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AstheNewYearBeginsHeresaFreshLookattheEffectsofAlcoholonYourOralHealth

Throughout much of the world, January 1st signifies the first day of a brand new year. It's also commemorated by many as National Hangover Day—aptly so, as scores of New Year's Eve celebrants spend the day nursing their headaches and upset stomachs. It may also be an appropriate time to assess the health impact of alcohol—especially on your teeth and gums.

First, the bad news is that immoderate alcohol consumption increases your risk for tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer. One of the reasons why has to do with sugar found in varying amounts in alcoholic beverages, often included during brewing or distilling to feed the yeast that produce the alcohol. Sugar is a primary food for oral bacteria, which can infect the gums and produce enamel-eroding acid, a prelude to both gum disease and tooth decay.

Along the same lines, alcoholic beverages are often paired with mixers, many of which like sodas and energy drinks contain sugar and high levels of acid. A mixed drink could thus contribute to an even more hostile environment for teeth and gums.

The frequency of your alcohol consumption may also contribute to enamel erosion. Ordinarily, saliva can neutralize oral acid in about thirty minutes to an hour. But saliva can't keep up if you're drinking one round after another, leading to sustained periods of acid contact with the teeth.

Alcohol—or specifically, too much—may also contribute to oral problems. Being under the influence increases your risk for tripping, falling and, shall we say, engaging in fisticuffs, any of which could result in traumatized teeth and gums. And, heavy drinking over a lifetime could increase your risk for oral cancer.

You could avoid these and other outcomes by abstaining from alcohol altogether. But if you do like the occasional wine, beer or spirit, here are a few tips to lower the risk of harm to your mouth, teeth or gums.

Limit your daily consumption. A rule of thumb, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to have no more than two drinks a day if you're a man, one if you're a woman.

Pause between drinks. Rather than downing one drink after another, wait at least an hour before your next round to allow saliva to neutralize any accumulated mouth acid.

Go easy on mixers. While it's fine to indulge in the occasional Old Fashioned or Margarita, choose unmixed beverages like beer, wine or straight spirits more often.

Brush and floss afterward. After a night on the town, don't turn in until you've cleaned your teeth and gums of any residual sugar or acid.

If you would like more information about how alcohol could affect your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition—It's Role in General and Oral Health.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
January 17, 2022
Category: Oral Health
Tags: thumb sucking  
LateThumb-SuckingCouldCauseBiteProblems

Of the many concerns pediatric healthcare providers hear from parents, thumb-sucking is definitely on the short list. Such a worry isn't totally unwarranted—persistent thumb-sucking could influence poor bite formation.

But if you have an infant or toddler who can't seem to keep their thumb out of their mouth, there's no need to panic—yet. Thumb-sucking is a nearly universal habit among young children, but the vast majority won't suffer any long-term harm from it.

That being said, though, it can become a problem if the habit continues on into late childhood, especially as permanent teeth begin to come in. That's because of the habit's relationship with the transition that occurs in child's swallowing patterns.

Babies initially thrust their tongue forward as they swallow, which helps them maintain a seal on the breast or bottle. This causes the jaws to remain partially open and not completely shut together, what's known as an open bite. Later, when weaning off milk for solid food, the pattern will change as the child begins moving the tongue down and away as they swallow. This in turn allows the jaws to completely shut.

Thumb-sucking often coincides with the initial infant swallowing pattern, and it usually fades about the time the child is moving into the more adult pattern. Persistent thumb-sucking, however, interferes with that process, essentially extending the open bite longer than normal, which in turn creates the conditions for poor bite development. Thumb-sucking can also put undue upward pressure on the front teeth, which could disrupt their alignment.

If thumb-sucking causes these conditions to develop, a child could eventually need extensive orthodontic treatment later in childhood or adolescence to correct their bite problems. The better course, though, is to avoid this by encouraging your child to end their finger-sucking habit, preferably by the age of 3.

It was common in years past to coat a child's thumb with something spicy that although not harmful was definitely not pleasant to taste. Today, most care providers recommend a more positive approach like offering praise or rewards to a child when they avoid sucking their thumb.

It may take time, but persistence and patience can win out. And, the biggest winner in ending thumb-sucking will be the child's long-term oral health.

If you would like more information on the dental effects of thumb-sucking, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
January 12, 2022
Category: Oral Health
Tags: gum disease  
TheFirstStepToBeatingGumDiseaseIsUnderstandingHowItStarts

If you're over thirty, you have a fifty-fifty chance of contracting gum disease and your odds worsen as you get older. But your fate isn't sealed, especially if you know what to do to prevent this harmful disease.

But before we discuss your prevention strategy, let's look first at oral bacteria, the basic cause for gum disease. Although most bacterial strains in your mouth are benign or even beneficial, a few can infect your gums. And, the more of them there are in your mouth, the higher your risk for infection.

These bacteria multiply with the help of a sticky biofilm called dental plaque, providing them a ready source of food and shelter. Plaque and its hardened form tartar accumulate daily on dental surfaces, particularly if you don't practice daily brushing and flossing.

