Posts for category: Oral Health
Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.
Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.
Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.
It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:
- Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
- Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
- Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
- Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.
Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other healthcare organizations recommend breastfeeding as the best means for infant feeding. While bottle feeding can supply the nutrition necessary for a baby's healthy development, breastfeeding also provides emotional benefits for both baby and mother.
But there might be an obstacle in a baby's mouth that prevents them from getting a good seal on the mother's breast nipple—a small band of tissue called a frenum. This term describes any tissue that connects a soft part of the mouth like the upper lip or tongue to a more rigid structure like the gums or the floor of the mouth, respectively.
Although a normal part of anatomy, frenums that are too short, thick or inelastic can restrict a baby's lip or tongue movement and prevent an adequate seal while nursing. The baby may adjust by chewing rather than sucking on the nipple. Besides a painful experience for the mother, the baby may still not receive an adequate flow of breast milk.
Bottle-feeding is an option since it may be easier for a baby with abnormal frenums to negotiate during nursing. But the problem might also be alleviated with a minor surgical procedure to snip the frenum tissue and allow more freedom of movement.
Often performed in the office, we would first numb the frenum and surrounding area with a topical anesthetic, sometimes accompanied by injection into the frenum if it's abnormally thick. After the numbing takes effect, we gently expose the tissue and cut it with either surgical scissors or a laser, the latter of which may involve less bleeding and discomfort. The baby should be able to nurse right away.
If you wait later to undergo the procedure, the baby may already have developed compensation habits while nursing. It may then be necessary for a lactation consultant to help you and your baby "re-learn" normal nursing behavior. It's much easier, therefore, to attempt this procedure earlier rather than later to avoid extensive re-training.
While there's little risk, frenum procedures are still minor surgery. You should, therefore, discuss your options completely with your dental provider. Treating an abnormal frenum, though, could be the best way to realize the full benefits of breastfeeding.
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
The month of March brings the first day of spring, when nature seems to wake up after a restful winter slumber. It also brings Sleep Awareness Week, which leads us to ask: How's your sleep? For around one of every three people, the answer seems to be: Not so good! In fact, it's estimated that some 50-70 million people in the U.S. alone have sleep problems, including sleep-related breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
People who suffer from this condition seem to sleep fitfully and snore loudly—and they may actually wake up dozens of times every night without even knowing it. These "micro-arousals" make it impossible to get restful sleep, which can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, and behavioral issues. Children with sleep disorders like OSA are sometimes diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders because the symptoms are very similar.
If you suspect that you (or someone you care about) may have a serious sleep disorder, it's a good idea to get an examination from a medical professional who specializes in this area. If the diagnosis is OSA, there are a number of treatments that can be effective—one of which is an oral appliance that's available from the dental office.
Dentists are quite familiar with the anatomical structure of the mouth, which is sometimes the root cause of OSA. In many individuals, the soft tissue structures in the back of the oral cavity (including the tonsils, tongue and soft palate) can shift position when muscles relax during sleep and block the flow of air through the windpipe. The lack of sufficient air may cause a person to awaken briefly, gasp for breath, and then relax their muscles—over and over again, all night long.
After a complete exam, we can have an appliance custom-made for you that has proven successful in managing mild to moderate cases of OSA. Shaped a little like a retainer, it is worn in your mouth at night and taken out in the daytime. The appliance helps maintain an open airway by re-positioning the jaw and/or keeping the tongue out of the way.
Oral appliance therapy is one of the most conservative options available for treating OSA: It requires no major equipment or irreversible medical procedures. However, there are a number of other options, including machines that supply pressurized air through a face mask and even oral surgery. It's important to consult with a specialist in sleep disorders when you're facing this issue. If the diagnosis is OSA or a similar sleep problem, remember that help may be available here at the dental office.
If you have questions about sleep-related breathing disorders, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Appliances For Sleep Apnea” and “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
It's National Nutrition Month! Good nutrition is key to overall health, but poor dental health can have a big impact on your ability to get the right nutrients. Your mouth is the first step in the digestive system, so if teeth and gums are in poor shape, food choices can be severely limited. Here are some nutritional guidelines that will benefit your oral health as well as your overall health.
Get plenty of fruits and vegetables. Plant foods provide many oral health benefits:
- Crunchy fruits and vegetables scrub debris from your teeth during chewing and stimulate the production of saliva, which neutralizes acid and helps rebuild tooth enamel.
- Dark, leafy greens are a good source of iron, calcium and many vitamins that are good for your teeth and gums.
- Several fruits have vitamin C, an essential for healthy gums.
- Bananas have magnesium, which builds tooth enamel.
- Many yellow and orange fruits supply vitamin A, which keeps the soft membranes in your mouth healthy.
Go for dairy. Dairy products—for example, cheese, milk and unsweetened yogurt—neutralize acid as well as contribute tooth- and bone-strengthening minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.
Eat whole grains. An excess of refined carbohydrates can lead to chronic inflammation, which contributes to gum disease and many other ailments. However, the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains work against inflammation.
Incorporate all food groups. Strive to eat a balanced diet that includes healthy foods from all food groups. For example:
- Lean proteins are essential for keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
- Good fats such as those found in salmon and nuts work against inflammation. In addition, nuts stimulate the production of saliva and contain vitamins and minerals to keep teeth strong.
- Legumes are a great source of many tooth-healthy vitamins and minerals.
Limit sugary or acidic foods and beverages. Acid from certain foods and beverages can weaken tooth enamel, leading to cavities. The bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid that eats away at tooth enamel, causing cavities. How you eat and drink also affects dental health. For example, if you indulge in sugary treats, do so with a meal if possible so that other foods can help neutralize the acid. And if you drink lemonade or soda, don't brush your teeth immediately afterwards. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to give your saliva a chance to neutralize the acid.
Getting the right nutrition for a healthy body requires good dental health, so it pays to take good care of your teeth. For a lifetime of good oral health, choose foods that keep your teeth and gums healthy, and don't forget to schedule regular dental checkups to make sure your teeth and gums are in great shape. If you have questions about diet and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.