Category Archives: Oral Health

Chronic Dry Mouth Could be Increasing Your Risk of Dental Disease

dry mouth.

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 a consultation by calling (815) 741-1700. 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.”

Help Your Kids Have a Healthier Halloween

halloween.

Halloween means loads of fun for kids everywhere: a chance to put on fanciful costumes and have some safe, spooky enjoyment. But the reward for all that trick-or-treating — bags full of sugary candy — can create monstrous problems for young smiles, in the form of tooth decay. Short of taking all those treats away, are there any ways to lessen the impact on your children’s teeth?

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the answer is: Yes!

As long as kids are brushing twice and flossing once a day, it’s okay for them to enjoy a few sweet treats on Halloween. But starting that same night, or the next day, you can help protect them from cavities. Here’s how:

Sort It Out:
Some treats are potentially more damaging to teeth than others. For example, candy that’s sticky and clings to teeth — like gummy bears and taffy — takes longer to get cleared away by saliva. Lengthier contact with the teeth increases the risk of tooth decay. The same is true for sweets that stay in the mouth for a long time, like hard candy. Sour candy is often acidic, and that acid can weaken the hard enamel coating of teeth, making them more prone to decay. But there’s some good news: Chocolate, a favorite treat, washes off the teeth relatively quickly — and dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate.

Give It Away:
You can always give away some or all of your candy stash to people who will appreciate it: first responders or troops serving overseas, for example. Some organizations sponsor donation (or even buyback) programs. Try searching the web for programs like “Operation Gratitude,” among others.

Timing Is Everything:
If you do allow candy, limit it to mealtimes. That’s when saliva production is at its peak — and saliva helps neutralize acids and wash away food residue that can cause cavities. Whatever you do, don’t let kids snack on sweet treats from the candy dish throughout the day: This never gives your mouth a chance to bounce back from the sugary saturation.

Get Healthy Hydration:
For quenching thirst, water is the best choice. It helps your body stay properly hydrated and is needed for healthful saliva production. Sugary or acidic beverages like sodas (regular or diet), so-called “sports” or “energy” drinks, and even fruit juices can harm teeth. Fluoridated water (like most municipal tap water) has been shown to help prevent tooth decay. If you drink bottled water, look for a fluoridated variety.

Following these tips — and making sure your kids maintain good oral health with brushing, flossing, and routine dental office visits — will help keep them safe from cavities, not only at Halloween but all year long. If you have questions about cavity prevention or oral hygiene, please contact our office or schedule a consultation by calling (815) 741-1700. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Decay — How to Assess Your Risk” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”

Toothbrushing Tips

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October is National Dental Hygiene Month. It’s a great time to talk about your first line of dental defense: your toothbrush.

Are you getting the most out of your tooth-brushing routine at home? Your toothbrush is the primary tool to maintain oral health on a daily basis, so here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Brush gently twice a day, every day, for two minutes each time using a soft toothbrush. Scrubbing with too much force or with hard bristles can damage gums and tooth enamel.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride is a mineral that builds tooth enamel to prevent tooth decay.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or when the bristles start to look frayed, curled, or worn.
  • Rinse out your mouth thoroughly after brushing to get rid of bacteria and food debris that you worked loose from your teeth.
  • Also rinse your toothbrush well after each use to wash away the debris and bacteria you just brushed from your teeth.
  • Let your toothbrush dry out between uses. A toothbrush that is stored in a closed container can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Keep your toothbrush to yourself. Sharing toothbrushes is a way to share disease-causing germs as well.

Follow these pointers and come in for regular dental visits to help ensure healthy teeth and a bright smile. If you have any questions about your dental hygiene routine, be sure to ask us by calling (815) 741-1700.

To learn more, read these informative articles in Dear Doctor magazine: “Manual vs. Powered Toothbrushes” and “10 Tips For Daily Oral Care at Home.”

Think You Have Sleep Apnea? Find Out for Sure to Get the Right Treatment

sleep apnea.

