those — about three percent — were diagnosed with oral cancer, their survival rate isn’t as good as with other types of cancers: 58% five years after diagnosis.
Here, then, are some things you should know about this deadly disease.
Oral cancer is an “equal opportunity” disease. People from all walks and stations of life experience oral cancer. The disease has caused the untimely deaths of Ulysses S. Grant, Babe Ruth and George Harrison, one of the original Beatles. However, you don’t have to be prominent or famous to acquire oral cancer: it can strike anyone at any age, especially people 40 years and older.
Oral cancer is difficult to detect early. Oral cancer usually appears as a small, scaly-shaped sore known as a squamous cell carcinoma. Appearing in the lining of the mouth, lips, tongue or back of the throat, the early stages often resemble other benign conditions such as cold or canker sores, so they’re easily overlooked in the early stages. To increase your chances of an early diagnosis, you should see your dentist about any mouth sore that doesn’t heal in two to three weeks; it’s also advisable to undergo a specific oral cancer screening during your regular dental checkups.
Tobacco and heavy alcohol use are strongly linked to oral cancer. Tobacco smokers are five to nine times more likely to develop oral cancer while snuff or chewing tobacco users are roughly four times more likely than non-tobacco users. People who are moderate to heavy drinkers are three to nine times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-drinkers.
You can reduce your risk for oral cancer. Besides quitting tobacco use and moderating your alcohol consumption, there are other things you can do to reduce cancer risk: a nutritious diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables; limited sun exposure with adequate sunscreen protection and clothing; and safe sexual practices to avoid contracting Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16), strongly linked to oral cancer. And above all, practice effective, daily oral hygiene with regular dental cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on prevention and treatment of oral cancer, 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 “Oral Cancer.”
Every February, the American Dental Association sponsors a campaign called National Children’s Dental Health Month. The purpose of this operation is to raise awareness about how important it is to get an early start on developing good dental hygiene habits — and how this can lead to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. So we thought this might be a good time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to do exactly that:
When is it time to start cleaning my baby’s teeth?
As soon as you see one! The earlier your child gets used to a daily dental hygiene routine, the better. Baby teeth that have not fully emerged from beneath the gums can be wiped with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings. A tooth that has grown in completely should be brushed twice daily (once in the morning and once in the evening) with a soft, child-sized tooth brush and a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is an important weapon against tooth decay, but you don’t want your child to swallow too much.
Can babies get cavities?
Absolutely — especially if they are allowed to fall asleep routinely with a bottle filled with anything but water. Milk, formula — even breast milk — all contain sugars that should not be left to pool around your baby’s teeth during sleep, facilitating decay. Juice is an even bigger no-no because it is not only sugary but also acidic.
Can’t I give my child sweets once in a while?
We realize total avoidance of sweets may not be realistic, as beneficial as this would be for your child’s teeth. If you are going to allow your child to have sweets once in a while, better that the treat be given immediately following a meal, and not as a between-meal snack. Soda should really be avoided completely — it’s that bad.
When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?
The experts say: Get it done in year one. That’s right — even though your child won’t have many teeth by age 1, there’s a lot we can do at that first visit to ensure good oral health now and well into the future. We will do everything possible to make sure your little one has a positive first experience in the dental chair; this helps set the tone for the many important preventive visits yet to come. It’s also a great opportunity for you to ask any specific questions you may have, and receive hands-on instruction on how to care for your child’s teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about children’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids” and “Age One Dental Visit.”
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