The next time you visit your dentist you might see an item quite different from the other dental instruments and equipment in the office: a blood pressure cuff. Checking blood pressure is becoming a more common occurrence in dental offices across the country.
Abnormal blood pressure and some of the medications used to treat it are often a factor in some dental procedures, particularly if anesthesia is involved. But your dentist may also check your blood pressure for another reason: dental visits represent another avenue to screen for this condition that increases the risk of serious health problems.
Undiagnosed high blood pressure is a prevalent but often “silent” problem because the early stages of the condition may not display any symptoms. Many people first become aware they have an issue only after a blood pressure check at their family doctor, pharmacy or a health fair, for example. Otherwise, they could go months, even years without this vital knowledge about their health.
But while people may only visit their doctor once a year (or less) many see their dentist much more often, even twice a year, for routine cleanings and checkups. Including blood pressure screenings as a routine part of dental treatment could alert patients to a potential issue much earlier than their next doctor’s visit.
In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association looked at a group of dental patients with no reported heart disease risk and who had not seen a doctor in the twelve months before their dental visit. During their visit their blood pressure was checked. Of those then referred to a physician for an abnormal reading, 17% learned for the first time they had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s estimated about 80 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease and many don’t even know it. Diagnosing and controlling high blood pressure is a key factor in treating these life-threatening conditions. And many dentists are joining the fight by making this simple screening method a part of their dental care services.
If you would like more information on blood pressure screening, 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure: What you don't know can hurt you.”
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.”
Treating advanced periodontal (gum) disease takes time. If you have this destructive disease, it wouldn’t be uncommon for you to undergo several cleaning sessions to remove plaque from tooth and gum surfaces. This built-up film of bacteria and food particles is primarily responsible for triggering and fueling gum disease.
These cleaning sessions, which might also involve surgery and other advanced techniques to access deep pockets of infection, are necessary not only to heal your gums but to preserve the teeth they support. With these intense efforts, however, we can help rescue your teeth and return your reddened and swollen gums to a healthy, pink hue.
But what then — is your gum disease a thing of the past?
The hard reality is that once you’ve experienced gum disease your risk of another occurrence remains. From now on, you must remain vigilant and disciplined with your oral hygiene regimen to minimize the chances of another infection. You can’t afford to slack in this area.
Besides daily brushing and flossing as often as your dentist directs, you should also visit your dentist for periodontal maintenance (PM) on a regular basis. For people who’ve experienced gum disease, PM visits are more than a routine teeth cleaning. For one, your dentist may recommend more than the typical two visits a year: depending on the severity of your disease or your genetic vulnerability, you may need to increase the frequency of maintenance appointments by visiting the dentist every two to three months.
Besides plaque and calculus (tartar) removal, these visits could include applications of topical antibiotics or other anti-bacterial substances to curb the growth of disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. You may also need to undergo surgical procedures to make particular areas prone to plaque buildup easier to clean.
The main point, though, is that although you’ve won your battle with gum disease, the war isn’t over. But with your own daily hygiene maintenance coupled with your dentist’s professional attention, you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding a future infection.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum 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 Cleanings.”
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
Before you consider cosmetic changes to your smile, ask yourself one question: how's your bite? How your teeth are positioned and aligned doesn't just affect their function — it also affects your appearance. A proper bite is foundational to a beautiful smile — and it deserves your attention first.
Here are 3 important steps for addressing your bite problem on your way to a more attractive smile.
Get an orthodontic evaluation. Only a dentist or orthodontist can determine if your teeth are properly aligned and working well with each other — and if not, why. With their knowledge and expertise they'll be able to tell you what specific bite problem (malocclusion) you have and the best treatment to correct it to support any future cosmetic enhancement.
Consider your tooth-movement options carefully. If you have a malocclusion, your dentist or orthodontist may recommend correction before undertaking other cosmetic work. In most cases, you'll have two choices. The first is traditional metal braces, which uses wires held in place and anchored by brackets cemented to the teeth. They're effective, but must be fixed in place and aren't considered attractive. The other choice is clear aligners, which use custom removable plastic trays worn in sequence to gradually move teeth. They're easier for oral hygiene and are hardly noticeable to others, but may not work in every bite situation.
Don't slack on the retainer phase of treatment. The day will come when the braces or aligners come out of your mouth for good. But your realignment project isn't over — you'll need to wear a retainer appliance for a while. Re-aligned teeth can relapse to their former positions, so it's essential you wear a retainer to keep them where they've been moved. Without a retainer, all the time and effort invested in your bite will have been to no avail.
In a nutshell: get the big picture about your bite, choose the treatment best for you and follow through on every phase. The end result will be a solid platform for the smile you've always dreamed about.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, 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 “The Magic of Orthodontics: The Original Smile Makeover.”
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