Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
Undergoing dental work is for the most part a pain-free affair. But once you're home and the anesthetic begins to wear off, you may have some discomfort.
Fortunately, most post-procedure pain can be managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. And while stronger versions of these pain relievers can be prescribed, you may only need one sold over-the-counter.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen work by inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, substances that stimulate inflammation in traumatized or injured tissues. It differs in this way from the two other primary pain medications: Steroids act like natural hormones that alleviate physical stress in the tissues; and narcotics like morphine or codeine suppress the brain's reaction to nerve firings.
While these stronger types are effective for stopping pain, they can have several serious side effects. Narcotics in particular can be addictive. Although they may be necessary in serious cases of acute pain, most dentists turn to non-addictive NSAIDs first, which are usually effective with the kind of discomfort associated with dental work and with fewer side effects.
That's not to say, however, that NSAIDs are risk-free—they must be taken properly or you could suffer serious health consequences. For one, NSAIDs have a blood-thinning effect that's even more pronounced when taken consistently over a period of weeks. This can lead to bleeding that is difficult to stop and erosion of the stomach lining leading to ulcers. Prolonged use can also damage the kidneys.
As a rule of thumb, adults shouldn't take more than 2400 milligrams of ibuprofen or other NSAIDs in a day, unless otherwise directed by their doctor. For most, a 400-milligram oral dose taken with food (to minimize stomach upset) is usually sufficient to relieve pain for around five hours.
You'll usually avoid unwanted health effects by keeping within your dentist's recommended doses and taking an NSAID for only a few days. Taking an NSAID properly can help keep your discomfort to a minimum after dental work without the need for stronger drugs.
If you would like more information on managing dental pain, 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 “Treating Pain With Ibuprofen.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Tooth decay is more prevalent than diseases like cancer, heart disease or influenza. It doesn't have to be—brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, less dietary sugar and regular dental cleanings can lower the risk of this harmful disease.
Hygiene, diet and dental care work because they interrupt the disease process at various points. Daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings remove dental plaque where oral bacteria flourish. Reducing sugar eliminates one of bacteria's feeding sources. With less bacteria, there's less oral acid to erode enamel.
But as good as these methods work, we can now take the fight against tooth decay a step further. We can formulate a prevention strategy tailored to an individual patient that addresses risk factors for decay unique to them.
Poor saliva flow. One of the more important functions of this bodily fluid is to neutralize mouth acid produced by bacteria and released from food during eating. Saliva helps restore the mouth's ideal pH balance needed for optimum oral health. But if you have poor saliva flow, often because of medications, your mouth could be more acidic and thus more prone to decay.
Biofilm imbalance. The inside of your mouth is coated with an ultrathin biofilm made up of proteins, biochemicals and microorganisms. Normally, both beneficial and harmful bacteria reside together with the “good” bacteria having the edge. If the mouth becomes more acidic long-term, however, even the beneficial bacteria adapt and become more like their harmful counterparts.
Genetic factors. Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 hereditary genes can impact cavity development. Some of these genes could impact tooth formation or saliva gland anatomy, while others drive behaviors like a higher craving for sugar. A family history of tooth decay, especially when regular hygiene habits or diet don't seem to be a factor, could be an indicator that genes are influencing a person's dental health.
To determine if these or other factors could be driving a patient's higher risk for tooth decay, many dentists are now gathering more information about medications, family history or lifestyle habits. Using that information, they can introduce other measures for each patient that will lower their risk for tooth decay even more.
If you would like more information on reducing your risk of tooth decay, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
Shingles is a painful viral infection that could potentially recur in sufferers for years. It causes painful skin rashes, general nerve pain, fever and fatigue. In extreme cases, it can cause blindness if the eyes become infected. And because it’s highly contagious, it could affect your dental treatment.
Formally known as herpes zoster, shingles is a recurrent form of chicken pox. If you contracted chicken pox in childhood, the shingles virus could lay dormant for several years. In fact, most people who contract shingles are over 50.
Because it acutely affects the nerves around the skin, the disease’s most common symptom is a belted or striped rash pattern that often appears on one side of the body and frequently on the head, neck or face. While the severity of symptoms may vary among patients, shingles can be a significant health threat to certain people, especially pregnant women, cancer patients or individuals with compromised immune systems.
In its early stages, the shingles virus can easily pass from person to person, either by direct contact with the rash or by airborne secretions that others can inhale. Because it’s highly contagious, even a routine teeth cleaning could potentially spread the virus to dental staff or other patients. Because of the significant health threat it potentially poses to some people, your dental provider may decline to treat you if you’re showing symptoms of the disease.
To stay ahead of this, let your dentist know you’re experiencing a shingles episode if you have an upcoming dental appointment, in which case you may need to reschedule. In the meantime, you should seek medical attention from your physician who may prescribe antiviral medication. Starting it within 3 days of a shingles outbreak can significantly reduce your pain and discomfort as well as its contagiousness.
And if you’re over sixty or at risk for shingles, consider getting the shingles vaccine. This readily available vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease and could help you avoid the pain and disruption this viral infection can bring to your life.
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