Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
Perhaps you haven’t thought of it quite this way, but saliva is one of the true wonders of the human body. This unassuming fluid performs a variety of tasks to aid digestion and help protect your mouth from disease. And you hardly notice it — except when it’s not there.
That’s the case for millions of people in America who have a chronic condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This happens when the salivary glands don’t secrete enough saliva, normally two to four pints daily.
Of course, we can experience mouth dryness when we first wake up (saliva flow ebbs while we sleep), feel stressed, use tobacco, or consume alcohol and certain foods like onions or spices. It becomes a problem, though, when periods of low saliva become chronic. Without its preventive capabilities, you’ll be at much higher risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Chronic dry mouth can occur for various reasons: systemic diseases like cancer or autoimmune deficiencies can cause it, as well as radiation or chemotherapy treatments. One of the most common causes, though, is medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. The surgeon general identifies over 500 known drugs that may inhibit saliva production, including some antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. It’s often why older people who take more medications than younger people suffer more as a population from dry mouth.
Because of its long-term health effects, it’s important to try to boost saliva flow. If your mouth is consistently dry, try to drink more fluids during the day. If you suspect your medication, see if your physician can prescribe a different drug. It also helps to drink a little water before and after taking oral medication.
We may also recommend medication or other substances that stimulate saliva or temporarily substitute for it. Xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that also inhibits bacterial growth, can help relieve dryness. You’ll often find it in gums or mints.
Chronic dry mouth is more than a minor irritation — it can lead to more serious conditions. In addition to these tips, be sure to also keep up your regular dental visits and maintain a daily schedule of oral hygiene to prevent dental disease.
If you would like more information on overcoming 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: Learn about the Causes and Treatment of this Common Problem.”
Every February, the American Dental Association sponsors a campaign called National Children’s Dental Health Month. The purpose of this operation is to raise awareness about how important it is to get an early start on developing good dental hygiene habits — and how this can lead to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. So we thought this might be a good time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to do exactly that:
When is it time to start cleaning my baby’s teeth?
As soon as you see one! The earlier your child gets used to a daily dental hygiene routine, the better. Baby teeth that have not fully emerged from beneath the gums can be wiped with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings. A tooth that has grown in completely should be brushed twice daily (once in the morning and once in the evening) with a soft, child-sized tooth brush and a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is an important weapon against tooth decay, but you don’t want your child to swallow too much.
Can babies get cavities?
Absolutely — especially if they are allowed to fall asleep routinely with a bottle filled with anything but water. Milk, formula — even breast milk — all contain sugars that should not be left to pool around your baby’s teeth during sleep, facilitating decay. Juice is an even bigger no-no because it is not only sugary but also acidic.
Can’t I give my child sweets once in a while?
We realize total avoidance of sweets may not be realistic, as beneficial as this would be for your child’s teeth. If you are going to allow your child to have sweets once in a while, better that the treat be given immediately following a meal, and not as a between-meal snack. Soda should really be avoided completely — it’s that bad.
When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?
The experts say: Get it done in year one. That’s right — even though your child won’t have many teeth by age 1, there’s a lot we can do at that first visit to ensure good oral health now and well into the future. We will do everything possible to make sure your little one has a positive first experience in the dental chair; this helps set the tone for the many important preventive visits yet to come. It’s also a great opportunity for you to ask any specific questions you may have, and receive hands-on instruction on how to care for your child’s teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about children’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids” and “Age One Dental Visit.”
If you’ve noticed a small sore in your mouth, it’s possible you have a non-contagious disease known as lichen planus. Although usually benign, it’s still a good idea to have it examined and monitored.
The condition is so named because its lesions are similar in appearance to lichen, the algae and fungi organism often found on rocks and trees. It’s believed to be a type of autoimmune disease, in which the body treats some of its own cells as foreign and reacts adversely to them. Certain medications and substances may also cause a lichenoid reaction. Besides the inner cheeks, gums or tongue, lichen planus may also appear on other skin or mucous surfaces on the wrists, legs or fingernails.
When it appears inside the mouth it usually resembles a lacy pattern of white lines or ulceration. Gum tissues may become red and inflamed, with some soreness after brushing or eating. Although there’s no known cure for lichen planus, it rarely causes serious problems — in fact, you may not even be aware you have the condition unless pointed out during a dental exam. It may, in time, fade away.
If the lesions do become bothersome (painful, itchy or overly-sensitive), there are some ways to ease discomfort: brushing with a soft toothbrush (to minimize irritation), flossing, and avoiding acidic or spicy foods and beverages which have been known to cause flare-ups. Managing stress is also helpful, and a topical steroid may be prescribed for more severe outbreaks.
Perhaps the greatest concern with lichen planus, though, is it may resemble more serious conditions, particularly oral cancer. The only way to be certain that it is a benign condition is to perform a biopsy on some of the affected tissue. If you notice a problem, be sure to visit us for a complete examination. And regardless of whether you have the condition or not, regular oral cancer screenings, as well as limits on alcohol consumption and stopping use of tobacco, will also reduce your risk of oral cancer.
Odds are if you have a case of lichen planus it isn’t causing you any problems. If it does cause you discomfort, though, you can take steps to ease your symptoms.
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
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