Whether you live in the snow belt or the sunny south, the winter season often means a change in the weather. In many places, the sun isn't as strong and cooler temperatures bring relief from the summer's heat. Yet even though it may be chillier outside, your body's need for hydration is the same as it was in the summer—and a lack of proper hydration can be bad news for your oral hygiene.
Everyone knows we need to drink plenty of water every day to stay healthy. It's important for good oral hygiene because water is the major component of saliva, which fights bacteria and helps neutralize the acids that cause tooth decay. Water also keeps the soft tissues of the mouth moist and healthy, and helps fight bad breath. In many communities tap water is fluoridated, which offers proven protection against cavities.
But in the middle of winter, fewer people carry around bottles of cold water for refreshment—and that's a shame, because we need it just as much! While indoor (and outdoor) air is often drier in winter, your body continues to lose water in the same ways. And if you keep up a healthy exercise routine (like jogging, snow sports or backyard fun and games), you still need plenty of hydration. An ice-cold glass of water may not be as appealing in January as in July…but it's just as important.
Of course, the water you drink doesn't have to be freezing cold to do its job. Hot tea (especially herbal tea) can be a healthy option for wintertime hydration. So is plain water without ice. Fruits and vegetables also contain lots of water, plus vitamins, fiber, and many more substances that are good for your body.
But there are some drinks you should avoid—or at least take in moderation. Regularly drinking coffee and tea can stain your teeth, and excessive caffeine may have negative health effects. Consuming alcoholic beverages can cause dry mouth, and may increase the risk of oral cancers. And, of course, drinks that contain sugar (including soda, some juices, and many coffee and hot chocolate beverages) are linked not only to tooth decay, but to other health problems as well.
And whatever the season, don't forget to come in to the dental office for regular checkups and cleanings. We can remove the sticky tartar that clings to your teeth and may cause tooth decay and other problems. We will also perform a complete dental exam, evaluate your oral health and help resolve small problems before they turn into big headaches (or toothaches). Working together, we can help you enjoy the benefits of good oral hygiene all though the year.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “10 Tips For Daily Oral Care at Home” and “Think Before You Drink.”
For most of us, brushing and flossing is a routine part of daily life. But has it become such a routine that you may not be getting the most out of your daily regimen?
First, let's be clear about what you're trying to accomplish with these two important hygiene tasks, which is to remove as much accumulated dental plaque as possible. This thin film of bacteria and food particles is the primary cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
So how can you tell if you're effectively cleaning dental plaque from your teeth? Here are 4 ways to check your brushing and flossing skills.
The tongue test. Move your tongue across the surface of your teeth, especially at the gum line, immediately after brushing and flossing. "Plaque-free" teeth will feel smooth and slick. If you feel any grittiness, though, you may be missing some plaque.
Floss check. For a similar effect after your daily hygiene take a fresh piece of floss and run it up and down your teeth. If the teeth are clean and you are using un-waxed floss, the floss should "squeak" as you move it up and down.
Disclosing agents. You can also occasionally use a plaque disclosing agent. This product contains a solution you apply to your teeth after brushing and flossing that will dye any leftover plaque a specific color. Disclosing agents are handy for uncovering specific areas that require more of your future hygiene attention. And don't worry—the dye is temporary and will fade quickly.
Dental visits. For the ultimate test, visit your dentist at least twice a year. Not only can dental cleanings remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened tartar), but your dentist or hygienist can evaluate how well you've been doing. Consider it your "final exam" for oral hygiene!
Be sure to also ask your dental provider for tips and training in better brushing and flossing. Becoming more effective at these critical tasks helps ensure you're keeping your teeth and gums free of disease.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
There's a lot of emphasis — well-placed, of course — on preventing and treating tooth decay. But there's another dental disease just as dangerous to your oral health and nearly half of U.S. adults have it. It's actually a group of diseases known collectively as periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is similar to tooth decay in one respect: they're both triggered by bacteria. These microorganisms thrive in a thin film of food particles called plaque that collects on tooth surfaces.
Certain bacteria can infect gum tissues and trigger inflammation, a response from the body's immune system to fight it. As the battle rages, bone loss can occur and the gums weaken and begin to detach from the teeth. Without treatment, you could eventually lose affected teeth.
Like tooth decay, the best approach with gum disease is to prevent it, and by using the same techniques of daily brushing and flossing. These actions loosen and remove plaque built up since your last brushing. It's also important you visit us at least twice a year for cleanings that remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
If despite your best efforts you do contract gum disease, the sooner you see us for treatment the lower the long-term impact on your health. The treatment aim is the same as your daily hygiene: to remove plaque and calculus. We use specialized hand instruments or ultrasound equipment to mechanically remove plaque; more advanced cases may require the skills of a periodontist who specializes in caring for structures like the gums that support teeth.
So, defend yourself against gum disease by brushing and flossing daily, and visiting us regularly for dental cleanings and checkups. If you notice bleeding, swollen or painful gums, see us as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Don't let tooth decay's evil twin ruin your oral health or your smile.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of gum disease, 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
When it comes to our children’s safety, there isn’t much nowadays that isn’t under scrutiny. Whether food, clothing, toys and more, we ask the same question: can it be harmful to children?
That also includes tried and true healthcare practices. One in particular, the routine x-ray, has been an integral part of dental care for nearly a century. As a means for detecting tooth decay much earlier than by sight, it has without a doubt helped save billions of teeth.
But is it safe for children? The reason to ask is because x-rays are an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. As with other forms of radiation, elevated or frequent exposure to x-rays could damage tissue and increase the future risk of cancer.
But while there is potential for harm, dentists take great care to never expose patients, especially children, to that level or frequency of radiation. They incorporate a number of safeguards based on a principle followed by all healthcare professionals in regard to x-rays called ALARA, an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable.” This means dentists and physicians use as low an exposure of x-ray energy as is needed to achieve a reasonable beneficial outcome. In dentistry, that’s identifying and treating tooth decay.
X-ray equipment advances are a good example of ALARA in action. Digital imaging, which has largely replaced film, requires less x-ray radiation for the same results than its older counterpart. Camera equipment has also become more efficient, with modern units containing lower settings for children to ensure the proper amount of exposure.
Dentists are also careful how often they take x-ray images with their patients, only doing so when absolutely necessary. As a result, dental patients by and large experience lower dosages of x-ray radiation in a year than they receive from natural radiation background sources found every day in the environment.
Dentists are committed to using x-ray technology in as safe and beneficial a way as possible. Still, if you have concerns please feel free to discuss it further with your dental provider. Both of you have the same goal—that your children have both healthy mouths and healthy bodies for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety for children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
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.”