The first week of April is National Public Health Week, putting the spotlight on health issues that impact us all. The popular practice of vaping is one of those top issues this year due to its connection with recent lung illnesses and deaths. But this isn't a new problem—dentists have been critics of vaping for some time now over the growing evidence of its effect on oral health.
Vaping is the popular term for inhaling aerosol vapors through an e-cigarette (or e-cig for short). The electronic device contains a small reservoir filled with flavored liquids that contain nicotine and other chemicals. The device heats the liquid, turning it into a vapor that's inhaled or “vaped” into the lungs.
Vaping has been touted by proponents as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. But there's growing evidence that vaping isn't a kinder and gentler way to “smoke.” A good portion of that evidence comes from dentists who routinely treat oral problems caused or worsened by vaping.
In reality, the adverse effects of vaping on oral health aren't much different from smoking. Like smoking, vaping ingredients can irritate the inside of the mouth and cause dryness, an ideal environment for dental disease. And nicotine, the main chemical in both vaping and smoking, constricts blood vessels that deliver nutrients and disease-fighting antigens to the gums and teeth.
If these hazards weren't bad enough, recent clinical findings seem to indicate they're only the tip of the iceberg. Researchers from New York University's (NYU) College of Dentistry have found evidence from a combined study of cigarette smokers, e-cig users and non-smokers that vaping may significantly alter the mouth's microbiome to the ultimate detriment of oral health.
A “microbiome” is a term describing the intricate relationship between the millions of microorganisms inhabiting the human body and the body itself. While a few are malicious, many, namely in the gut and mouth, help the body obtain nutrients from food and fight against disease. Disrupting that delicate balance opens the door to diminished health.
The NYU researchers found that both smokers and e-cig users had higher levels of pathogenic bacteria in their saliva than non-smokers, suggesting both habits disrupted the mouth's microbiome balance enough to allow less benevolent bacteria to flourish. They also found that both smokers and e-cig users had significantly higher incidences of gum disease (72.5% and 42.5%, respectively) than non-smokers (28.2%).
If you're a smoker, a cessation program to quit the habit—not switching to vaping—is the way to a healthier life. If you would like more information about the effects of vaping on your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Vaping and Oral Health.”
Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
- brushing the surgical area (if advised by your surgeon);
- rinsing too aggressively;
- drinking through a straw or consuming hot liquid;
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on oral surgery, 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 “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
As a saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is no more appropriate than when you have something caught between your teeth. And humans, as inventive and creative as we are, have used a weird assortment of items—usually within arms' reach—to dislodge a pesky bit of food.
According to a recent survey, more than three-fourths of Americans admit to using a number of “tools” to clean between teeth including twigs, nails (the finger and toe variety), business cards or (shudder!) screwdrivers. And it's one thing to do this alone, but among dinner companions and other folk it's a definite faux pas.
Usually, it's smarter and more economical if you can use a particular tool for many different applications. But when it comes to your teeth, you should definitely go with a “unitasker” designed specifically for the job: dental floss. It's not only the safest item you can use to clean your teeth, it's specifically designed for that purpose, especially to remove disease-causing plaque from between teeth.
Of course, the reason many of us use alternate items for cleaning between teeth is that they're the closest ones at hand. You can remedy this by keeping a small spool (or a short length) of dental floss or floss picks handy for those moments you encounter a wedged piece of food. In a pinch, you can use a rounded toothpick (better for your gums than the flat variety).
At home if you find flossing difficult, consider using a water flosser. This handheld device emits a pulsating stream of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque and bits of food remnant. It's ideal for people who have a hard time maneuvering floss or who wear braces, which can block regular floss thread from accessing between teeth as fully as possible.
In any case, use the other “tools” at hand for whatever they're intended. When it comes to what's best for your teeth, use floss to keep the in-between clear and clean.
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