While teeth often seem to be the main focus of dental care, there’s another part of your mouth that deserves almost as much attention—your gums. Neglect them and you could eventually lose one of those teeth! In recognition of September as National Gum Care Month, we’re doing a little well-deserved bragging about your gums, and why they’re worth a little extra TLC.
Here are four reasons why gums are essential to dental health:
They secure your teeth. Your teeth are held in place by strong collagen fibers called the periodontal ligament. Lying between the teeth and bone, this ligament attaches to both through tiny fibers. Not only does this mechanism anchor the teeth in place, it also allows incremental tooth movement when necessary. Preventing gum disease helps guarantee this ligament stays healthy and attached to the teeth.
They protect your teeth. A tooth’s visible crown is protected from disease and other hazards by an outer layer of ultra-strong enamel. But the root, the part you don’t see, is mainly protected by gum tissues covering it. But if the gums begin to shrink back (recede), most often because of gum disease, parts of the root are then exposed to bacteria and other harmful threats. Teeth protected by healthy gums are less susceptible to these dangers.
They’re linked to your overall health. The chronic inflammation that accompanies gum disease can weaken and damage gum attachment to the teeth. But now there’s research evidence that gum inflammation could also worsen other conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or arthritis. Reducing gum inflammation through treatment could also make it easier to manage these other inflammatory conditions.
They’re part of a winning smile. If your gums are inflamed, abscessed or recessing your smile will suffer, regardless of how great your teeth look. Treating gum disease by removing the dental plaque and tartar fueling the infection not only restores these vital tissues to health, it could also revitalize your smile. Treatment can be a long, intensive process, but it’s well worth the outcome for your gums—and your smile.
Brushing and flossing each day and seeing your dentist regularly will help keep your teeth and your gums in tip-top shape. And if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist promptly—if it is gum disease, the sooner you have it treated the less damage it can cause.
If you would like more information about best gum care practices, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Gum Recession” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
In many parts of the country, summer is often a synonym for "blast furnace" and can be downright hot and miserable. If you find yourself in such a climate, it's imperative that you drink plenty of water to beat both the heat and heat-related injuries. Your teeth and gums are another reason to keep hydrated during those hot summer months.
Your body needs water to produce all that saliva swishing around in your mouth. When you have less water available in your system, the production of this important bodily fluid can go down—and this can increase your risk of dental disease. That's because saliva performs a number of tasks that enhance dental health. It helps rinse the mouth of excess food particles after eating that could become a prime food source for disease-causing bacteria. It also contains antibodies that serve as the first line of defense against harmful microorganisms entering through the mouth.
Perhaps saliva's most important role, though, is protecting and strengthening enamel, the teeth's outer "armor" against disease. Although the strongest substance in the body, enamel has one principal foe: oral acid. If the mouth's normally neutral pH becomes too acidic, the minerals in enamel begin to soften and dissolve. In response, saliva neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes softened enamel.
Without a healthy salivary flow protecting the mouth in these different ways, the teeth and gums are vulnerable to assault from bacteria and acid. As they gain the upper hand, the risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can skyrocket. Keeping yourself adequately hydrated ensures your body can produce an ample flow of saliva.
By the way, summer heat isn't the only cause for reduced saliva: Certain prescription medications may also interfere with its production. Chemotherapy and radiation, if targeting cancer near the head or neck, can damage salivary glands and impact flow as well.
If you have reduced saliva from medication you're taking, talk to your doctor about switching to an alternative prescription that doesn't affect saliva production. If you're undergoing cancer treatment, be extra vigilant about your oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits. And as with summer heat, be sure you're drinking plenty of water to help offset these other effects.
Even when it's hot, summertime should be a time for fun and relaxation. Don't let the heat ruin it—for your health or your smile.
If you think “vaping” electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes for short) is healthier for your teeth and gums than smoking cigarettes, you might be disappointed with the latest research. A number of studies seem to indicate e-cigarettes could be just as damaging to your mouth as traditional cigarettes.
An e-cigarette is a device containing a chamber for liquids and a means to heat the liquid into a vapor. The user then inhales or “vapes” the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings. The heat also pressurizes the vapor causing it to expel as an aerosol into the mouth.
Researchers have found the ingredients and aerosol effect could lead to potential health problems. An Ohio State University researcher found that vaping disrupted the normal balance of microorganisms in the mouth known as the oral microbiome. This imbalance could make it easier for disease-causing bacteria to proliferate, particularly those most responsible for periodontal (gum) disease.
Another study coming out of the University of Rochester and Stony Brook University in New York detected cell damage in gum tissue caused by e-cigarette vapor similar to that caused by regular cigarette smoke. Some of this damage seemed to result from the flavoring agents used in the e-cigarette liquid, as well as nicotine.
Another study from Quebec, Canada appears to concur with the New York study. These researchers found the damage caused by e-cigarette vapor might substantially increase the rate of cell death in oral tissues by as much as 50% over a short period of time. This kind of damage can lead to higher risks of dental diseases like gum disease or tooth decay.
While we don’t know the long-term effect of using e-cigarettes on both oral and general health, these studies are alarming: They seem to show vaping may cause some of the same problems as smoking. With the jury still out, the prudent thing to do is limit or avoid vaping altogether to protect your mouth from these unhealthy outcomes.
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
With summer vacation season in full swing, you and your family might be planning a trip away from home, maybe even far from home. If you’re vacationing out of the country, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible—including protecting your dental health.
Dental problems are difficult enough in the familiar surroundings of home, but even more so in a foreign locale. However, with a little preparation and planning, you can keep your exotic dream vacation from becoming a dental nightmare.
Here’s what you can do to avoid or minimize an unpleasant situation with your teeth and gums while on vacation abroad.
Take care of any dental problems before you leave. If you know or suspect you already have a problem with your teeth or gums, it’s better to have it corrected if at all possible before your trip. So, make an appointment to see your dentist if you notice things like a toothache or tooth sensitivity, unusual spotting on your teeth, or swollen or bleeding gums.
You should also have sinus problems like pain or congestion checked too, since these may actually involve your teeth and gums. If at all possible, undergo recommended procedures like gum disease treatment or root canals pre-trip—just be sure you allow adequate time for recuperation before your departure date.
Know who to contact in a dental emergency. Even with the best of planning, you should also prepare for the possibility of a dental injury or emergency while you’re on your vacation. So be sure you pack along with your other travel documents the names and contact information of individuals or organizations near your vacation destination that might be of assistance in a dental emergency. These might include hotel concierges, military personnel or other English speakers living in the area, or the nearest embassy or consulate.
In addition, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers and the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention are online resources that can help you with your trip planning and give you medical and dental information specific to your destination.
A vacation trip to a foreign land can be a unique and fulfilling experience. Just be sure a dental problem or emergency doesn’t spoil the moment—be prepared. If you need to take care of any dental issues before you go on vacation, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental & Medical Tourism” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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