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Posts for category: Oral Health

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
August 13, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   bad breath  
NationalFreshBreathDayRemindsUstoSeekOuttheSourceofBadBreath

Be sure to mark August 6 on your calendars—and not just because it's the day in 1661 when the Dutch sold Brazil to Portugal, or when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, or when the Ramones performed for the last time in 1996. August 6 also happens to be National Fresh Breath Day! But since fresh breath is important to us every day, we like to celebrate all month long.

Celebrating fresh breath might not seem as noteworthy as these other historical moments, but if you're a frequent halitosis (bad breath) sufferer, you know it can be downright embarrassing. More importantly, it could be a sign of a deeper health problem. It turns out there are a number of reasons why you might have bad breath. Here are the most common.

You're not adequately cleaning your mouth. Certain strains of bacteria are known for emitting volatile sulfur compounds, which give rise to that "rotten egg" smell and are a major component of bad breath. Because they feed on leftover sugars and proteins from food, you can keep them and their noxious odors at bay by brushing and flossing your teeth and brushing the broad surface of the tongue, a prime breeding ground for these bacteria.

You're not producing enough saliva. This unsung bodily fluid is a key part of good oral health. Besides helping to rinse the mouth of food particles after eating, saliva also fights odor-causing bacteria. If your mouth is dry because you're not producing enough saliva, bacteria can grow and create a number of oral health problems, including bad breath. You may be able to relieve chronic dry mouth and accompanying bad breath by using saliva-boosting agents or drinking more water. You should also talk to your doctor about any medications you're taking that might interfere with saliva production.

It could be caused by disease. Tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease naturally give rise to bad breath—but so can other diseases like diabetes, cancer or respiratory infections. As you're dealing with these other conditions, you may also need to contend with bad breath as a side effect. You can help reduce any disease-based odors by keeping up your daily oral hygiene, especially if you're undergoing treatment for a systemic condition. Obtaining treatment, particularly if you have tooth decay or gum disease, will help reduce these embarrassing foul odors.

National Fresh Breath Day may not share the same pedestal with other momentous August dates, but if it reminds you to keep your mouth clean and see your dentist regularly, fresh breath certainly deserves its own day.

If you would like more information about the causes and remedies for bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing” and “Dry Mouth.”

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
June 24, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tmj disorders  
JawJointDisordersmaybeConnectedtoOtherHealthProblems

If you have chronic jaw pain, you may be one of an estimated 10 million Americans suffering from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). If so, it's quite possible you're also coping with other health conditions.

TMD is an umbrella term for disorders affecting the temporomandibular (jaw) joints, muscles and adjoining tissues. The most common symptoms are limited jaw function and severe pain. Determining the causes for these disorders can be difficult, but trauma, bite or dental problems, stress and teeth clenching habits seem to be the top factors. Women of childbearing age are most susceptible to these disorders.

In recent years we've also learned that many people with TMD also experience other conditions. In a recent survey of TMD patients, two-thirds reported having three or more other health conditions, the most frequent being fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or chronic headaches. Researchers are actively exploring if any systemic connections exist between TMD and these other conditions, and how these connections might affect treatment changes and advances for all of them including TMD.

In the meantime, there remain two basic approaches for treating TMD symptoms. The most aggressive and invasive approach is to surgically correct perceived defects in the jaw structure. Unfortunately, the results from this approach have been mixed in their effectiveness, with some patients even reporting worse symptoms afterward.

The more conservative approach is to treat TMD orthopedically, like other joint problems. These less invasive techniques include the use of moist heat or ice to reduce swelling, physical therapy and medication to relieve pain or reduce muscle spasming. Patients are also encouraged to adopt softer diets with foods that are easier to chew. And dentists can also provide custom-fitted bite guards to help ease the stress on the joints and muscles as well as reduce any teeth grinding habits.

As we learn more about TMD and its relationship to other health conditions, we hope to improve diagnosis and treatment. Until then, most dentists and physicians recommend TMD patients try the more conservative treatments first, and only consider surgery if this proves unsatisfactory. It may take some trial and error, but there are ways now to ease the discomfort of TMD.