Fatigue, irritability and family complaints about snoring — all tell-tale signs you may have sleep apnea. There’s more to this condition than being grouchy the next day — the long-term effect could increase your risks for life-threatening diseases.

But how do you know if you actually have sleep apnea? And if you do, what can you do about it?

Undergo an exam by a physician trained in “sleep medicine.” Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked while you sleep, dropping the body’s oxygen levels; your body awakens to re-open the airway. The event may only last a few seconds, but it can occur several times a night. Even so, sleep apnea is one potential cause among others for snoring or fatigue. To know for sure if you have sleep apnea you’ll need to undergo an examination by a physician trained to diagnose this condition. He or she may then refer you to a dentist to make a sleep appliance if you have mild to moderate apnea.

Determine the level of your apnea’s intensity. Not all cases of sleep apnea are equal — they can range in cause and intensity from mild to advanced, the latter a reason for concern and focused intervention. Your physician may use different methods for determining the intensity of your case: review of your medical history, examining the structures within your mouth or having your sleep observed directly at a sleep lab. Getting the full picture about your sleep apnea will make it easier to develop a treatment plan.

Match the appropriate treatment to your level of sleep apnea. If you have moderate to advanced apnea, you may benefit from continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, an electrical pump that delivers pressurized air through a mask worn while you sleep that gently forces the airway open. It’s quite effective, but uncomfortable to wear for some people. Advanced cases may also require surgery to alter or remove soft tissue obstructions. If, you have mild to slightly moderate apnea, though, your dentist may have the solution: a custom-fitted mouth guard that moves the tongue, the most common airway obstruction, down and away from the back of the throat.

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, see a trained physician for an examination. It’s your first step to a good night’s sleep and better overall health.

If you would like more information on sleep apnea treatments, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Oral Cancer Could Save Your Life

oral cancer.

Oral cancer isn’t picky: Its victims have included Motown singers and rock-n-roll guitarists, baseball players and film critics, one-half of TV’s “Odd Couple” and two U.S. Presidents. And while it’s still true that the majority of people who get it are older men who habitually smoke and drink, the fastest-growing group of new patients are young people of both sexes who don’t. That’s why it’s so important to learn about the early symptoms of oral cancer — and what better time to do so than in April, which is Oral Cancer Awareness Month?

First, some numbers: In the United States, around 50,000 people are newly diagnosed with oral cancer each year, and one person dies from the disease every hour of every day. Oral cancer is two times as common in men as it is in women, and has three major risk factors: the use of tobacco in any form; the habitual consumption of alcohol; and exposure to HPV-16, the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Its overall 5-year survival rate is just slightly above 50%. But if caught early, the odds of successful treatment are much better.

Dentists perform oral cancer screenings at routine exams. But it’s still a good idea to do a monthly self-exam for oral cancer at home. Here’s how:

  • First, get a hand-held mirror and a bright light. Remove any dentures or oral appliances, and then open wide.
  • You’re looking for white, red or discolored patches, persistent sores, or other abnormal features.
  • Examine your lips and gums, the lining of your mouth and cheeks, and your tongue.
  • Gently pull your tongue forward and pull lips away from teeth, so you can see them from all sides.
  • Feel all oral surfaces to check for any lumps, bumps or unusual masses.
  • Feel both sides of the neck and lower jaw for swellings or enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Be alert for chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the high mortality rate of this disease doesn’t stem from its being hard to diagnose: It results from the cancer not being discovered until it has reached a later stage, when it’s harder to treat. That’s why recognizing the warning signs are so important. While the same mild symptoms are often caused by benign (non- serious) conditions, it takes a medical professional (and possibly a biopsy or other test) to make a definite diagnosis. So if you notice something suspicious, don’t wait: tell us right away. It might just save your life.

If you have questions about oral cancer, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article Oral Cancer.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

oral cancer.

This April marks the 14th observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Yet there are still plenty of people who underestimate the seriousness of oral cancer, don’t know the warning signs, and are unsure where to get screening or treatment for this potentially deadly disease. It’s true that oral cancer doesn’t have as high a profile as some other cancers — but thanks to the efforts of educational foundations, medical professionals, and celebrities like actress Blythe Danner and baseball superstar Tony Gwynn (1960-2014), it significance is increasingly being recognized.

