May 9-15 is National Women's Health Week, which begins each year on Mother's Day. It's an important opportunity to focus on the unique health challenges women face, and ways to better meet those challenges. Among the many health aspects that deserve attention, one of the most important is the health of a woman's teeth and gums over the course of her life.
Although preventing and treating dental disease remains a primary focus throughout life, women do face a number of different situations during various life stages that often require additional attention. Here are 3 such life moments for a woman that may give rise to oral and dental problems.
Adolescence. The changes that occur in their physical bodies as girls enter puberty may make their gums more sensitive to bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that forms on teeth. This can cause painful swelling, a condition that may become even more acute if they wear braces. To counteract this, it's important for girls in their teens to not neglect daily brushing and flossing to remove excess plaque, and to make regular dental visits at least every six months.
Pregnancy. Each of the estimated 40 million U.S. women who have given birth share a common experience—they've all undergone the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Such changes can adversely affect dental health: The hormonal shifts, and the sugar cravings that often accompany them, increase the risk for dental disease, especially gum infections. As with adolescence, daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits (as well as a healthy diet) are important for staying a step ahead of possible tooth decay or gum disease.
Menopause. Women in menopause or who have passed through it can encounter new oral problems. Persistent dry mouth caused by a lack of adequate saliva flow, for example, can cause irritation and significantly increase the risk of dental disease. Osteoporosis and some medications for its treatment could also interfere with dental care. Besides daily oral hygiene, older women can ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters or drinking more water. They should also work with their physicians to minimize any oral effects from their medications.
Many aspects of dental care remain constant regardless of a woman's season of life. Daily oral hygiene should be a lifetime habit, as well as seeing a dentist at least twice a year. But there are times when a unique stage of life requires something more—and it's always better to be proactive rather than reactive in meeting new challenges to oral health.
Fermented and distilled beverages have been a part of human culture for millennia. They help us celebrate the joys of life and the companionship of family and friends. But alcohol also has a darker side, if over-consumed: a cause for many social ills, a vehicle for addiction and a contributor to “unwell” being. The latter is particularly true when it comes to oral health.
April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, a time when advocates, public officials and healthcare providers call attention to the negative effects that alcohol can have on society at large and on individuals in particular. In regard to oral health, here are a few ways alcohol might cause problems for your mouth, teeth and gums.
Bad breath. Although not a serious health problem (though it can be a sign of one), halitosis or bad breath can damage your self-confidence and interfere with your social relationships. For many, bad breath is a chronic problem, and too much alcohol consumption can make it worse. Limiting alcohol may be a necessary part of your breath management strategy.
Dry mouth. Having a case of “cottonmouth” may involve more than an unpleasant sensation—if your mouth is constantly dry, you're more likely to experience tooth decay or gum disease. Chronic dry mouth is a sign you're not producing enough saliva, which you need to neutralize acid and fight oral bacteria. Heavy alcohol consumption can make your dry mouth worse.
Dental work. Drinking alcohol soon after an invasive dental procedure can complicate your recovery. Alcohol has an anticoagulant effect on blood, making it harder to slow or stop post-operative bleeding that may occur with incisions or sutures. It's best to avoid alcohol (as well as tobacco) for at least 72 hours after any invasive dental procedure.
Oral cancer. Oral cancer is an especially deadly disease with only a 57% five-year survival rate. Moderate to heavy alcohol drinkers have anywhere from 3 to 9 times the risk of contracting cancer than non-drinkers—and generally the higher the alcohol content, the higher the risk. As with other factors like tobacco, the less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk for oral cancer.
Given its risks to both health and well-being, many people refrain from alcohol altogether. If you do choose to drink, the American Cancer Society and other health organizations recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. Being responsible with alcohol will enhance both the overall quality of your life and your oral health.
If you would like more information about the effect of alcohol and other substances on oral health, please contact us schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Ashley Graham has a beautiful and valuable smile—an important asset to her bustling career as a plus-size model and television host. But she recently revealed on Instagram a “confrontation” between one of her teeth and a frozen oatmeal cookie. The cookie won.
Holding her hand over her mouth during the video until the last moment, Graham explained how she sneaked a cookie from her mom's freezer and took a bite of the frozen treat. Taking her hand from her mouth, she revealed her broken tooth.
Okay, maybe it wasn't an actual tooth that was broken: the denticle in question appeared to have been previously altered to accommodate a porcelain veneer or crown. But whatever was once there wasn't there anymore.
Although her smile was restored without too much fuss, Graham's experience is still a cautionary tale for anyone with dental work (and kudos to her for being a good sport and sharing it). Although dental work in general is quite durable, it is not immune to damage. Biting down on something hard, even as delicious as one of mom's frozen oatmeal cookies, could run you the risk of popping off a veneer or loosening a crown.
