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Franklyn Alexander, DDS
General & Cosmetic Dentistry

Patients Choice Winner 2016

Dental Blog

Read the latest dental information and news about our dental firm.

Dry Mouth Could Harm Your Health

Dry mouth does not rank very high on the list of items people worry about, but when it comes to dental health, dry mouth can considerably contribute to dental health problems.

What causes dry mouth?

Dry mouth, known as xerostamia, occurs when there is not enough saliva being produced to keep the mouth wet. You’ve probably experienced it when waking up in the morning- in fact, the main reason for ‘morning breath’ is that saliva production tends to slow when we sleep, meaning bacteria is not being rinsed away . Beyond natural sleep patterns, many medications can cause dry mouth. Over 400 commonly prescribed medications have dry mouth listed as a possible side effect; these include antihistamines, antidiarrheals, analgesics, and anti-anxiety medications. Diseases like diabetes, disorders of the salivary glands, arthritis, and lupus can also contribute to dry mouth. Since the elderly tend to be on more medications and have more overall health issues than younger adults, they are at the greatest risk for dry mouth.

Why is dry mouth harmful?

Saliva is your body’s natural defense against food residue and debris as well as harmful bacteria. When your salivary glands are working as they should, the constant wash of saliva moving through your mouth and over your teeth helps keep harmful bacteria from settling in and causing trouble. Saliva also helps to neutralize acids in your mouth that can lead to cavities, as well as constantly coating your teeth with phosphorus and calcium. These substances help your enamel stay strong by allowing remineralization, a sort of self-repair process undertaken by enamel. Enamel can’t really be regrown or replaced once it’s worn away, but providing your teeth with the tools they need for remineralization, you help fight the process of damaging and wearing away your protective enamel.

A lack of saliva also allows bacteria to take root and begin burrowing in to your teeth. Bacteria can’t gain a hold on our teeth if they are swallowed or rinsed away. When bacteria are allowed to attach to teeth, they multiply extremely quickly. A layer of bacteria makes it easier for additional bacteria to attach themselves to the area, and it only takes a short time for a visible layer of plaque to form. In addition, your saliva is capable of neutralizing or killing harmful bacteria before they get a chance to do any damage. Who knew your spit was so talented?

What can you do about dry mouth?

If you suffer from dry mouth, it’s important to nail down the cause- see your doctor and/or dentist to figure out exactly why it’s happening. If your xerostamia is due to necessary medications or another unavoidable condition, it’s important to know how to keep it under control. One of the most important things you can do is to stay hydrated- even people whose salivary glands work perfectly well don’t produce as much saliva when they’re dehydrated. Sip on water throughout the day and avoid acidic, sugary drinks like soda or fruit juice. These beverages become much more harmful without the benefit of saliva to counteract the sugar and acid. Sugar-free gum is a great tool in the fight against dry mouth- chewing stimulates the saliva glands, and many sugar-free gums carry additional ingredients to fight gum disease or help whiten teeth. Lastly, avoid smoking and alcohol, as these behaviors lead to dehydration and can cause dry mouth even if you’re otherwise perfectly healthy.

Learn How Dental Hygienists Keep Your Teeth Healthy

Many people only think about visiting a dentist’s office when there’s a problem, but this approach can mean more expenses, more trouble and possibly more uncomfortable treatments in the long run. While the idea of seeing the dentist is unpleasant for lots of people, it’s a good idea to get used to the thought of seeing your dental hygienist twice a year to help you avoid more complicated (and more expensive) dental problems.

What does a dental hygienist do?

A dental hygienist works under the supervision of a dentist to assess a patient’s oral health and performs routine maintenance and preventative care, as well as educating and working with the patient in order to make sure they’re doing everything right in their at-home hygiene routine. He or she will do a thorough check of your teeth and gums, including visual screening for oral cancer, followed by a routine cleaning to remove tartar and plaque buildup. They will also perform any x-rays you may need and make note of potential problems for your dentist to examine. Dental hygienists have an associate’s degree and are licensed in their state after passing medical exams.

Why is it important to see a hygienist regularly?

A dental hygienist will generally be the person doing your regular cleaning during your bi-annual dental visit- this makes them a VIP when it comes to keeping your teeth and gums healthy! He or she is responsible for looking at the overall health of your mouth during each visit and making you and your dentist aware of any potential problems, developing conditions or risk factors they may find.

