Category Archives: Oral Health

How Tara Lipinski Protects Her Teeth from the Daily Grind

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If you’re one of the millions of people all over the world tuning in to the Olympics, you know that just watching the competition in your living room can be a real nail-biter. So imagine what it’s like for Tara Lipinski—the former gold medalist in figure skating who’s currently a primetime commentator for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea. In a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine, the skating superstar revealed that she wears a custom-made nightguard to protect her smile.

“I grind my teeth pretty badly,” she said, noting that some days are worse than others. “When I can tell the grinding is bad, or my jaw starts to hurt, [then] at night I wear a mouthguard.”

Tara’s hardly alone:  It’s estimated that around one in ten adults suffers from bruxism—the dental term for the habitual clenching or grinding of teeth. This condition, which is linked to stress (and several other risk factors), can occur during the daytime or at night—when it may go unnoticed as you sleep. If left untreated, bruxism can lead to headaches and jaw pain, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), and damage to natural teeth or restorations such as crowns, veneers or fillings.

Fortunately, as Tara as found out, there’s a simple and effective way to help people struggling with the problem of teeth clenching and grinding: We can provide you with a custom-fabricated nightguard to stop bruxism from affecting your health. This device, usually made of high-impact plastic, is created from a model of your actual bite. It fits comfortably over your teeth, and can tooth prevent damage before it occurs.

A nightguard is a very conservative form of treatment, meaning that it involves no invasive or irreversible procedures. While other types of treatment are sometimes recommended for bruxism, it’s generally best to try the most conservative first. But how does it feel to wear it?

“I think it’s comfortable to wear,” Tara told Dear Doctor magazine. “You don’t even think about it.”

So whether you’re a type-A competitor or a dedicated fan watching the games unfold on TV, don’t let bruxism get the better of your smile. If you think you may be clenching or grinding your teeth, ask us about a custom-made nightguard.

For more information about teeth grinding, please contact us or schedule a consultation by calling (815) 741-1700. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “Stress & Tooth Habits.”

Oral Health and Cardiovascular Health

 

The American Heart Association has designated February as American Heart Month to raise awareness of the number one cause of death worldwide: cardiovascular disease. But did you know that there’s a connection between cardiovascular health and oral health?

People with gum disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as those without, and gum disease has been linked to stroke as well.

Although scientists can’t say that gum disease causes cardiovascular disease, both conditions are related to inflammation. Gum disease can result when dental plaque causes inflammation. Inflammation is also a major factor in heart disease and stroke, since it leads to thickening of the artery walls and causes damage to blood vessels.

So what can you do for the best heart health and oral health?

  • For one, a diet that reduces inflammation throughout a body is recommended for both gum health and heart health. This means eating plenty of whole grains and limiting your intake of refined carbohydrates like sugar, bakery goods, and white rice.
  • In addition, make sure your food choices supply enough fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants.
  • Help prevent gum disease by maintaining good oral hygiene at home and keeping up with regular dental visits.
  • Finally, get plenty of exercise for the best cardiovascular health.

The relationship between gum disease and heart disease is not completely understood, but if you keep your mouth and body healthy, you will reduce your risk of both gum disease and heart disease. For more information, please contact us or schedule a consultation by calling (815) 741-1700.

New Year’s Resolutions for Better Oral Health

Laying out goals for the New Year is a great way to inspire yourself to make positive changes that can improve your health. For example, many habits—both good and bad—affect the health of your teeth and gums. Here’s a list of risky habits to kick, and mouth-healthy habits to adopt:

Habits That Risk Oral Health

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Smoking. As if oral cancer weren’t enough to worry about, smoking also promotes gum disease and tooth loss. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, smokers have double the risk of gum disease compared to nonsmokers. And according to the Academy of General Dentistry, Smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as nonsmokers. For help quitting, visit smokefree.gov.

Snacking. Nibbling all day can create the perfect conditions for tooth decay—especially if your snacks contain sugar and other carbohydrates. Sticky snacks like cookies, crackers, chips and candy bars that cling to teeth tend to remain in the mouth and attract decay-causing oral bacteria. The acid these bacteria produce can penetrate the enamel of your teeth, causing cavities.

Soft Drinks. Speaking of tooth-eroding acid, soft drinks have plenty of it. And this includes both regular and diet varieties of soda, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks. The healthiest drink for your teeth is water!

Mouth-Healthy Habits

Brushing. You probably brush your teeth every day already, but are you doing it correctly? To get the most benefit from this healthy habit, brush twice each day for a full two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with toothpaste that contains fluoride, and don’t scrub too harshly!

Flossing. Yes, it’s worth the effort! If you don’t floss, you’ll miss cleaning about 40% of your tooth surfaces. A toothbrush just can’t reach in between teeth, where decay-causing dental plaque can hide. If you find dental floss difficult to work with, try using disposable floss holders.

Regular Dental Checkups. Keep up a regular schedule of professional teeth cleanings and exams! This allows us to remove any hardened dental plaque (tartar) that has built up on your teeth, screen you for oral cancer, and treat minor dental problems before they become major ones. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to review your at-home oral hygiene.

If you have any questions about how to improve your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation by calling (815) 741-1700. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”

Chronic Dry Mouth Could be Increasing Your Risk of Dental Disease

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Boost Your Overall Health by Reducing Gum Inflammation

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The human body’s immune system has amazing defensive capabilities. Without it a common cold or small wound could turn deadly.

One of the more important processes of the immune system is inflammation, the body’s ability to isolate diseased or injured tissue from unaffected tissue. Ironically, though, this vital component of the healing process could actually cause harm if it becomes chronic.

This often happens with periodontal (gum) disease, an infection of the gums caused by bacterial plaque built up on teeth due to inadequate hygiene, which in turn triggers inflammation. The infection is often fueled by plaque, however, and can become difficult for the body to overcome on its own. A kind of trench warfare sets in between the body and the infection, resulting in continuing inflammation that can damage gum tissues. Untreated, the damage may eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.

In treating gum disease, our main goal is to stop the infection (and hence the inflammation) by aggressively removing plaque and calculus (tartar). Without plaque the infection diminishes, the inflammation subsides and the gums can begin to heal. This reduces the danger to teeth and bone and hopefully averts their loss.

But there’s another benefit of this treatment that could impact other inflammatory conditions in the body. Because all the body’s organic systems are interrelated, what occurs in one part affects another especially if it involves inflammation.

It’s now theorized that reducing gum inflammation could lessen inflammation in other parts of the body. Likewise, treating other conditions like high blood pressure and other risk factors for inflammatory diseases could lower your risk of gum disease and boost the effectiveness of treatment.

The real key is to improve and maintain your overall health, including your teeth and gums. Practice daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque, and visit your dentist regularly for more thorough cleanings. And see your dentist at the first sign of possible gum problems like bleeding, redness or swelling. You’ll not only be helping your mouth you could also be helping the rest of your body enjoy better health.

If you would like more information on the relationship between gum disease and other systemic conditions, 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 “The Link between Heart & Gum Diseases.”