How common is oral cancer? According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, some 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with this illness in the current year. Five years from now, slightly more than half of those people will still be alive. That’s one of the most troubling aspects of the disease: Its survival rate is much lower than that of more well-known cancers — like breast or cervical cancer, or Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A major reason for those discouraging odds is that oral cancer isn’t generally found until it has reached a later stage of development, when it’s harder to treat successfully.

That’s why early diagnosis of oral cancer is so important — and why it’s vital to become aware of possible warning signs of the disease. The first symptoms are often relatively minor:  a red or white patch or a sore on the tongue, lips or the inside of the mouth, that doesn’t go away within 14 days; an unusual lump or mass in the mouth or neck; or difficulty eating, speaking or swallowing. While these symptoms are common and most often benign, they can also indicate an early stage of oral cancer.

Fortunately, dentists are trained to recognize the early signs of oral cancer, and we can often identify possible signs of the disease in its initial stages. We perform oral cancer screenings at routine dental exams, but you can also come in for an examination any time you have a concern. The good news is that recent advances in diagnosing oral cancer offer the hope that more people will get appropriate, timely treatment for this potentially deadly disease.

If you have questions about oral cancer, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. Learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article Oral Cancer.

Baseball Fan Catches Her Own Knocked-Out Tooth

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When your favorite baseball team wins, it’s hard not to get excited — especially if you’re right there in the stadium. It’s even better when a player tosses the ball to fans. But sometimes, in the heat of the moment, things can go awry.

That’s what happened during a recent game at New York’s Yankee Stadium. After catching the ball that ended the game in an 8-2 Dodgers win, Los Angeles outfielder Yasiel Puig tossed it into a cheering crowd of supporters. “I saw it coming at me and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have a glove to catch this ball,’” Dodgers fan Alyssa Gerharter told the New York Daily News. “I felt it hit me and I could feel immediately with my tongue there’s a hole. And I looked down at my hand and saw there’s a tooth in my hand.”

Ouch. Just like that, one fan’s dream became… a not-so-good dream. But fortunately for the 25-year-old software engineer, things went uphill from there. Ushers quickly escorted her into a first-aid room at the stadium. She was then rushed to a nearby hospital, where the upper front tooth was re-inserted into her jaw. After a follow-up appointment at her dentist’s office the next day, Gerharter said she remains hopeful the re-inserted tooth will fuse with the bone, and won’t require replacement.

We hope so too. And in fact, she has as good a chance of a successful outcome as anyone, because she did everything right. If you’re not sure what to do about a knocked-out tooth, here are the basics:

  • locate the tooth, handle it carefully (don’t touch the root surface), and if possible gently clean it with water
  • try to open the person’s mouth and find the place where the tooth came from
  • carefully re-insert the tooth in its socket if possible, making sure it is facing the right way
  • hold the tooth in place with a soft cloth as you rush to the dental office or the nearest urgent care facility
  • if it can’t be replaced in its socket, place the tooth in a special preservative solution or milk, or have the person hold it between the cheek and gum (making sure they won’t swallow it) — and then seek immediate care at the dental office
  • follow up at the dental office as recommended

In general, the quicker you perform these steps, the more likely it is that the tooth can be preserved. How quick is quick? The best outcomes are expected when re-implantation occurs in no more than five minutes. So if you’re in this situation, don’t wait: get (or give) appropriate first aid right away — it just might save a tooth!

If you would like more information about what to do in a dental emergency, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. You can learn more the Dear Doctor articles “Knocked Out Tooth,” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”

In Today’s NFL, Oral Hygiene Takes Center Stage

hygiene.

Everyone knows that in the game of football, quarterbacks are looked up to as team leaders. That’s why we’re so pleased to see some NFL QB’s setting great examples of… wait for it… excellent oral hygiene.

First, at the 2016 season opener against the Broncos, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was spotted on the bench; in his hands was a strand of dental floss. In between plays, the 2105 MVP was observed giving his hard-to-reach tooth surfaces a good cleaning with the floss.