Since a hygienist’s main role is preventative care, they are critical to helping keep your mouth disease- and decay-free. They will be able to tell how effectively you’re brushing and flossing, and will be prepared to give you tips or a refresher course on the best way to practice preventative care at home. A dental hygienist is also well-versed in the effects of diet on the teeth and gums, so feel free to bring up any dietary concerns and ask for advice about what foods are good and bad for your individual needs.

Seeing a hygienist on a regular basis can help keep you from the more extensive dental procedures not performed by hygienists, such as surgeries or conditions requiring medication.

What should you look for in a dental hygienist?

Chances are you chose your dental office based on the reputation of your dentist, not the surrounding staff. However, your hygienist will typically spend more time than your dentist looking at your teeth and assessing your oral health, so it’s important to feel comfortable with them. Since they will most likely be performing your cleaning, you need to feel confident in their abilities – don’t hesitate to ask to see accreditation. You should also feel comfortable asking questions and requesting explanations of anything you don’t understand.

Helping Children Avoid Cavities

You make every effort to take the best care of your kids – you watch their diet, make sure they get exercise, and take them to the doctor for checkups – but what about their teeth? Many parents are under the impression that dental care isn’t as important for children as it is for adults, since the first set of teeth isn’t permanent. In fact, “baby” teeth have the essential job of maintaining the spaces where the adult teeth will eventually grow.

When baby teeth become damaged or decayed, it can greatly affect the way that a child’s adult teeth grow later. On the same note, healthy gums are every bit as important for children as they are for adults; gum disease that begins in childhood can continue to plague us as adults if not treated promptly. Below is a list of several ways to make sure your child is in the best dental health possible.

Supervise Teeth Brushing

Dentists recommend that parents brush their children’s teeth until the child reaches about six years old. After your child begins brushing on their own, it’s a good idea to keep supervising them for a while in order to make sure they’re brushing correctly and for the right amount of time (about two minutes). The same goes for flossing- generally kids develop the dexterity to floss on their between the ages of eight to ten, but flossing for them until then reinforces a good hygiene routine so they’re more inclined to continue it as adults.

Replace Toothbrushes Every Six to Twelve Weeks

Kids don’t know or care when it’s time to replace a toothbrush, so make sure you’re paying attention to the state of your child’s brush- when the bristles begin to look frayed or worn, it’s time for a new one. Since children’s toothbrushes are often softer and more easily worn down, your child will likely need a new brush before you do. You’ll also want to replace their brushes after an illness, and store your children’s toothbrushes separately when one is ill so as not to infect the other.

Pay Attention to Diet

Cavities are on the rise in preschool age children even though many parents are under the impression they’re feeding a healthy diet. One culprit is bottled water- adults often think it must be cleaner than tap water, and give it to their kids daily. While it’s a good idea to filter tap water, most cities in the US include fluoride in the water supply. This fluoride plays a big part in keeping your kids’ teeth and gums healthy; with every sip, they’re fighting cavities and decay. Another way to cut down on the likelihood of cavities is to limit the amount of sweet food and drinks your child gets. Many children have a cup or bottle of juice on hand nearly all the time, when in fact sugary fruit juices aren’t doing teeth any favors. The combination of sugar and acidity in these juices makes them a favorite food for cavity-causing bacteria.

Visit the Dentist Regularly

Your child should have their first dental visit when the first tooth comes in. After this, making regular visits to a dental office is an important step in keeping your children’s mouths healthy. Since many children are uncomfortable at the dentist, it may be worth your time to seek out a pediatric dentist’s office- these offices are generally geared towards making kids comfortable, and the staff are well-versed in dealing with children.

Take Charge of Your Dental Care

Taking care of your mouth can be a challenge, especially when it comes to figuring out what’s best for you- everyone’s different, and the approach that works for one person might not be ideal for the next. However, there are a few key things that people with healthy teeth almost always have in common. Ask yourself the following questions to arm yourself with the best tools available when it comes to dental care.

Could you benefit from an electric toothbrush?

When used properly, manual brushes work just as well as electric types. However, an astonishing number of adults don’t brush correctly, or in a way that helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease. An electric brush can help solve some of these issues- many types are available with a timer, eliminating the guesswork as to how long is long enough (about two minutes is ideal.) An electric brush can also be extremely helpful as you grow older and begin to lose some of the strength and dexterity in your hands, performing the back-and-forth scrubbing motion that can be difficult for stiff or painful fingers.

