Many recent high school graduates will soon begin their first year in college, and for many it will be their first time living away from home. But with the excitement of new freedom, there’s also the opportunity to make poor choices that could impact long-term health, especially teeth and gums.
Here, then, are 5 tips for keeping your teeth and gums healthy during the college years.
Watch what you eat and drink. At any stage of life, a nutritious, balanced diet low in sugar and high in fiber is vital to a healthy mouth. Snack moderately on fresh fruit, nuts or dairy foods, not sugary, processed products. Be sure also to drink plenty of water for hydration, not sodas or sports drinks whose high acid content can soften enamel and open the door to tooth decay.
Don’t abuse alcohol or use tobacco. Consuming too much alcohol can do more than leave you momentarily impaired — it can cause dry mouth, which contributes to tooth decay and increases your risk of oral cancer. Any form of tobacco can raise your risk for disease, especially oral cancer; high levels of nicotine may also inhibit your gum’s ability to fight infection, which increases your risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Avoid oral piercings. Those tiny pieces of hardware attached to lips, tongue, gums or even through teeth may be all the rage, but they’re a recipe for immediate and future mouth problems. Oral piercings can lead to chipped teeth, gum recession and a higher chance of dental disease.
Practice safe sex. Certain sexual behaviors can raise your risk of contracting human papilloma virus (HPV16) that in turn increases your risk of oral cancer. You can also develop genital herpes in the mouth, which although manageable won’t go away.
Keep up your oral hygiene care. Taking care of your teeth and gums is a permanent, daily concern. Whatever your college schedule, be sure you’re brushing once or twice a day and flossing once. And don’t forget to visit us at least twice a year for a thorough cleaning (to get plaque you can’t reach with daily hygiene) and a checkup to keep dental disease under control.
As dentists, we often see other mouth problems besides those with teeth and gums. One of the most common is cracking around the corners of the mouth. Although usually not serious, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Medically known as angular cheilitis (literally “an inflammation of the angles of the lip”), it’s also called perleche, derived from the French lecher, “to lick.” The latter moniker aptly describes the tendency of sufferers to compulsively lick the sores to relieve irritation, which actually can make things worse.
Perleche has a number of possible causes, mostly from in or around the mouth (although systemic diseases or medications can cause it on rare occasions). It’s often found among younger people who drool during sleep or older people with deep wrinkles along the sides of the mouth that increase the chances of dryness and cracking. Long-term wind or cold exposure, ill-fitting dentures or a lack of back teeth (which help support facial structure) may also contribute to the condition.
Patients with perleche can also develop yeast infections from a strain called candida albicans. The infection can spread through the whole mouth, significantly increasing the chances of physical discomfort.
Treating perleche often involves topical ointments with inflammation-reducing steroids and zinc oxide, which has antifungal properties, to provide an environmental barrier during the healing process. If a yeast infection occurs, we may treat it with oral or topical antifungal medication like Nystatin for the whole mouth and chlorhexidine rinses, which has antibacterial properties.
It also helps to adopt a few preventive measures that can minimize the occurrence of perleche. If you wear dentures, for example, cleaning them often (including, if necessary, with chlorhexidine) and leaving them out at night reduces bacterial and fungal growth. We can also see if your dentures are fitting properly. Replacing missing teeth provides better facial support and could minimize wrinkling around the mouth. And, of course, keeping up daily brushing and flossing helps ensure a healthy and disease-free mouth.
If you’re experiencing cracked mouth corners, let us know at your next appointment. With our help and of other medical professionals we may be able to give you relief from this irritating condition.
If you would like more information on gaining relief from angular cheilitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Winter is the time for snowy landscapes, hot cocoa and flannel PJs, but for some 'tis the season for tooth trouble. What can you do to keep your teeth from becoming a pain this winter?
Tackle tooth sensitivity. Does crisp winter air on your teeth give you a jolt? A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that 1 in 8 people (over 12%) suffer from tooth sensitivity, particularly to cold. Sensitivity can result from receding gums, erosion of tooth enamel, tooth decay or other dental problems. If you experience tooth sensitivity, use toothpaste that is specially formulated for sensitive teeth and breathe through your nose to protect your teeth from extreme cold. Most importantly, schedule a dental exam to determine why your teeth are sensitive.
Stay hydrated. In winter, we spend more time with the heat on and we tend to drink less water. A dry mouth can result, which can lead to bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. Staying well hydrated keeps your gums and teeth moist and helps you produce more saliva, which is key to good oral health and fresh breath. Saliva helps wash away food debris and bacteria, neutralize decay-causing acid and repair weakened tooth enamel. For healthy teeth and gums, be sure to drink plenty of water this winter.
Safeguard your teeth on the slopes. Are you planning to hit the slopes this winter? Be sure to wear a mouthguard to help protect against injury. Beginning skiers and snowboarders are more likely to suffer falls that could result in dental injuries, while experts may fly over bumps and jumps, causing the upper and lower teeth to knock together with force. Even backyard sledders are at risk of dental injury. Mouthguards help protect against chipped, broken, or knocked-out teeth as well as soft tissue damage. So before you enjoy wintertime sports, make sure your teeth are protected. For the best fit and comfort, ask us about a custom mouthguard.
If you have questions about these or other dental issues, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity” and “Dry Mouth.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
If you're in need of a crown to cover a damaged tooth, you have a lot of options. But before you choose, you need to know what you want. Would you be happy with an affordable, well-fitting crown that holds up well and allows you to chew comfortably? Or are you interested in a more expensive one that also provides the most attractive result?
Crowns have been a mainstay in dentistry for generations. The first were made of metals like gold or silver — durable and effective but not very attractive.
In time, a ceramic material known as dental porcelain began to make its appearance in crowns. Dental porcelain could be fashioned to resemble the color and texture of natural teeth, but it had a significant drawback: it could be brittle and subject to shattering under chewing pressure.
This problem was somewhat addressed with the innovation of a crown with a metal substructure fused with an outer layer of porcelain. These porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns combined the best advantages of both materials: strength and life-likeness. Up until around the mid-2000s, PFM made up over 80% of crowns.
But later porcelains continued to improve in strength, beginning in 1993 with the introduction of a Lucite-reinforced material. Newer formulations like lithium disilicate or zirconium oxide (now considered the strongest porcelain) have made all-porcelain crowns a viable option. Today, an estimated 60% of new crowns are all-porcelain.
From an appearance standpoint, all-porcelain crowns achieve the best results. The most realistic crown can be costly — not because of the material but the level of artistry required. A skilled dental technician will spend several hours, including brushing on as many as fifteen coats of liquid porcelain to the crown, to achieve the most life-like outcome. Your insurance plan, if you have one, will most likely not pay as high a percentage for that type of crown.
In the end, it's your decision as to what type of crown you wish to have. We'll help you weigh your options and decide what's best for you and your budget.
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