Posts for tag: oral health
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in oral health, 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
What does November make you think of? Pumpkins? Turkeys? Dry leaves and frosty mornings? How about cigarette butts?
If you’re wondering about the last item, remember that November 15 is the date of the Great American Smokeout—a day set aside for those who want to take the first steps toward quitting the tobacco habit. While the percentage of smokers in the U.S. has dropped to less than 16% in recent years, according to the American Cancer Society there are still some 38 million Americans who smoke cigarettes. Smoking causes over 480,000 deaths every year, and is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Even if it doesn’t kill you, the effects of tobacco use can be devastating to your entire body—including your mouth. Whether you smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco, your risk of oral cancer is greatly increased, as is your chance of developing periodontal (gum) disease. What’s more, smoking can mask the symptoms of gum disease, so your condition is actually worse than it appears. Severe gum disease is one reason why smokers tend to lose more teeth than non-smokers.
In addition, because smoking interferes with the natural healing process, smokers have a much greater chance of dental implant failure. Tobacco use also can lead to increased amounts of plaque, which results in tooth decay and other oral health problems. It also stains your teeth, reduces your senses of smell and taste, and gives you bad breath.
Ready to quit yet? If so, there are lots of resources to help you on the road to a healthier life. The American Cancer Society, sponsor of the Smokeout, can help you make a plan to quit tobacco—and stay off it. It’s not easy, but over a million Americans do it every year. See their website for more information, plans and tips on quitting. Your health care professionals are also a great source of information and help when it’s time to get off the tobacco habit. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have.
And here’s the good news: The moment you quit, your body begins to recover from the effects of tobacco use. In just one year, you’ll have cut your risk of heart attack and stroke in half. After 5 to 15 years, your risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and several other conditions is the same as someone who has never smoked.
If you have questions about smoking and oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Dental Implants and Smoking.”
Is there a link between periodontal (gum) disease and cardiovascular disease? Medical researchers are endeavoring to answer this intriguing question, but early findings seem to say yes. If it bears true, the findings could advance treatment for both diseases.
There is one thing that can be said for certain: inflammation is a factor in both diseases’ progression. Gum disease begins as an infection caused by bacteria growing in plaque, which is made up of bacteria and a thin film of food remnant that adheres to tooth surfaces. The body responds to this infection through tissue inflammation, an attempt to prevent the infection from spreading. Likewise, inflammation appears to be a similar response to changes in blood vessels afflicted by cardiovascular disease.
While inflammation is part of the body’s mechanism to heal traumatized tissue, if it becomes chronic it can actually have a damaging effect on the tissues intended to benefit. For patients with gum disease, chronic inflammation causes connective tissues to detach from teeth, leading eventually to tooth and bone loss. Similarly, inflammation damages the linings of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients.
Researchers want to know what role bacteria may also play in the progression of cardiovascular disease. Initial studies seem to indicate that proactively treating the gum disease by removing all plaque from oral surfaces in patients with both conditions does appear to improve the health of diseased blood vessel linings. Whether this could ultimately reduce the occurrence of heart attack or stroke still needs to be ascertained.
As we learn more about the possible connections between these two diseases, there’s hope it will lead to new advancements that could improve health outcomes for both. It may prove to be the case, then, that maintaining a healthy mouth promotes a healthy heart, and vice-versa.
If you would like more information on the connection between gum disease and heart disease, 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 “Periodontal Inflammation and Heart Disease.”