To paraphrase an old saying: Take care of your dental work, and it will take care of you. Don't use your teeth in ways that put your dental work at risk, tempting as it may be given your mouth's mechanical capabilities.
Even so, it's unwise—both for dental work and for natural teeth—to use your teeth and jaws for tasks like cracking nuts or prying open containers. You should also avoid biting into foods or substances with hard textures like ice or a rock-hard cookie from the freezer, especially if you have veneers or other cosmetic improvements.
It's equally important to clean your mouth daily, and undergo professional cleanings at least twice a year. That might not seem so important at first since disease-causing organisms won't infect your dental work's nonliving materials. But infection can wreak havoc on natural tissues like gums, remaining teeth or underlying bone that together often support dental enhancements. Losing that support could lead to losing your dental work.
And it's always a good idea to have dental work, particularly dentures, checked regularly. Conditions in the mouth can change, sometimes without you noticing them, so periodic examinations by a trained dental provider could prevent or treat a problem before it adversely affects your dental work.
We're glad Ashley Graham's trademark smile wasn't permanently harmed by that frozen cookie, and yours probably wouldn't be either in a similar situation. But don't take any chances, and follow these common sense tips for protecting your dental work.
If you would like more information on care and maintenance of cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before” and “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen died last fall after a long battle with oral cancer, another in a long line of performers, athletes, politicians and other well-known personalities with this serious form of cancer. But household names like Van Halen are just the tip of the iceberg: Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
Although not as common as other malignancies (around 2.5% of total cancers), oral cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at a dismal 57%. Part of the reason for this has been the longstanding difficulty detecting it in its earlier stages: Early signs are easy to miss or mistake for a benign sore. As a result, it's often diagnosed after advancing significantly, complicating treatment efforts.
To improve survivability, the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to better educate people on this deadly disease. Here are 3 things you can do to prevent oral cancer or improve your survival odds if you encounter it.
Know your individual risk factors. Some risk factors for oral cancer are out of your control—for example, your risk may be higher if you're a male over 40, or if you're African-American. But there are also factors you can control like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption or a poor diet, all of which can elevate your cancer risk. You can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes for factors you can control and prioritizing cancer screening if you have factors that you can't.
Pay attention to oral “oddities.” A small mouth sore or patch of odd-looking skin may be nothing—or it may be the beginning of oral cancer. If you do notice something unusual, especially if it seems to linger beyond a couple of weeks, have us examine it as soon as possible. If it does appear suspicious, you may need to undergo a biopsy, a cancer analysis of the suspected tissue. If it is cancerous, an early diagnosis could improve your outcome.
Visit your dentist regularly. There's more to semi-annual dental visits than teeth cleaning. Regular dental visits are an important component in your “early warning system” for oral cancer—we may notice something suspicious during your regular visit, often before you do. If you're older or have other risk factors for oral cancer, we can expand your regular exam to include a comprehensive cancer screening.
Oral cancer is a serious matter. But taking steps to prevent it and staying alert to its warning signs can help you overcome it.
Narcotics have long played an important role in easing severe pain caused by disease, trauma or treatment. Healthcare professionals, including dentists, continue to prescribe them as a matter of course.
But narcotics are also addictive and can be dangerous if abused. Although addictions often arise from using illegal drugs like heroin, they can begin with prescriptive narcotics like morphine or oxycodone that were initially used by patients for legitimate reasons.
As a result, many healthcare providers are looking for alternatives to narcotics and new protocols for pain management. This has led to an emerging approach among dentists to use non-addictive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as their first choice for pain management, reserving narcotics for more acute situations.
Routinely used by the public to reduce mild to moderate pain, NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin have also been found to be effective for managing pain after many dental procedures or minor surgeries. NSAIDs also have fewer side effects than narcotics, and most can be obtained without a prescription.
Dentists have also found that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen can greatly increase the pain relief effect. As such, they can be used for many more after-care situations for which narcotics would have been previously prescribed. Using combined usage, dentists can further limit the use of narcotics to only the most severe pain situations.
Research from the early 2010s backs up this new approach. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that patients receiving this combined ibuprofen/acetaminophen usage fared better than those only receiving either one individually. The method could also match the relief power of narcotics in after care for a wide range of procedures.
The NSAID approach is growing in popularity, but it hasn't yet displaced the first-line use of narcotics by dental professionals. The hesitancy to adopt the newer approach is fueled as much by patients, who worry it won't be as adequate as narcotics to manage their pain after dental work, as with dentists.
But as more patients experience effective results after dental work with NSAIDs alone, the new approach should gain even more momentum. And in the end, it promises to be a safer way to manage pain.
If you would like more information on dental pain management, 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 “Are Opioids (Narcotics) the Best Way to Manage Dental Pain?”
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