Posts for: April, 2018
Lots of people don’t know that April is National Stress Awareness Month; don’t fret if you’re one of them. For many, stress is already a common feature of everyday life. According to the American Psychological Association, 62% of Americans are stressed at their jobs, and stress has been estimated to cause the loss of some 275 million working days every year.
In addition to its other negative physical and mental consequences, stress can also spell trouble for your oral health. It may lead to the problems of teeth clenching and grinding, which dentists call bruxism. A habitual behavior that can occur in the daytime or at night, bruxism is thought to affect perhaps one in ten adults. While the evidence that stress causes bruxism is not conclusive, there’s a strong case for the linkage.
Bruxism sometimes causes symptoms like headaches, soreness or pain in the jaw muscles or joints, and problems with fully opening the mouth. It can be detected in the dental office by excessive tooth wear, and/or damage to tooth surfaces or dental work. Grinding or tapping noises heard at night may indicate that someone is grinding their teeth while sleeping. In children, nighttime bruxism is common and not necessarily a reason for concern; in adults, it may be more troubling.
So what can you do if you’re experiencing this problem? If you find yourself clenching and grinding during the daytime, simply becoming more aware of the behavior and trying to limit it can help. A bit of clenching during times of stress isn’t abnormal, but excessive grinding may be reason for concern. Many of the same techniques used to relieve stress in other situations—such as taking a step back, talking out your issues, and creating a calmer and more soothing environment—may prove helpful here as well.
Occasionally, prescription drugs may cause bruxism as an unwanted side effect; in this case, a medical professional may recommend changing your medication. The use of stimulants like coffee and mood altering substances like alcohol and illicit drugs have also been associated with teeth grinding—so if you’re having this issue, consider foregoing these substances and making healthier lifestyle choices.
There are also a number of dental treatments that can help protect your teeth from excessive grinding. The most common is an occlusal guard or “night guard.” This is a custom-fabricated appliance made of plastic that fits comfortably over your teeth. Usually worn at night, it keeps your teeth from actually coming into contact with each other and being damaged. Occasionally, additional treatments such as bite adjustment or orthodontics may be recommended to help solve the problem.
If you would like more information about teeth clenching and grinding, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
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.”
While we often associate tooth decay with cavities forming in a tooth’s visible or biting surfaces, the occurrence of this all too common disease isn’t limited to those areas. Cavities can develop in any part of a tooth exposed to bacteria.
Gum recession, the shrinking back of the gums from the teeth, can cause such exposure in areas normally covered by the gums. Because these areas are usually more vulnerable to infection when exposed, cavities can develop at or right below the gum line. Because of their location it can be difficult to fill them or perform other treatments.
One way to make it less difficult is to perform a crown lengthening procedure. While the term sounds like we’re increasing the size of the tooth, we’re actually surgically altering the gums to access more of the affected tooth surface for treatment. It’s typically performed in a dental office with local anesthesia by a general dentist or a periodontist, a specialist in the gums.
During the procedure, the dentist starts by making small incisions in the gums to create a tissue “flap” that can be lifted out of the way. This exposes the underlying bone, which they then reshape to support the gum tissue once it’s re-situated in its new position. The dentist then sutures the gums back in place. Once the gums heal, the decayed area is ready for treatment.
Crown lengthening is also useful for other situations besides treating cavities. If a tooth has broken off at the gum line, for example, there may not be enough remaining structure to support a crown. Crown lengthening can make more of the underlying tooth available for the crown to “grab” onto. It’s also useful in some cases of “gummy smiles,” in which too much of the gum tissue is visible in proportion to the tooth size.
Because crown lengthening often involves removing some of the bone and is thus irreversible, you should discuss this procedure with your dentist in depth beforehand. It could be, though, this minor procedure might make it easier to preserve your teeth and even make them look more attractive.
A crown — a life-like “cap” made of dental porcelain that permanently covers an existing tooth — is an effective way to restore a still-viable decayed or broken tooth’s appearance. Properly fitting the crown over the tooth requires some healthy tooth structure above the gum line.
But what if the tooth has broken down to the gum line? In this case, we would need to perform a common procedure known as crown lengthening to expose more of the tooth.
Crown lengthening is a minor surgical procedure performed with local anesthesia to numb the tooth, surrounding gum tissues and supporting bone. We first make tiny incisions inside the gum-line on both the cheek and tongue side of the tooth to expose the bone, and then carefully remove a small amount of bone from either side of the tooth; this will expose or “lengthen” the tooth. Once finished, we suture the gum tissue back into place with self-dissolving sutures against the bone and tooth.
Most procedures take only sixty to ninety minutes, and the mild discomfort afterward is usually managed with pain relievers like ibuprofen. While the gum tissues may appear to be healed after a week, we typically wait six to eight weeks to perform the final crown restoration to give the tissues time to fully mature.
Crown lengthening may not work in all situations, especially with a severely fractured tooth. In these cases, we may need to evaluate the long-term viability of the tooth and consider other restorative options. Depending on your bite, it may also be necessary to treat with orthodontics first: not only will the tooth move into a better position, but the treatment may move both the gum and bone down with the tooth. Subsequent crown lengthening will then only affect the intended tooth and not adjacent ones, resulting in a more even smile.
The first step is for us to decide after a thorough examination if you would benefit from crown lengthening. If so, this minor surgical procedure could pave the way for better mouth function and a more attractive smile.