Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt like your mouth was filled with cotton? We've all had bouts of occasional dry mouth, but the unpleasantness usually goes away after we eat or drink something.
But what if you have dry mouth all the time? In that case, it's more than unpleasant—it could be increasing your risk of dental disease. That's because your dry mouth symptoms are being caused by a lack of adequate saliva. Besides providing antibodies to fight harmful bacteria, saliva also neutralizes mouth acid that can cause tooth decay.
Your decrease in saliva could be caused by smoking or moderate to heavy alcohol consumption. It could also be a side effect of medications you're taking, one reason why older people, who on average take more prescription drugs than other age groups, have a high incidence of dry mouth.
So, what can you do to alleviate chronic dry mouth?
Watch what you eat and drink. Certain foods and beverages can worsen chronic dry mouth. Try to avoid or limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea or soft drinks, as well as salty or spicy foods.
If you use tobacco, quit. Tobacco, especially smoking, can dry out your mouth, as well as damage your salivary glands. Abstaining from tobacco can alleviate dry mouth and help prevent dental disease.
Drink more water. Simply drinking water ensures your body has an ample supply for producing saliva. It's also beneficial for your dental health in general, as it can help buffer your mouth's acid levels and rinse away food remnants that could become food for bacteria.
Speak to your doctor. If you suspect a drug that you're taking may be causing dry mouth, discuss with your doctor alternative medications that may minimize this side effect. Simply changing prescriptions could alleviate your dry mouth symptoms.
You can also try saliva stimulants, both over-the-counter and prescription, to help your mouth produce more saliva. And be sure you also keep up daily habit of brushing and flossing to clear away bacterial plaque and lower your risk of dental disease.
Although dental care is our primary focus, we dentists are also on the lookout for other health problems that may manifest in the mouth. That's why we're sometimes the first to suspect a patient may have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are abnormal dietary patterns that can arise from mental or emotional issues, the most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Each has different behaviors: Anorexics abnormally restrict their food intake (“self-starvation”), while bulimics typically eat heavily and then induce vomiting (“binge and purge”).
Although bulimics are more likely to binge and purge, anorexics may also induce vomiting. That practice in particular can leave a clue for dentists. While vomiting, powerful stomach acid enters the mouth, which can then soften and erode tooth enamel.
It's the pattern of erosion a dentist may notice more than the erosion itself that may indicate an eating disorder. A person while vomiting normally places their tongue against the back of the lower teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid. The more exposed upper teeth will thus tend to show more erosion than the bottom teeth.
A dentist may also notice other signs of an eating disorder. Enlarged salivary glands or a reddened throat and tongue could indicate the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting. Lack of oral hygiene can be a sign of anorexia, while signs of over-aggressive brushing or flossing may hint of bulimia.
For the sake of the person's overall well-being, the eating disorder should be addressed through professional counseling and therapy. An excellent starting point is the website nationaleatingdisorders.org, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association.
The therapy process can be lengthy, so patients should also take steps to protect their teeth in the interim. One important measure is to rinse out the mouth following purging with a little baking soda mixed with water. This will help neutralize oral acid and reduces the risk of erosion. Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental visits can also help prevent dental disease.
An eating disorder can be traumatic for both patients and their families, and can take time to overcome. Even so, patients can reduce its effect on their dental health.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
Performing for an awards show is a quite a feather in an entertainer's cap. So, up-and-coming country music star Carly Pearce was obviously excited when she gained a slot on last November's Country Music Awards. But an accident a couple of weeks before the event almost derailed her opportunity when she fell and knocked out two of her front teeth.
Fortunately, Pearce took quick action and, thanks to a skilled dental and medical team, was able to put her mouth back together before the show. Those watching her perform her hit single, “I Hope You're Happy Now,” as she smiled broadly would never have known otherwise about her traumatic emergency if she hadn't spilled the beans.
Orofacial injuries can happen to anyone, not just entertainers. You or someone you love could face such an injury from a motor vehicle accident, hard sports contact or, like Pearce, a simple slip and fall. But if you also act quickly like Pearce, you may be able to minimize the injury's long-term impact on dental health and appearance.
Here are some guidelines if you suffer a dental injury:
Collect any tooth fragments. Dental injuries can result in parts of teeth—or even a whole tooth—coming out of the mouth. It may be possible, though, to use those fragments to repair the tooth. Try to retrieve and save what you can, and after rinsing off any debris with cold water, place the fragments in a container with milk.
Re-insert a knocked-out tooth. You can often save a knocked-out tooth by putting it back in its socket as soon as possible. After cleaning off any debris, hold the tooth by its crown (never the root) and place it back in the empty socket. Don't fret over getting it in perfectly—your dentist will assist its placement later. Place a piece of clean cloth or cotton over the tooth and have the injured person bite down gently but firmly to hold it in place.
See the dentist ASAP. You should immediately see a dentist if any tooth structure has been damaged, or if a tooth is loose or has been moved out of place. If you're not sure, call your dentist to see if you should come on in or if you can wait. If a dentist is not available, go immediately to an emergency room or clinic. With many dental injuries, the longer you wait, the more likely the teeth involved won't survive long-term.
A dental injury could happen in a flash, with consequences that last a lifetime. But if, like Carly Pearce, you take prompt action and obtain necessary dental care, you could save an injured tooth—and the smile that goes with it.
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.
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
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