Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
If you're one of the more than 26 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, you know first hand how the disease impacts your life. That includes your dental health — and whether or not implants are a good tooth replacement option for you.
Diabetes is actually the name for a group of diseases affecting how your body processes glucose, a simple sugar that provides energy for the body's cells. The level of glucose in the blood is regulated by insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Diabetes causes the pancreas to either stop producing insulin (Type 1) or not produce enough (Type 2). Also in Type 2, the body can become unresponsive to the insulin produced.
The implications for either type are serious and can be life-threatening. If glucose levels are chronically too low or high the patient could eventually go blind, suffer nerve damage, or develop kidney disease. Diabetes also interferes with wound healing and creates a greater susceptibility for gangrene: diabetics thus have a higher risk for losing fingers, toes and limbs, and can even succumb to coma or death.
Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes. Fortunately, most people with this type can effectively manage it through diet, exercise and regular glucose monitoring; if need be, prescription medication can help regulate their levels. Even so, diabetics with their disease under control must still be alert to slower wound healing and a higher risk of infection.
Because implant placement is a minor surgical procedure, the aspects of diabetes related to healing, infection and inflammation could have an adverse impact on the ultimate success of the placement. Implant surgery creates a wound in the surrounding gum tissues and bone that will need to heal; the body's immune response in a diabetic can interfere with that process. And if infection sets in, the risks of implant failure increase.
But research has shown that diabetics with good glucose management have as high a success rate (over 95% after ten years) as non-diabetic patients. That means the implant option is a viable one for you as a diabetic — but only if you have your disease under control.
If you have chronic jaw pain, you know how difficult eating, speaking or even smiling can be. Many sufferers will do anything to gain relief, even surgery. But before you go down that road, consider the traditional conservative approach to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) management first—it could provide the most relief with the least risk of side effects.
The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the head. These ball and socket joints also contain a cushioning disk to facilitate movement. This disk is believed to be the primary focus for jaw pain problems known collectively as TMD.
Doctors now believe injury, stress, metabolic issues, jaw anatomy defects or similar factors trigger the chain reaction of muscle spasms, pain and soreness that can erupt during a TMD episode. A TMD patient may experience pain within the jaw muscles or joints themselves, clicking sensations, or an inability to open the jaw to its full range.
TMD therapy has traditionally followed an orthopedic path—treating jaw joints like any other joint. In recent years, though, a more aggressive treatment model has emerged that promotes more invasive techniques like orthodontics, dental work or jaw surgery to relieve discomfort. But the track record for this model, especially concerning jaw surgery, remains hazy at best and offers no guarantee of relief. These techniques are also irreversible and have even made symptoms worse in some patients.
It’s usually prudent, then, to try conservative treatments first. This can include pain and muscle relaxant medication, jaw exercises, stretching and massage, and dietary changes to reduce chewing force. Patients with teeth grinding habits may also benefit from a bite guard worn at night to reduce the biting force during sleep and help the joints relax.
By finding the right mix of treatments, you may be able to find significant relief from TMD symptoms with the conservative approach. If not, you might then discuss more invasive options with your dentist. But even if your dentist recommends such a procedure, you would be wise to seek a second opinion.
TMD can definitely interfere with your quality of life and peace of mind. But there are ways to reduce its effects and make for a happier life.
If you would like more information on managing chronic jaw pain, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Tooth decay is an ever present danger for your baby’s developing teeth. It begins with disease-causing bacteria feasting on leftover sugar, producing high levels of oral acid that slowly dissolves the teeth’s protective enamel. The softened enamel then becomes an open door for decay to infect the tooth.
Meanwhile, those bacteria continue to eat and produce acid….
So how can you stop this devastating cycle? Besides daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, the most important thing you can do is deprive bacteria in your baby’s mouth of sugar through limiting their consumption of it. This means you’ll first need to identify the different sources of sugar available to your baby—and some of them might surprise you.
Here, then, are 3 not-so-obvious sugar sources your baby might be consuming.
During feeding. If you’re breast-feeding, you may not think this is causing a sugar problem for your baby. True, breast milk by itself doesn’t promote decay: it’s the combination of it with other sugar-rich foods and liquids the baby might be consuming as they get older. Together this could significantly increase their risk of pediatric tooth decay (also known as early childhood caries or ECC). So, be careful to limit sugar in other things they’re eating or drinking in addition to nursing.
24/7 Baby bottles and pacifiers. To calm infants at nap or sleep time, parents or caregivers often use bottles filled with sweet liquids or pacifiers dipped in jam, syrup or sugar. This practice increases decay risk from both the added sugar and its constant availability to bacteria in the mouth around the clock. Instead, avoid this practice and limit any sugary foods or liquids to mealtimes.
Medications. Some medications an infant may be taking for a chronic illness may contain small amounts of sugar. Additionally, medications like antihistamines can reduce the production of saliva that’s needed to neutralize acid after meals. If your child is on medication, ask your healthcare provider about its dental effects and if there are any sugar-free alternatives. Be sure to keep up daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits too.
Limiting your baby’s sugar intake is critical in preventing tooth decay. It’s one of the most important things you can do to protect their dental health.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid tooth decay, 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why It’s Important for Your Baby.”
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