If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of TMD, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
June 14, 2019
Category: Oral Health
Tags: x-rays  
HowDentistsProvideYourChildtheBenefitofX-RaysasSafelyasPossible

X-ray imaging is such an intricate part of dentistry, we usually don't think twice about it. Without it, though, the fight against dental disease would be much harder.

At the same time, we can't forget that x-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. It's that very quality and the difference in the absorption rate between denser bone and teeth and softer diseased tissue that makes disease diagnosis possible.

But this same penetrative power can potentially harm the tissues it passes through. For that reason when practicing any form of x-ray diagnostics, dentists follow a principle known as ALARA, an acronym for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable." In lay terms ALARA means getting the most benefit from x-rays that we can with the lowest dose and exposure time possible.

While practicing ALARA with x-rays is important for patients of any age, it's especially so for children who are more sensitive to radiological energy given their smaller size and anatomy. We can't use the same settings, dosages or exposure times with them as with an adult.

To protect children, dentists have developed techniques and protocols that lessen their exposure time and rate, while still providing usable images for diagnosing disease. The bitewing is a good example of safe and effective pediatric x-ray imaging.

A bitewing is a plastic device holding exposable film that patients bite down on and hold in their mouth while x-raying. The x-rays pass through the teeth and gums and expose the film behind them on the bitewing. Using a bitewing we can capture a set of two to four radiographs to give us a comprehensive view of the back teeth, while exposing the child less radiation than they normally receive daily from background environmental sources.

This and other advances in equipment and digital imaging greatly reduce the amount of radiation patients receive during x-rays. If, though, you're still concerned about your child's x-ray exposure, talk with your dentist who can explain in more detail the x-ray safety protocols they follow. Just like you, they want your child to be as safe as possible while still benefiting from the diagnostic power of x-rays.

If you would like more information on safety precautions using x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
March 26, 2019
Category: Oral Health
BeatDentalPlaqueWhileWearingBraceswithTheseToolsandTips

Wearing braces will probably never make your list of Most Pleasurable Life Experiences: you'll have to avoid certain foods and habits, endure some occasional discomfort, and perhaps feel some embarrassment about your appearance. The good news, though, is that at worst, these are mostly no more than inconveniences and additionally they're well worth the straighter, more attractive smile you'll achieve.

But there's one downside to braces that can lead to something more serious. The braces hardware makes brushing and flossing more difficult—and that could increase your risk of dental disease.

The principal goal of oral hygiene is to remove dental plaque, a thin film of accumulated bacteria and food particles that can cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Without effective brushing and flossing, plaque can build up quickly and make the chances of having either of these two diseases more likely.

Not only does the braces hardware hinder your toothbrush's or floss's access to the parts of the teeth it covers, but it can also create "hiding places" for plaque build-up. Several studies have found that braces wearers on average have up to two to three times the plaque build-up of non-braces wearers.

There are ways, though, to make hygiene easier while wearing braces, particularly with flossing. Floss threaders or interproximal brushes can both be used to access between teeth while wearing braces. Another option is a water flosser or irrigator that sprays pressurized water between teeth (and beneath brackets and wires) to remove plaque. And braces wearers can get a prevention boost with topical fluoride applications or antibacterial mouth rinses to reduce disease-causing bacteria.

Besides taking a little extra time with brushing and flossing, you can also boost your mouth's health with good nutrition choices, less sugar consumption and keeping up regular dental visits. And, you should also see your dentist promptly if you notice any signs of tooth or gum problems—the sooner you have it checked and treated, the less damage any dental disease is likely to cause.

It's not easy keeping your teeth and gums plaque-free while wearing braces. But with a little extra time and effort, a few helpful tools and your dentist's support, you can maintain a healthy mouth during orthodontic treatment.

If you would like more information on best hygiene practices 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 “Caring for Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
March 16, 2019
Category: Oral Health
DrTravisStorkDontIgnoreBleedingGums

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 all  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.”  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.