May 9-15 is National Women's Health Week, which begins each year on Mother's Day. It's an important opportunity to focus on the unique health challenges women face, and ways to better meet those challenges. Among the many health aspects that deserve attention, one of the most important is the health of a woman's teeth and gums over the course of her life.
Although preventing and treating dental disease remains a primary focus throughout life, women do face a number of different situations during various life stages that often require additional attention. Here are 3 such life moments for a woman that may give rise to oral and dental problems.
Adolescence. The changes that occur in their physical bodies as girls enter puberty may make their gums more sensitive to bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that forms on teeth. This can cause painful swelling, a condition that may become even more acute if they wear braces. To counteract this, it's important for girls in their teens to not neglect daily brushing and flossing to remove excess plaque, and to make regular dental visits at least every six months.
Pregnancy. Each of the estimated 40 million U.S. women who have given birth share a common experience—they've all undergone the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Such changes can adversely affect dental health: The hormonal shifts, and the sugar cravings that often accompany them, increase the risk for dental disease, especially gum infections. As with adolescence, daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits (as well as a healthy diet) are important for staying a step ahead of possible tooth decay or gum disease.
Menopause. Women in menopause or who have passed through it can encounter new oral problems. Persistent dry mouth caused by a lack of adequate saliva flow, for example, can cause irritation and significantly increase the risk of dental disease. Osteoporosis and some medications for its treatment could also interfere with dental care. Besides daily oral hygiene, older women can ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters or drinking more water. They should also work with their physicians to minimize any oral effects from their medications.
Many aspects of dental care remain constant regardless of a woman's season of life. Daily oral hygiene should be a lifetime habit, as well as seeing a dentist at least twice a year. But there are times when a unique stage of life requires something more—and it's always better to be proactive rather than reactive in meeting new challenges to oral health.
Imagine that the IRS wants to audit you, but the dog ate your receipts. Or you hit a $50 million Lotto jackpot, but your ticket went through the wash. Or maybe you're about to see your new dentist, but you don't have your past dental records.
Humdrum as they may seem, records are important—so much so that they have their own month. That's right: April is Records and Information Management Month. Though perhaps not as exciting as National Poetry Month, this is still a good time to consider how records keep your life and health on track—especially regarding your mouth.
Your dental records contain information on all your office visits, imaging (yep, all those x-rays), diagnoses and treatments. Just like other healthcare records, they're privacy-protected under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Your dental records may also contain information about other aspects of your overall health that could impact your long-term dental care. With all that information, dental records are important to your ongoing care, and should be available wherever you receive treatment—even if you change to a new dentist.
Which can happen? Your long-time dentist may retire—or maybe you move to another state. You may just decide you'd be happier with another dentist. But regardless of why your provider changes, your dental needs don't.
Without your records, your new dentist starts your care virtually from scratch, having to generate a new patient history and perform additional x-rays or examinations. And they won't have the benefit of nuances available to a dentist who may have treated you for a long time. But with your dental records in hand, they can often pick up where your other dentist left off without missing a beat.
It's in your oral health's best interest, then, to ensure your dental records transfer from your former dentist to your new one. Legally, these records are the property of the dentist, but you're entitled to a copy or to have them transmitted directly to another provider. You may, however, have to pay for any supplies and labor involved with printing, copying or mailing the records.
Do you feel awkward asking your former dentist to send your records to a new one? Not a problem—ask your new dentist to request them for you. Even if you have an unpaid balance, your former dentist is legally required to comply with the transfer.
When it comes to your oral health, “What is past is prologue.” The dental care you receive today and tomorrow depends on the care you received yesterday. Your dental records help make sure it's a seamless progression.
If you would like more information about the importance of dental records, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
A scoop of ice cream is one of life's little pleasures. But for one in three Americans, it could be something altogether different—an excruciating pain when cold ice cream meets teeth. This short but painful experience that can happen when dental nerves encounter hot or cold temperatures is called tooth sensitivity.
A look at tooth anatomy will help explain why. Teeth are mainly composed of outer enamel, a layer of nerves and blood vessels within the tooth called the pulp, and dentin, a porous layer in between. The pulp nerves pick up temperature and pressure sensations from outside the teeth through a network of tiny passageways (tubules) in the dentin. Enamel muffles these sensations before traveling the tubules, which prevents overstimulation of the nerves.
This careful balance can be disrupted, however, if the enamel becomes eroded by acid from foods or beverages, or as a byproduct of bacteria. This exposes the underlying dentin to the full brunt of outward sensations, which can then impact the nerves and cause them to overreact.
This hyper-sensitivity can also occur around the tooth roots, but for a different reason. Because the gums primarily protect this area rather than enamel, the roots can become hyper-sensitive if they lose gum coverage, a condition known as gum recession caused mainly by gum disease or over-aggressive hygiene.
Besides using dental products that block nerve sensation, reducing sensitivity largely depends on addressing the underlying cause. If gum disease, the focus is on removing plaque, a bacterial film on dental surfaces that causes and sustains the disease. Stopping an infection allows the gums to heal and hopefully regain their original teeth coverage. More advanced cases, though, may require grafting surgery to foster gum regeneration.
If the cause is enamel erosion or other results of decay or trauma, we can utilize a number of treatments depending on the extent of tooth damage including cavity filling, root canal therapy or crowning. As a last resort, we may need to remove a tooth that's beyond reasonable repair.
If you've begun to experience sensitive teeth, it's important that you see us as soon as possible. The earlier we can diagnose the cause, the less invasive we can be with treatments to ease or even stop this most unpleasant experience.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
In recent years, dental implants have helped traditional bridgework take a giant leap forward. A few strategically placed implants can provide the highest support and stability we can currently achieve for this well-known dental restoration.
Implants derive this stability from the bone in which they're imbedded. Once surgically installed, the bone around a metal implant begins to grow and adhere to its titanium surface. Over time, this creates a strong anchor that firmly holds the implant in place.
But the implants' stability can be threatened if the gums around them become diseased. Gum disease, a bacterial infection caused mainly by dental plaque, can advance silently below the gum surface until it ultimately infects the bone. This can cause significant bone loss around an implant, which can weaken it to the point of failure.
To avoid this scenario, it's important to prevent gum disease by flossing daily to remove accumulated dental plaque between the implant-supported bridge and the gums, particularly around the implants. This kind of flossing around bridgework is more difficult than flossing between teeth, but it can be done with the help of a device called a floss threader.
A floss threader is a small plastic hand tool with a loop on one end and a stiffened edge on the other (similar to a sewing needle). You begin by threading about 18" of dental floss through the loop, and then work the other end of the threader between the bridge and gums to the other side.
With the floss threaded between the bridge and gums, you can now remove it from the threader, grasp each end, and floss around the sides of each implant you can reach. You'll then need to repeat the process by removing the floss, rethreading it in the threader and inserting it into the next section between implants, continuing to floss until you've accessed each side of each implant.
You can also use pre-packaged floss thread sections with a stiffened end to facilitate threading. But whichever product you use, it's important to perform this task each day to prevent a gum infection that could rob you of your implant-supported bridge.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene practices with dental work, 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 Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
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