Later, Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor was seen on the sideline of a game against the 49ers — with a bottle of mouthwash. Taylor took a swig, swished it around his mouth for a minute, and spit it out. Was he trying to make his breath fresher in the huddle when he called out plays?

Maybe… but in fact, a good mouthrinse can be much more than a short-lived breath freshener.

Cosmetic rinses can leave your breath with a minty taste or pleasant smell — but the sensation is only temporary. And while there’s nothing wrong with having good-smelling breath, using a cosmetic mouthwash doesn’t improve your oral hygiene — in fact, it can actually mask odors that may indicate a problem, such as tooth decay or gum disease.

Using a therapeutic mouthrinse, however, can actually enhance your oral health. Many commonly available therapeutic rinses contain anti-cariogenic (cavity-fighting) ingredients, such as fluoride; these can help prevent tooth decay and cavity formation by strengthening tooth enamel. Others contain antibacterial ingredients; these can help control the harmful oral bacteria found in plaque — the sticky film that can build up on your teeth in between cleanings. Some antibacterial mouthrinses are available over-the-counter, while others are prescription-only. When used along with brushing and flossing, they can reduce gum disease (gingivitis) and promote good oral health.

So why did Taylor rinse? His coach Rex Ryan later explained that he was cleaning out his mouth after a hard hit, which may have caused some bleeding. Ryan also noted, “He [Taylor] does have the best smelling breath in the league for any quarterback.” The coach didn’t explain how he knows that — but never mind. The takeaway is that a cosmetic rinse may be OK for a quick fix — but when it comes to good oral hygiene, using a therapeutic mouthrinse as a part of your daily routine (along with flossing and brushing) can really step up your game.

If you would like more information about mouthrinses and oral hygiene, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation.

Any Time, Any Place: Cam Newton’s Guide to Flossing

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When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?

For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.

Inappropriate? We don’t think so. As dentists, we’re always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton’s — so much the better.

Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there’s a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:

  • It’s well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
  • A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can’t reach into spaces between teeth.
  • Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
  • Dental floss isn’t the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!

Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn’t matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!

If you would like more information about flossing and oral hygiene, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation.

4 Things You Should be Doing to Maintain a Healthy Mouth

flossing.

Regular dental visits are an important part of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. But it’s what goes on between those visits — daily hygiene and care — that are the real ounce of prevention.

Here are 4 things you should be doing every day to keep your mouth healthy.

Use the right toothbrush and technique. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least once every day is a must for removing plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles which is the main cause of dental disease. Your efforts are more effective if you use a soft-bristled, multi-tufted brush that’s replaced often, especially when bristles become splayed and worn. To remove the most plaque and avoid damaging your gums, brush with a gentle, circular motion for at least two minutes over all tooth surfaces.

Don’t forget to floss. Your toothbrush can get to most but not all the plaque on your teeth. Flossing — either with flossing string, pre-loaded flossers or a water irrigator — helps remove plaque from between teeth. Don’t rely on toothpicks either — they can’t do the job flossing can do to remove plaque.

Mind your habits. We all develop certain behavioral patterns — like snacking, for instance. Constant snacking on foods with added sugar (a major food source for bacteria) increases your disease risk. Consider healthier snacks with fresh fruits or dairy, and restrict sugary foods to mealtimes (and the same for sports and energy drinks, which have high acid levels). Stop habits like tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption or chewing on hard objects, all of which can damage your teeth and gums and create a hostile environment in your mouth.

Watch for abnormalities. If you pay attention, you may be able to notice early signs of problems. Bleeding, inflamed or painful gums could indicate you’re brushing too hard — or, more likely, the early stages of periodontal (gum) disease. Tooth pain could signal decay. And sores, lumps or other spots on your lips, tongue or inside of your mouth and throat could be a sign of serious disease. You should contact us if you see anything out of the ordinary.

If you would like more information on how to care for your teeth and gums, please contact us by calling (815) 741-1700 for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”