Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
You want to look your best for that once-in-a-lifetime moment — like your wedding day. It can also take time and effort: many people spend months losing weight or trimming up at the gym. But while you’re getting the rest of your body ready for the big event, don’t forget your smile.
The best approach is to make a plan that addresses your smile’s shortcomings — a “smile makeover,” if you will. And the best place to begin is with us, your family dentist. We’re already familiar with your dental health status, so we can advise you on what’s possible and best for you.
We can also provide many of the services that enhance smile appearance. If your teeth are relatively healthy and attractive, a thorough dental cleaning or a whitening application can revive your smile’s brightness just in time for the big day. And for minor defects like a chipped tooth or discolored old fillings, we can bond the latest tooth-colored materials to those unsightly areas. And any of these procedures can be performed in one visit.
Installing porcelain veneers is an effective way to restore more moderate tooth defects. These thin outer coverings with life-like color, shape and texture can effectively hide mild to moderate chipping, discoloration or slight gaps between teeth. Teeth with more extensive damage can be completely covered with a crown made of similar life-like materials. Either of these solutions could match the shape and color of nearby teeth.
By planning well enough ahead, you may also benefit from more extensive cosmetic changes. Missing teeth always pose a challenge, but there are a number of viable options: fixed bridges using adjacent teeth; various denture solutions, including implant-supported removable overdentures; and the dental implant, the rising star for dental restorations that replaces both the root and crown with a durable, life-like tooth. There are also orthodontic solutions for misaligned teeth (at any age!) and surgical procedures for gums that help restore lost tissue or correct a “gummy” smile showing too much of the gums.
Whatever your needs, there’s a way to make your smile more attractive. It’ll be all the more reason to display it confidently on your special day.
If you would like more information on smile transformations, 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 “Planning Your Wedding Day Smile.”
What a difference a hundred years can make—especially the last one hundred. In the early 20th Century, trains were the prime mode of cross-country transportation, electrical power was not universally available, and only the well-to-do could afford automobiles and telephones. We live in a far different world, transformed by digital media, air travel and instantaneous global communication.
Dental care has also made exponential leaps. Dentists in the early 21st Century have more effective and powerful treatments for disease, as well as life-like and durable restorations for missing teeth and less-than-perfect smiles. As far as dentistry goes, you couldn't live in a better time.
But if you thought the last century was amazing for dental care, you won't believe what may soon be coming your way this century. Here are a few of the incredible possibilities poised to become reality in the near future.
Regenerating teeth. As of now, the permanent teeth you have is all you're going to have—but that may soon change. Researchers are closing in on the ability to grow new dentin—and if that becomes practical, other parts of teeth may be next. Utilizing a person's stem cells, the building blocks of specialized human tissue, may yield the greatest prize of all, a completely regenerated tooth.
Targeting bacteria. Tooth decay and other dental diseases are most often caused by bacteria—but not every strain. The true culprits are a select few like Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay. Based on growing knowledge of the human genome, we may one day be able to develop therapies that block transmission of specific bacteria from caregivers to infants, or inhibit these bacteria's ability to produce acid that erodes tooth enamel.
Employing “nano” tools. Nanotechnology tools and devices are no bigger than 100 nanometers (a nanometer is a one billionth of a meter), and perform tasks on the cellular level. Many researchers believe we may soon develop a device of this size that can seek out and destroy tiny clusters of cancer cells within the human body before they spread. This could be a game-changer for treating deadly oral cancer.
The current state of dental care would have amazed our great-grandparents. But we may soon be just as amazed at what 21st Century brings us.
While the imagination is one of our most powerful mental abilities, many people still find it difficult to “see” in their minds a future dramatically different from the present. That could be the case with a “smile makeover”—it’s not easy to imagine how proposed changes to your teeth and gums can affect your entire look.
Computer imaging software has helped in this regard. Starting with a photo of your current smile, we can manipulate it with imaging software to show you what any proposed dental work might look like after completion. But imaging technology has its limits: you’re viewing a static, two-dimensional image that can’t really show you how your new smile looks as your mouth and face move in a three-dimensional space.
There is another way, and although it may add to your treatment costs it can give you an even more realistic view of your future appearance. Known simply as a “trial smile,” it’s a procedure in which we temporarily place life-like bonding material called composite resin on your current teeth. We shape, cure and sculpt the resin to produce a three-dimensional model of what your future smile will look like.
A trial smile gives you a chance to experience in real time how this future smile looks and feels as you smile or talk. And although we’ll have to remove it before you leave, we can photograph your new look for you to show to family and friends later for their reaction.
There are a couple of important reasons to have a trial smile. First, it gives us both a chance to review how the proposed changes may enhance your appearance, and whether we need to alter those plans in any way. It’s a kind of dress rehearsal where we can improve the “script” before the actual performance.
Just as important, a trial smile can help reassure you about what to expect from the outcome. You’ll have a fairly accurate idea of how you’ll look, which will help reduce any apprehensions you might have.
If you’d like to include a trial smile in your treatment plan, please feel free to discuss it with us. It can be money well spent to ensure you’ll be satisfied and delighted with your new smile.
If you would like more information on ways to restore your smile, 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 “Testing Your Smile Makeover.”
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