Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
Ed Helms is best known for his role as the self-absorbed, Ivy League sales rep, Andy Bernard, on television's The Office. But to millions of fans he's also Stu, a member of a bachelor trip to Las Vegas in the 2009 movie The Hangover. In it, Stu and his friends wake up from a wild night on the Strip to find some things missing: the groom-to-be, their memories and, for Stu, a front tooth.
In reality, the missing tooth gag wasn't a Hollywood makeup or CGI (computer-generated imagery) trick—it was Ed Helm's actual missing tooth. According to Helms, the front tooth in question never developed and he had obtained a dental implant to replace it. He had the implant crown removed for the Hangover movie and then replaced after filming.
Helms' dental situation isn't that unusual. Although most of the 170 million-plus teeth missing from Americans' mouths are due to disease or trauma, a few happened because the teeth never formed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are in the back of the mouth, a few, as in Helms' case, involve front teeth in the “smile zone,” which can profoundly affect appearance.
Fortunately, people missing undeveloped teeth have several good options to restore their smiles and dental function. The kind of tooth missing could help determine which option to use. For example, a bridge supported by the teeth on either side of the gap might work well if the teeth on either side are in need of crowns.
If the missing tooth happens to be one or both of the lateral incisors (on either side of the centermost teeth), it could be possible to move the canine teeth (the pointy ones, also called eye teeth) to fill the gap. This technique, known as canine substitution, may also require further modification—either by softening the canines' pointed tips, crowning them or applying veneers—to help the repositioned teeth look more natural.
The optimal solution, though, is to replace a missing tooth with a dental implant which then has a lifelike crown attached to it, as Ed Helms did to get his winning smile. Implant-supported replacement teeth are closest to natural teeth in terms of both appearance and function. Implants, though, shouldn't be placed until the jaw has fully developed, usually in early adulthood. A younger person may need a temporary restoration like a bonded bridge or a partial denture until they're ready for an implant.
Whatever the method, there's an effective way to restore missing teeth. Seeing us for an initial exam is the first step toward your own winning smile.
Parents have been dealing with their children's teething pain for as long as parents and children have been around. Along the way, the human race has developed different ways to ease the discomfort of this natural process of dental development. While most are good, common-sense measures, one in particular needs to be avoided at all costs—applying topical oral products to the gums containing Benzocaine.
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic often found in oral products like Anbesol, Orajel or Topex to help ease tooth pain or sensitivity. The agent can be found in gel, spray, ointment or lozenge products sold over-the-counter. As an analgesic, it's considered relatively safe for adults to use.
But that's not the case with infants or younger children. Researchers have found a link between Benzocaine and methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal blood condition. Methemoglobinemia elevates the amount of a hemoglobin-like protein called methemoglobin, which in high concentrations can lower oxygen levels being transported to the body's cells through the bloodstream.
Because of their smaller anatomy and organ systems, younger children can have severe reactions to increases in methemoglobin, which can range from shortness of breath or fatigue to seizures, coma or even death. That's why you should never use products with Benzocaine or similar numbing agents to ease teething pain. Instead, follow these common sense practices:
- Give your child chilled rubber teething rings, wet washcloths or pacifiers to chew or gnaw on. The combination of cold temperatures and pressure from biting on them will help ease the pain. Just be sure the item isn't frozen, which could cause frost burns to soft tissues.
- For temporary relief from soreness, gently massage your baby's gums with a clean, bare finger or with it wrapped in a clean, wet cloth. The massaging action helps counteract the pressure of the incoming tooth.
- For intense episodes of teething discomfort, ask your healthcare provider about using an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be sure you use only the recommended dose size for your child's age.
Teething is in many ways like a storm—it too shall pass. Be sure you're helping your baby weather it safely.
Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
As far as your appearance goes, the most important teeth you have are those in the “smile zone.” These are the teeth most visible when you smile—and the ones that awkwardly stand out if they're chipped, worn or otherwise flawed. More than any other teeth, they determine how inviting your smile is to others.
You might think you'll need extensive cosmetic dental work to fix these kinds of dental defects. But that may not be necessary: We may be able to use a dental material known as composite resin to repair the defects in your “smile zone” teeth in one office visit.
Composite resins are a combination of ceramics and plastics that have been around for some time. They've only recently come into wide use, though, with the development of new techniques to bond them to tooth surfaces. They're ideal for chips, cracks, or decayed areas where front teeth make contact with one another. They may also be used occasionally to reshape irregular or misaligned teeth.
You'll first need a complete dental examination to determine if composite resin bonding is an appropriate approach for your situation. If so, we'll begin by preparing the tooth surface to better accept the resin material. We'll then apply the liquid form of the material in layers, along with other agents to increase the material's strength. Each layer is cured (hardened) before applying the next layer.
As the layers build up, we shape the material to achieve a normal tooth appearance. We'll also incorporate your individual color shadings, so that the prepared tooth blends well with surrounding natural teeth. In effect, the procedure requires as much artistry as technical skill to create a natural look.
Though not as strong as porcelain veneers or crowns, composite resins are durable if not subjected to heavy biting forces. And for a few hours in the dentist's chair with minimal tooth preparation, a composite resin treatment can create a dramatic and exciting change in your appearance.
If you would like more information on composite resin bonding, 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
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