Visiting the dentist for regular cleanings and needed dental work can do wonders for keeping your teeth and gums in tip-top shape. But if you’ve seen or heard about infections occurring in healthcare facilities, you might be a little concerned that your trip to the dentist might expose you to one. Don’t be! You and your family will be out of harm’s way because your dental team has made protection from viruses, bacteria and other infectious agents a top priority. To highlight this effort, the American Academy of Oral Medicine commemorates each September as “National Dental Infection Control Awareness Month.”
As a healthcare provider, dentists have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to protect patients (and staff members too) from infection through what are known as “standard precautions.” These include barrier protection, disinfection and sterilization practices, and safe disposal of contaminated items.
But dentists and their professional organizations don’t stop with the minimum requirements—they’re committed to a higher standard when it comes to infection control. The bedrock for this commitment is adherence to an infection control checklist developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), updated regularly. This in-depth checklist recommends several best practices and protocols, including:
- Creating a written infection control plan that outlines all practices and procedures to be followed by the provider and staff;
- Barrier protection, including the wearing of disposable gloves, face shields or gowns by providers as appropriate;
- Proper disposal methods for used items;
- Proper hand washing and other hygiene practices before and after treatment procedures;
- Proper disinfection and sterilization of instruments and equipment;
Most licensing bodies also require that dentists and their staff undergo continuing education in infection control, usually every two years.
Because you as a patient have a right to know the details about your medical and dental care, you have public access to infection control guidelines and requirements. You can also ask your dental provider about what steps they take to protect you and your family from infectious disease. They’ll be glad to answer any questions you have to put your mind at ease about your safety.
The dental profession’s commitment to patient and staff safety has drastically reduced the risk of any infection. Rest assured, your dental visit will be beneficial for your oral health—and safe for your general health too.
If you would like more information about infection control in the dental office, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Shingles, Herpes Zoster: A One-Sided Facial Rash.”
Saliva is a true workhorse among bodily fluids — it breaks down food for digestion, keeps harmful bacteria in check and neutralizes acid that is destructive to tooth surfaces. So when saliva flow is chronically diminished, it’s more serious than the uncomfortable feeling of “dry mouth” — it can have a detrimental effect on your overall health.
It’s normal to experience temporary mouth dryness: in the morning (because saliva flow slows during sleep), when we’re under stress, or after smoking or consuming certain foods and beverages like onions or coffee. But chronic dry mouth (“xerostomia”) is different — the mouth remains dry for extended periods, leading to problems like tooth decay caused by inadequate acid neutralization.
Medications are one of the most common causes for xerostomia. According to the Surgeon General, there are over 500 medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — that can cause it, including antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. Radiation or chemotherapy used for cancer treatment may also cause dry mouth, sometimes permanently. There are also systemic conditions that affect saliva flow like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and many autoimmune diseases.
Treating chronic dry mouth will of course depend on the underlying cause. If drug-related the first approach should be to find a substitute medication that won’t as readily cause reduced saliva flow. If that’s not possible, then it’s helpful to drink more water when taking the medication (a few sips before and a full glass afterward). You can also cut back on caffeinated, acidic or sugary foods and drinks as well as alcohol, and refrain from tobacco use.
A saliva stimulant might also help. Besides prescription medication, there are other products like xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar found in chewing gum, toothpaste or rinses, that help increase saliva flow — and xylitol also inhibits the growth of decay-causing bacteria.
The most important thing for chronic dry mouth is maintaining consistent daily hygiene through brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Helping to increase your saliva flow and making every effort to prevent dental disease will help keep this condition from harming your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of dry mouth, 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 Mouth.”
A lot of people don’t like dental work because they believe it will be painful or uncomfortable. There’s an anatomical reason to back up that concern — the mouth with its dense network of nerves in the teeth and gums is one of the most sensitive parts of the human body.
But modern dentistry has helped solve much of the problem of pain with advances in local anesthesia. Using substances that temporarily block electrical impulses within the nerves of a selected area of oral tissues, there’s a good chance you’ll feel little to no discomfort even during moderately invasive procedures.
Unfortunately, you might have heard some complaints from others about local anesthesia that might make you wary of it. Many of these complaints, however, aren’t fully based on all the facts. So, let’s set the record straight about local anesthesia and what you can expect.
No need to be afraid of needles. Nobody enjoys the painful prick from an injection needle, and some people are highly fearful of them. But although it’s necessary to use a needle to deliver anesthesia to deeper levels of tissue, it’s possible you won’t feel it. That’s because we’ll typically apply a topical numbing agent to the skin surface that deadens the top layers where we insert the needle.
That numb feeling afterward won’t last long. One of the chief complaints in the past about local anesthesia was the irritating numbness that could long linger after a procedure. Today, however, with more advanced anesthetics and formulae, we’re better able to gauge the duration of the medication’s effect. This has greatly reduced the length of time afterward your mouth might have that awkward numbing sensation.
Anesthesia isn’t necessary for every procedure. Unless you have hypersensitive teeth, a lot of dental procedures don’t require anesthesia. Your enamel, for example, has no nerves and actually serves as a kind of “muffler” for sensations to lessen their effect. Cleaning your teeth or removing portions of the enamel can normally be performed without the need for numbing medication.
For procedures, though, where pain could be a factor, local anesthesia can make all the difference in the world. In these cases, anesthesia is your friend — it can help you receive the dental care you need without the discomfort.
If you would like more information on pain-free dentistry, 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 “Local Anesthesia for Pain-Free Dentistry.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Generations have depended on dentures to effectively and affordably replace lost teeth. But they do have a major weakness: They contribute to jawbone loss that creates not only mouth and facial problems, but can also ruin a denture’s fit.
Bone loss is a normal consequence of losing teeth. The biting forces normally generated when we chew stimulate new bone to replace older bone. When a tooth is missing, however, so is that chewing stimulation. This can slow bone replacement growth and gradually decrease the density and volume of affected bone.
While dentures can restore dental appearance and function, they can’t restore this growth stimulation. What’s worse, the pressure of the dentures against the gum-covered jaw ridge they rest upon may irritate the underlying bone and accelerate loss.
But there is a solution to the problem of denture-related bone loss: an implant-supported denture. Rather than obtaining its major support from the gum ridges, this new type of denture is secured by strategically-placed implants that connect with it.
Besides the enhanced support they can provide to a denture restoration, implants can also deter bone loss. This is because of the special affinity bone cells have with an implant’s imbedded titanium post. The gradual growth of bone on and around the implant surface not only boosts the implant’s strength and durability, it can also improve bone health.
There are two types of implant-supported dentures. One is a removable appliance that connects with implants installed in the jaw (three or more for the upper jaw or as few as two in the lower). It may also be possible to retrofit existing dentures to connect with implants.
The other type is a fixed appliance a dentist permanently installs by screwing it into anywhere from four and six implants. The fixed implant-supported denture is closer to the feel of real teeth (you’ll brush and floss normally), but it’s usually more costly than the removable implant-supported denture.
While more expensive than traditional ones, implant-supported dentures still cost less than other restorations like individual implant tooth replacements. They may also help deter bone loss, which may lead to a longer lasting fit with the dentures. Visit your dentist for an evaluation of your dental condition to see if you’re a good candidate for this advanced form of dental restoration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dentures, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
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