Posts for category: Oral Health

By Harmon Dental Center at Old Henry Crossing
September 14, 2021
Category: Oral Health
VanHalensPassingRemindsUsoftheDangersofOralCancerandHowtoHelpPreventIt

Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.

Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.

Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.

But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:

Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.

Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.

Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.

Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.

One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.

Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.

If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”

By Harmon Dental Center at Old Henry Crossing
September 04, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene  
TakeCareofYourGums-AndYourGumsWillTakeCareofYourTeeth

Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.

But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.

For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.

The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.

So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.

It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.

If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.

Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.

As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.

If you would like more information about periodontal gum care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Daily Oral Hygiene.”

By Harmon Dental Center at Old Henry Crossing
August 25, 2021
Category: Oral Health
WhatToDoAboutWhiteSpotsonTeethAfterWearingBraces

The big day finally arrives when your braces come off. And there it is—your new, beautiful, straight smile! But on closer inspection you notice something else: tiny white spots on your teeth.

Those pale, chalky spots are called white spot lesions (WSLs). They occur when acid has contacted the tooth enamel for too long, dissolving essential minerals like calcium in those particular areas. The occurrences of WSLs during and after braces highlights a major challenge during orthodontic treatment—keeping your teeth clean.

Braces' wires and brackets tend to get in the way of brushing and flossing, making it easier to miss plaque—the bacterial film that produces acid—on tooth areas around the hardware. Those missed areas could in time lead to WSLs.

The main objective with WSLs is prevent them from occurring during braces wear as much as possible. To do this, you'll need to increase your time and effort brushing and flossing, especially around orthodontic hardware. You can make it easier, though, by using a few tools that often work better than regular toothbrushes and floss like interproximal toothbrushes, power brushes, floss threaders or water flossers.

You can also help lower your mouth's acidity by avoiding or limiting acidic foods and beverages, including juices, sodas, sports and energy drinks. And, by all means, keep up your regular dental cleaning schedule with your general dentist.

Should WSLs develop while you're wearing braces, don't panic. It's possible they'll diminish on their own, or at least not worsen. We can also foster re-mineralization of the enamel with applied fluoride, short bursts of laser light or a procedure called microabrasion that restores damaged areas below the enamel surface.

For more resistant WSLs, we can also inject a liquid tooth-colored resin into them that when hardened by a curing light can make those areas look translucent like normal enamel. We can also use other cosmetic solutions like bonding or veneers to improve your teeth's appearance.

Like other dental problems, dealing with a WSL is usually more successful if caught and treated early. So, check your teeth often while wearing braces, and if you notice anything unusual don't hesitate to call your dentist.

If you would like more information on oral care while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”

By Harmon Dental Center at Old Henry Crossing
July 16, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: gum disease  
PeriodontalProbingCanTellUsaLotAbouttheSeverityofaGumInfection

The red and puffy gums that sometimes accompany the onset of periodontal (gum) disease don't always catch your attention. You may not even get any symptoms at all, in fact, until the disease has become well advanced.

That's why regular dental visits are so important for gum health: For while you may not notice anything abnormal about your gums, we have a simple procedure known as periodontal probing that can help diagnose the condition of your gums.

Gum disease is a common bacterial infection that affects millions of people worldwide. It most often begins with plaque, a filmy, bacterial buildup on teeth. These bacteria feed and multiply on the remnant food particles in the film, increasing the chances for an infection.

As it grows—as well as the inflammation the body initiates to fight it—the infection weakens the gum attachment to teeth. This can cause the miniscule gap between gums and teeth at the gum line to widen, forming a void called a periodontal pocket. The deeper and wider the pocket, the more advanced the gum infection.

We may be able to verify the presence of a periodontal pocket by using a long, thin probing instrument with millimeter gradations. We gently insert the probe at various locations around a tooth as far as it will comfortably go. We then record the depth by reading the gradation measures lined up with the top of the gums, as well as observing how snug or loose the probe feels within the gum space.

One to three millimeters signifies a healthy attachment between the tooth and gums—anything more than that usually indicates gum disease. Measurements of 5mm indicates a problem, the higher the number, the more advanced is the periodontal disease.

We use these probe readings and other factors to guide our treatment approach in individual cases of gum disease. With a less-advanced infection we may only need to remove plaque and calculus adhering to the crown and just below the gum line. More advanced gum disease infecting the root area may require surgical access through the gums.

All in all, keeping up with regular dental visits can increase the chances of early diagnosis, when the disease is still in its initial stages. And daily oral hygiene to remove harmful plaque may help you avoid gum disease altogether.

If you would like more information on 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 “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”

By Harmon Dental Center at Old Henry Crossing
July 06, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: teething  
NeverUseThisNumbingAgenttoRelieveTeethingPaininYoungChildren

Parents will do just about anything to relieve their children's discomfort when they're in pain. When a toddler is suffering through a teething episode, it's tempting to turn to a topical numbing ointment to soothe their gums.

But there can be a hidden danger for kids if you use certain over-the-counter products used by adults for gum or teeth pain. Many of these topical ointments contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. While it's relatively safe for adults, benzocaine can be hazardous for infants and young children.

Studies have found that benzocaine contributes to a disease called methemoglobinemia, in which a protein in the blood called methemoglobin increases to abnormal levels. Too much of this protein inhibits the transport of oxygen throughout the body. For young children, this can cause shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness. In extreme cases, it could lead to seizures, coma or even death.

Parents are urged to avoid using any product containing benzocaine to ease gum or teething pain in children. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends providing a child a chilled (not frozen) teething ring, pacifier or a damp clean cloth to chew on. The chewing action helps relieve gum swelling pressure and the cold will help numb the pain. Massaging the gums with a clean finger may also help.

If the pain persists, parents should consult a doctor or pharmacist about giving their child pain medication. Drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (never aspirin) administered in the proper dosage for a child's age can help ease teething discomfort. Medications should always be given orally—you should never rub substances like aspirin or alcohol directly on the gums, which can further irritate already inflamed tissues.

Teething episodes come and go during a child's early dental development—they are like storms that swell and abate before they finally pass. Except when accompanied by fever or diarrhea, there's no need for concern. Your main goal is to help ease their discomfort as much—and as safely—as possible.

If you would like more information on how to help your child weather teething episodes, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.