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.”
Parents love watching their kids grow up, from those early wobbly steps to their first solo car drive. Of course, you can expect a few mishaps along the way, most of which won't leave them worse for wear. But some risks are just too hazardous to ignore—including the potential for dental injuries.
Each year, one in ten children suffers a traumatic dental injury, many of which require extensive treatment. That's why during National Child Safety and Prevention Month in November, we're highlighting areas of risk for pediatric dental injuries, and how you can prevent them.
That risk changes depending on a child's stage of development. Teething infants, for example, relieve gum pressure by gnawing on things. Make sure, then, that you have items for teething made of cloth or soft plastic, and keep harder items that could damage their gums and emerging teeth out of reach.
Toddlers learning to walk encounter numerous injury opportunities, like a fall that lands them face first on a hard surface. You can reduce this risk by moving tables and other hard furniture out of your child's travel paths, covering sharp edges with padding, or simply isolating your child from home areas with hard furniture.
Pay attention also during bath time. Wet porcelain is notoriously slippery even for adults, and possibly more so for a child. A sudden slip in the bathtub could cause a mouth injury, so encourage your child not to stand until it's time to get out.
School-aged children face another set of perils to their mouth from outside play. At this stage, your best preventive measure is teaching them to observe play safety: Make sure they know not to aim balls, frisbees or other play items at others' heads, and to be on the lookout for the same. You'll also want them to be safety-minded playing on swings, monkey bars or other playground equipment.
If your older kids take an interest in sports, particularly the contact variety, you'll want to protect them with an athletic mouthguard (and encourage them to wear it during both practice and regular games). You can purchase a mouthguard at any retail or sporting goods store, but the most protective and comfortable to wear are custom-made by a dentist. Although more expensive, they'll still cost less than treatment for a traumatic dental injury.
The wonderful adventure of childhood does have its risks, and some are more serious than others. By following these prevention tips, you can help your child avoid a dental injury that could rob them of a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information about childhood dental concerns, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dentistry and Oral Health for Children” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
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.”
Perhaps the only thing worse than having a toothache of your own is when your child has one. Tooth pain can be a miserable experience, especially for children. It can also be confusing about what to do to deal with it.
Fortunately, a toothache usually isn't a dental emergency, so take a deep breath. Here's what you should do if your child is experiencing tooth pain.
Get the 411 from them. Before you call the dentist, find out more first about the tooth pain from your child with a few probing questions: Where exactly does it hurt? Do you feel it all through your mouth or just in one place? Is it all the time, or just when you bite down? When did it start? You may not get the same level of detail as you would from an adult, but even a little information helps.
Take a look in their mouth. There are a lot of causes for toothache like a decayed tooth or abscessed gums. See if any of the teeth look abnormal or if the gums are swollen. You might also find a piece of food or other particle wedged between the teeth causing the pain. In that case, a little dental floss might relieve the problem.
Ease the pain. While you're waiting on your dental appointment, you can help relieve some of their discomfort by giving them a child-appropriate dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You can also apply an ice pack on the outside of the jaw for five minutes on, then five minutes off to decrease swelling. Under no circumstances, however, should you give your child aspirin or rub it on the gums.
See the dentist. It's always a good idea to follow up with the dentist, even if the pain subsides. In most cases, you may be able to wait until the next day. There are, however, circumstances that call for a visit as soon as possible: if the child is running a fever and/or has facial swelling; or if the tooth pain seems to be related to an injury or trauma.
It can be unsettling as a parent when your child has a toothache. But knowing what to do can help you stay calm and get them the care they need.
If you would like more information on pediatric 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 “A Child's Toothache.”
Even the simplest, everyday things can be challenging for a child with special needs. Dental care is no exception.
If you have a child with a chronic condition that affects their physical, intellectual or behavioral abilities, you know how difficult keeping up with dental care practices can be. Here are 4 tips to help make dental care easier and ensure your child has healthy teeth and gums.
Take an active role in hygiene. Depending on their abilities, you may need to take a more active role in daily teeth cleaning. If you have to brush their teeth for them, it's usually easier to have them face you “knee-to-knee.” You can also use a second brush to keep their mouth propped open if they tend to bite or clench down while brushing.
Model behavior. If your child could eventually brush for themselves, it may still be a long training road. It can be an easier task if you make a habit of brushing your teeth together, or have them brush with a sibling. Not only does this allow you to monitor their progress, their learning process may be easier watching another person brush and then mimicking their actions.
Find the right dentist. Many children with special needs are subject to anxiety surrounding healthcare visits, including going to the dentist. Choosing the right dentist, skilled in the technical aspects of treatment for a special needs child and providing a “kid-friendly” environment, can make all the difference in the world. A pediatric dentist is often a good fit for children with chronic conditions.
Coordinate medical and dental care. A special needs child could have underlying health problems that complicate dental care, so keep your dentist well-informed about their overall health. Do likewise with their medical providers, particularly if their condition or treatments impact dental health, as in the case of medications they're taking that could inhibit saliva flow.
Ongoing dental care for a child with a chronic health condition can be difficult. But keeping their teeth and gums healthy is an important part of fostering greater overall health.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”
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