If you live an average lifespan, you'll spend more than 200,000 hours in blissful slumber. It's not a waste, though: You absolutely need this much sleep to maintain optimum physical and mental health. That's why the National Sleep Foundation recognizes each March as Sleep Awareness Month to highlight the obstacles to a good night's sleep. One such obstacle is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—and if you have it, we may be able to help you reduce the harm it may be causing you.
OSA is the blockage of the airway during sleep, usually when the tongue relaxes against the back of the throat. As the oxygen level falls, the brain arouses the sleeper to restore airflow. This only takes a few seconds before the person slips back into sleep, but it can occur several times an hour.
As this scenario repeats itself night after night, the person becomes deprived of the deeper stages of sleep they need to stay healthy. The long-term effect can even be life-threatening: Besides chronic fatigue and “brain fog,” there's also an increased risk of high blood pressure, disease or other serious health conditions.
But there are ways to reduce chronic OSA, the most common being a therapy known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine, prescribed by a medical doctor, consists of a small pump that streams pressurized air into the mouth through a hose and facemask; the increased air pressure in the mouth helps keep the airway open. It's a proven method, but not always a favorite with some patients who find it uncomfortable and restrictive to wear every night.
If you're in that camp regarding CPAP therapy, an alternative may be possible: oral appliance therapy (OAT), which dentists can provide. Worn in the mouth during sleep, this custom-fitted mouthguard-like appliance repositions the tongue so that it doesn't block the airway. There is a variety of mechanisms, but most involve a hinge that positions the lower jaw forward, which in turn pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat.
These less invasive OAT devices may be an alternative to CPAP therapy for people who have mild to moderate OSA and find CPAP machines difficult to use. If you've been diagnosed with OSA and CPAP therapy hasn't been a good fit for you, speak with us about an OAT device. It could help you overcome this common disorder and get the deep sleep you need for a healthy mind and body.
If you would like more information about a dental approach to obstructive sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
Two important practices boost your protection from dental disease: twice-a-year dental visits; and daily brushing and flossing. Of the two, that second one could be the most important.
Personal oral hygiene cleans the teeth of dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on them each day. This plaque buildup is the number one cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, so removing it reduces your risk of an infection.
But it's not just a matter of doing these tasks—it's also doing them well. A quick once-over isn't going to have the same preventive power as a more thorough job.
Here then are 4 tips for improving your daily oral hygiene efforts.
Time yourself brushing. It usually takes about two minutes to thoroughly brush all tooth surfaces. So, set a timer for two minutes, focusing on methodically brushing the front, back and biting surfaces of each tooth.
Easy does it. Brushing teeth requires only a gentle bit of manual force as the mild abrasives and detergents in your toothpaste provide most of the action of loosening plaque. In fact, aggressive brushing can lead to enamel and gum damage. Practice gentle scrubbing action when you brush.
Don't neglect flossing. While brushing gets most of the hygienic attention, it can't effectively get to areas between teeth where over half of built-up plaque can accumulate. Be sure then to floss at least once a day to remove plaque between teeth that brushing can miss.
Test yourself. Your dentist may be the ultimate judge for the quality of your hygiene, but you can check your effectiveness between visits. For instance, run your tongue across your teeth—it should feel smooth, not rough or gritty. Using a plaque disclosing agent periodically can also reveal missed plaque.
And don't forget to keep up your regular dental visits, which are necessary for removing plaque you might have missed or tartar that may have formed. They're also a great time to get advice from your dentist or dental hygienist on how you can further improve your own efforts in daily dental care.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
We all benefit from regular dental care, regardless of our state of oral health. But if you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, those regular dental visits are even more important in making sure your healed gums stay that way.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces. The infection triggers inflammation in the gums that quickly becomes chronic. That's why people with gum disease have reddened and swollen gums that bleed easily.
The infection can aggressively spread deeper below the gum line, eventually affecting the bone. The combination of weakened gum detachment from the teeth and bone loss may ultimately cause tooth loss. But we can stop the infection by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from the teeth and gums. As the plaque is removed, the gums respond and begin to heal.
It's possible then even with advanced gum disease to restore health to your teeth and gums. But although the infection has been arrested, it can occur again. In fact, once you've had gum disease, your susceptibility for another infection is much greater. To stay on top of this, you may need to visit the dentist more frequently.
These upgraded visits known as periodontal maintenance (PM) are actually a continuation of your treatment. Depending on the extensiveness of your gum disease, we may need to see you more than the standard twice-a-year visits: Some periodontal patients, for example, may need a visit every two to three months. Again, the state of your gum health will determine how often.
In addition to standard dental cleanings and checkups, PM visits will also include more thorough examination of the teeth and gums, particularly the health of the tooth roots. We'll also check how well you're doing with daily plaque removal and if there are any signs of gum infection. We may also prescribe medication, rinses or topical antibiotics to help control your mouth's levels of bacteria.
A patient's periodontal “maintenance schedule” will depend on their individual condition and needs. The key, though, is to closely monitor gum health for any indications that another infection has set in. By staying alert through dedicated PM, we can stop a new infection before it harms your dental health.
If you would like more information on gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Chronic jaw pain and limited jaw mobility are two common symptoms of a group of conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD or TMD). Several effective treatments have developed over the years, despite the fact that the underlying causes for TMD remain an elusive quarry for medical researchers.
But we may now have a promising new lead in understanding TMD: a possible link between it and other systemic inflammatory diseases. In recent study researchers interviewed over 1,500 people with TMD about various aspects of their lives. Nearly two-thirds reported at least three or more other inflammatory health conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic headaches or rheumatoid arthritis.
These statistics suggest a relationship between TMD and these other conditions. Further exploration of these possible links could result not only in a greater understanding of TMD but better treatment strategies for it and the other related conditions.
In the meantime, though, what can you do if you're currently dealing with TMD?
As of now the approaches with the best results continue to be conservative, non-invasive techniques we've used for several years. Thermal therapies like hot or cold compresses to the jaw area, for example, are quite effective in providing pain relief, and muscle relaxant drugs have proven beneficial for improving jaw mobility.
More radical approaches like jaw surgery have also come into prominence. But there's a caveat here: a significant number of people find their conditions don't improve or may even worsen. In the study previously mentioned, only 38% of respondents who had undergone jaw surgery saw any range of improvement (from slight to significant); by contrast, 28% indicated no change in symptoms and 46% said they were worse off.
It's important, then, that you thoroughly discuss your condition with your dentist, verifying first that you have TMD.Â Together you can develop a treatment plan to relieve pain and restore jaw function. If your dentist or surgeon suggests surgery, consider seeking a second opinion before choosing this more radical approach.
Hopefully, further research into the causes and relationships of TMD with other health conditions will yield still better treatments. In the meantime, you may still find relief and improve your quality of life with the proven techniques available now.
If you would like more information on treatments for chronic jaw 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
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