It's normal to have occasional mouth dryness—that "cotton mouth" feeling when you first wake up or after eating a spicy meal. It soon dissipates, though, leaving you no worse for wear other than the memory of an unpleasant sensation.
For some, though, the unpleasant sensation becomes a chronic condition known as xerostomia, in which their mouth feels dry most of the time. And, it can have far-reaching consequences beyond a mere irritation if not treated.
Among the numerous causes for xerostomia, the most common appears to be over-the-counter and prescription medication. An estimated five hundred medications have dry mouth as a potential side-effect, from antihistamines to antidepressants. And because people over 65 are more likely to take medications, they also have a high occurrence of xerostomia.
A person with certain systemic diseases like Parkinson's Disease or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancers of the head and neck may also encounter dry mouth. For example, an autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome, primarily affecting postmenopausal women, can dry out the mouth's mucous membranes.
Chronic dry mouth isn't normal, and often a sign of a health problem that should be examined. And it can lead to more problems with your oral health. Because dry mouth is most likely a reduction in saliva, which helps buffer decay-causing acid and provides antibodies to fight bacteria, having less of this vital fluid can increase your risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
So, what can you do if you're plagued by persistent dry mouth? If you suspect your medications may be a factor, talk with your doctor about whether one of them may be the underlying cause for your symptoms. You may be able to switch to an alternate medication without dry mouth side-effects.
You can also increase your water intake during the day, including drinking more before and after taking medication. And there are a number of products like the artificial sweetener xylitol found in gums and candies that can boost saliva. Your dentist may also be able to recommend products that increase saliva.
Above all, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental cleanings. Taking care of chronic dry mouth could help you avoid dental problems later.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating chronic 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.”
Although we've known for some time how tooth decay forms, it's still prevalent across the population—even more so than cancer or heart disease. Along with gum disease, it's a leading cause of tooth loss.
Fortunately, our knowledge about tooth decay has grown considerably, to the point that we now recognize a number of risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop this disease. By first identifying them in individual patients, we can take steps to address them specifically to reduce the chances of this destructive disease.
Genetics. Researchers have identified around 40 to 50 genes that can influence cavity development. The best way to assess your genetic risk is through family history—if numerous close family members contend with tooth decay, your risk may be high. If so, it's important to be extra vigilant with addressing other areas over which you have more control.
Saliva. Cavities are directly caused by oral acid, a byproduct of bacteria, that can erode tooth enamel over prolonged contact. This is minimized, though, through a normal saliva flow that neutralizes acid and helps remineralize enamel. But poor saliva production can slow acid neutralization. You can improve your saliva flow by drinking more water, changing medications or using saliva-boosting products.
Oral hygiene. You can reduce bacteria (and thus acid) by removing their "room and board"—dental plaque. This accumulating film of food particles harbors the bacteria that feed on it. Daily brushing and flossing, accompanied by regular dental cleanings, effectively removes dental plaque, which in turn lowers the levels of oral bacteria and acid.
Dental-friendly diet. Even if you diligently address the previous risk factors, your diet may fight against your efforts. Diets high in processed and refined foods, especially sugar, provide abundant food sources for bacteria. On the other hand, a diet primarily of whole foods rich in vitamins (especially D) and minerals like calcium and phosphorous strengthen teeth against decay.
Preventing tooth decay isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach. By identifying your own particular risk, we can craft a care strategy that can be your best defense against this destructive dental disease.
Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.
Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.
Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.
But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.
As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.
In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.
As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.
Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Lichen Planus.”
During the COVID-19 quarantines, stir-crazy celebrities have been creating some “unique” home videos—like Madonna singing about fried fish to the tune of “Vogue” in her bathroom or Cardi B busting through a human-sized Jenga tower. But an entertaining Instagram video from Kevin Bacon also came with a handy culinary tip: The just-awakened film and TV actor showed fans his morning technique for cutting a mango to avoid the stringy pulp that gets between your teeth. After cutting a mango in half, he scored it lengthwise and crosswise to create squares and then turned the mango inside out for easy eating.
With his mango-slicing video garnering over a quarter-million views, the City on a Hill star may have touched a nerve—the near universal annoyance we all have with food stuck between our teeth. Trapped food particles aren't only annoying, they can also contribute to a bacterial film called dental plaque that's the top cause for tooth decay and gum disease.
Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid stuck food if you love things like popcorn, poppy-seed muffins or barbecue ribs. It's helpful then to have a few go-to ways for removing food caught between teeth. First, though, let's talk about what NOT to use to loosen a piece of stuck food.
A recent survey of more than 1,000 adults found that when removing something caught between our teeth, we humans are a creative lot. The makeshift tools that survey respondents said they've used in a pinch included twigs, safety pins, screwdrivers and nails (both the hammer and finger/toe variety). Although clever, many such items are both unsanitary and harmful to your gums and tooth enamel, especially if they're metallic or abrasive.
If you want a safe way to remove unwanted food debris, try these methods instead:
Brush your teeth: The gentle abrasives in toothpaste plus the mechanical action of brushing can help dislodge trapped food.
Use dental floss: A little bit of dental floss usually does the trick to remove wedged-in food—and it's easy to carry a small floss container or a floss pick on you for emergencies.
Try a toothpick. A toothpick is also an appropriate food-removing tool, according the American Dental Association, as long as it is rounded and made of wood.
See your dentist. We have the tools to safely and effectively remove trapped food debris that you haven't been able to dislodge by other means—so before you get desperate, give us a call.
You can also minimize plaque buildup from food particles between teeth by both brushing and flossing every day. And for optimally clean teeth, be sure you have regular dental office cleanings at least twice a year.
Thanks to Kevin Bacon's little trick, you can have your “non-stringy” mango and eat it too. Still, you can't always avoid food getting wedged between your teeth, so be prepared.
Drilling teeth is an essential part of repairing and restoring the damage caused by tooth decay. For generations dentists have relied on the dental drill with its rotating burr to remove decayed and damaged tooth material.
But while the dental drill is effective it also has its disadvantages. In the process of removing decayed material it inadvertently removes healthy structure near the target material. It often requires anesthesia to deaden the work area. And its noise and vibration are often unsettling to patients.
There is a growing alternative, though: air abrasion, a technology that's been around since the mid-20th Century. But recent advances in controlling the dust created by using abrasion, as well as new tooth-colored bonding materials to replace tooth structure, have sparked new interest among dentists and patients alike.
Also known as particle abrasion, this drill alternative uses a pressurized stream of fine particles to remove decayed material. Using a hand wand a dentist can precisely aim the stream of particles (usually aluminum oxide) to the specific areas of decay or softened material that need to be removed. As a result, it removes only a fraction of healthy tooth structure compared to traditional drilling. Air abrasion has also proven effective for removing staining without harming enamel.
Air abrasion also eliminates the sound and vibration associated with dental drills, and may not always require local anesthesia. On the other hand, it does have some limitations. For one, it's not as effective with larger cavities or working around older fillings. The tooth or teeth to be worked on must be carefully isolated from the rest of the mouth to keep the patient from swallowing the abrasive particles. And without a high-volume suction pump and good isolation protocols, the particles can produce something of a “sandstorm” in the treatment room.
But as air abrasion continues to advance, we may see improvements in these limitations. In a future time, the traditional dental drill may go the way of the horse and buggy.
If you would like more information on air abrasion as an alternative to drilling, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
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