Once a gum infection begins, the body unleashes an inflammatory response to isolate the infected tissues from healthy ones. As a result, the gums can become swollen and reddened, and may easily bleed. If you see signs like these, you should seek treatment as soon as possible to stop the infection's advance.

And, advance it will, spreading ever deeper into the gums until it threatens the supporting bone. At this point, with the gums becoming detached from the teeth and the bone compromised, the affected teeth could be in imminent danger of loss.

These basic disease processes underscore the importance of one thing—the daily removal of bacterial plaque through brushing and flossing. The bacteria that cause disease don't thrive well in an environment devoid of plaque.

But even if you're diligent about your hygiene, you may still miss some plaque; this can then calcify into tartar, which is likely impossible to remove with brushing and flossing. That's why you need dental cleanings at least every six months to remove stubborn tartar and any lingering plaque.

Regular dental visits also increase your chances of early gum disease detection. The earlier we're able to diagnose and start treating an infection, the better the outcome.

Gum disease can begin and advance quickly, sometimes without you noticing. But daily brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings and prompt attention at the first sign of trouble can help you stay ahead of this harmful disease.

If you would like more information on preventing 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
January 07, 2022
Category: Oral Health
AMinorProcedureCouldHelpanInfantWithThisNursingProblem

Newborns come into the world eager and ready to partake of their mother's milk. But an anatomical quirk with some infants could make breastfeeding more difficult for them.

The structure in question is a frenum, a tiny band of tissue connecting softer parts of the mouth with firmer parts, like the upper lip to the gums, and the tongue to the floor of the mouth. If they're abnormally short, thick or tight, however, the baby might find it difficult to obtain a good seal around the mother's nipple.

Without that seal, the baby has a difficult time drawing milk out of the breast and as a result, they may attempt to compensate by chewing on the nipple. The sad outcome is often continuing hunger and frustration for the baby, and pain for the mother.

To alleviate this problem, a physician can clip the frenum to loosen it. Known as a frenotomy, (or a frenectomy or frenuplasty, depending on the exact actions taken), it's a minor procedure a doctor can perform in their office.

It begins with the doctor deadening the area with a numbing gel or injected anesthesia. After a few minutes to allow the anesthesia to take effect, they clip the frenum with surgical scissors or with a laser (there's usually little to no bleeding with the latter).

Once the frenum has been clipped, the baby should be able to nurse right away. However, they may have a learning curve to using the now freed-up parts of their mouth to obtain a solid seal while nursing.

Abnormal frenums that interfere with nursing are usually treated as soon as possible. But even if it isn't impeding breastfeeding, an abnormal frenum could eventually interfere with other functions like speech development, or it could foster the development of a gap between the front teeth. It may be necessary, then, to revisit the frenum at an older age and treat it at that time.

Although technically a surgical procedure, frenotomies are minor and safe to perform on newborns. Their outcome, though, can be transformative, allowing a newborn to gain the full nourishment and emotional bonding they need while breastfeeding.

If you would like more information on tongue or lip ties, 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.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
January 02, 2022
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: dental implants  
AnImplantCouldFailifSupportingStructuresBecomeDiseased

From an appearance standpoint, it might be difficult to tell a new dental implant and crown from a natural tooth. There is, however, one big difference between an implant and crown from a real tooth, one which could impact an implant's longevity: how each attach to the jaw.

A natural tooth is held in place by a tough, but elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and the bone, extending out tiny fibers that attach to both. This holds the teeth firmly in place, while also allowing the tooth to gradually move in response to mouth changes. It also facilitates the delivery of infection-fighting agents to protect the teeth and gums against disease.

By contrast, an implant is imbedded in a prepared channel shaped into the jaw bone. Over time, bone cells grow and adhere to the titanium surface, which serves to fully secure the implant to the jaw. The periodontal ligament doesn't attach to the implant, so it relies solely for stability on its attachment to the bone.

Thus, although highly durable, implants don't share the properties real teeth have because of their connection with the periodontal ligament. They don't move dynamically like real teeth; and more importantly, they lack some of the disease-fighting resources available to natural teeth.

So, what difference would the latter make? Implants aren't composed of organic material, and are therefore unaffected by bacterial infection. The problem, though, is that the gums and bone supporting the implant are susceptible to disease. And, because an implant lacks the defenses of a real tooth that the periodontal ligament provides, an infection within these tissues could quickly undermine their support and cause the implant to fail.

To avoid this and protect the longevity of your implant, it's important that you practice daily oral hygiene. You should brush and floss your implant to clear away disease-causing plaque from the surrounding tissues just as you do natural teeth.

Your dental provider will also include cleaning around your implants during your regular visits, albeit with different tools that are more protective of the implant and crown surfaces. During these visits they'll also closely inspect the tissues around the implant for any signs of infection and initiate prompt treatment if necessary.

If you would like more information on taking care of your implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance.”





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