How long has it been since you had your crowns or other dental repairs examined?

The length of life for a crown or other restoration largely depends on how well you take care of them, but you can usually expect to need some maintenance or replacement at some point- it’s a good idea to have crowns and fillings checked every 5-8 years to make sure they’re holding up. A big issue facing those with crowns is the development of decay under the crown- since it’s hidden, many people don’t notice it until the situation has progressed severely. A dental professional can catch problems like these before they become a major issue.

Do you know what dental problems you’re most prone to?

This is another area where your dentist can give you a lot of help. The biggest problem for some people is sensitive teeth; others are susceptible to cavities and decay. Your lifestyle and diet has a lot to do with the dental issues you may face, but genetics play a part as well- some people just have more problems with their teeth than others despite excellent hygiene and preventative care. Making regular visits to the dentist’s office can give you an idea of what areas you need to focus on to support the best oral health possible. He or she can also recommend products tailored for your specific needs- some toothpastes are great for whitening, while others are more effective at preventing and controlling gum disease. A personalized care plan is ideal for helping you keep healthy teeth.

Do you grind or clench your teeth?

Grinding and clenching can do some serious damage to the overall structure of your teeth and jaw. Tooth grinding, or bruxism, often occurs at night while you’re sleeping, so it can be difficult to catch. If you often wake up with a headache or a sore/tired feeling jaw, you may be grinding your teeth. Your dentist can also see signs of grinding and clenching in your mouth- abnormal wear and tear or flattened tops on your teeth are a dead giveaway. Talk to your dentist about wearing a nighttime mouth guard that will keep you from grinding your teeth together.

Helpful Reminders to Keep a White Smile

Keeping white, healthy teeth is a great way to give yourself a confidence boost. When you know your teeth look great, you’re not afraid to flash a big smile – and smiling has benefits that go beyond looks. Here are a few tips for maintaining white teeth.

Quit Smoking

You’re probably aware of all the other health consequences that cigarettes cause, but smokers are prone to stains due to the tar and other chemicals in cigarette smoke. Long-term smokers also tend towards dry mouth, or xerostomia, which reduces the flow of saliva in the mouth. Since saliva is your body’s natural way of keeping your teeth clean and free of debris, a reduction in saliva can mean an increased risk of decay and gum disease as well as higher likelihood of stains.

Don’t Skip Brushing or Flossing

Daily preventative hygiene is one of your most powerful weapons against stains and discoloration. Brush at least twice a day- in the morning and at night before bed- and it’s helpful to brush an hour or so after each meal. Many of us don’t floss as often or as thoroughly as we should, but it’s essential to removing debris from the tiny spaces between teeth where your toothbrush doesn’t reach. If you find it impossible or impractical to brush after each meal, make sure to rinse your mouth out with water to rid yourself of any potentially staining residue.

Ditch the Dark Beverages

Coffee, black tea and red wine aren’t terribly harmful to your health in moderation- tea has even been shown to carry some health benefits- but the dark colors of these drinks combined with their acidity levels makes them bad news for those who want white teeth. If you can’t seem to give up your morning cup of coffee or your weekend wine indulgence, there are a few ways you can minimize the damage. When possible, drink dark colored beverages through a straw to avoid contact with teeth. Have them with meals instead of sipping throughout the day so that your post-meal brushing takes care of the residue, and lastly, some foods like cheese can help protect your teeth from stains when eaten along with a glass of wine.

Stock Up On Teeth-Cleaning Foods

Just as cheese was mentioned as being protective against acids, some other foods can help clean and polish teeth as well. Strawberries, in addition to being full of nutrients, contain a type of acid that’s helpful for whitening teeth; just be careful not to overdo it. A handful a day is plenty. Fibrous, crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples, celery and broccoli act as natural scrubbers when chewed- the texture of these foods helps polish away any residue or debris on the teeth. They’re a good way to end a meal, and an excellent choice for a midday snack.

Keep Sugar-Free Gum Handy

Chewing helps to stimulate saliva flow in your mouth, which can be especially helpful after a meal to keep your teeth free of stain-causing residue or bits of food. Look for the ADA seal on a pack of gum to make sure it’s been approved by the American Dental Association as being beneficial for dental health.

If you want a little extra help keeping your smile white, check with your dentist about teeth whitening procedures available to patients!