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Posts for category: Oral Health

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
December 31, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   bad breath  
DontLetBadBreathRuinYourDateUndertheMistletoe

Most of us have no clue how the ancient holiday tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originated—but it sure doesn't stop us from keeping the tradition alive! Yet although eager to join a certain someone under the hanging twig, you still might hesitate to apply the old smackeroo out of fear your breath isn't as fresh as it should be.

Bad breath has tormented us humans long before we started osculating (kissing) under trimmings of viscum album (the scientific name for mistletoe). Our resulting discomfort has inspired a myriad of remedies, from ancient Egyptian toothpastes containing natron (also used in embalming mummies) to 19th Century American breath mints made of ingredients like cardamom, essence of rose and licorice root.

Today, we're much better at relieving common bad breath because we've uncovered its primary source: bits of food and mucus accompanied by oral bacteria on undisturbed areas the mouth, particularly the tongue. As the debris interacts with the bacteria, it releases chemical compounds called VSCs (volatile sulfur compounds) that emit a classic rotten egg smell.

The key then is to remove the source of these VSCs. You might think that means doing a better job of brushing and flossing, and you're right. But it can involve more.

Keeping your tongue clean. Since the tongue is a prime collecting point for debris and bacteria, it makes sense to keep it clean. That might simply mean brushing its surface when you brush your teeth. You might, however, benefit from using a tongue scraper if you have more stubborn accumulations.

Maintaining your dentures. These and other dental appliances can accumulate food debris that if not removed can cause a “stink.” You should clean dentures daily using a denture cleaner or mild antibacterial soap and then rinse them off thoroughly. It also helps to take them out at bedtime.

Seeking dental care. Another source of bad breath could be tooth decay or gum disease, or even older dental work in need of repair. Treating these and other conditions (like an oral yeast infection) not only improves your dental health, it could do wonders for your breath.

There are also other sources of foul breath unrelated to the mouth—and some can be serious diseases like diabetes, cancer or lung infections. If your chronic bad breath doesn't respond to your hygiene efforts, it's a good idea to get checked medically.

Now as to holiday traditions, we can't help you maneuver your prospective sweetheart under the mistletoe with you—you're on your own, pal (or gal). But by following these tips for sound oral care, we're sure you'll have the “fresh breath” confidence to follow through from there.

If you would like more information about eliminating chronic bad breath, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
December 20, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: dry socket  
HowtoAvoidThisPainfulConditionAfterToothExtraction

Dentists and oral surgeons remove millions of teeth every year, most without any adverse aftereffects. But about 2% of patients experience a dry socket, a condition that, although not dangerous to health, can be quite painful.

Also known as alveolar osteitis, a dry socket occurs when the blood clot that normally forms right after extraction doesn't form or becomes lost later. The clot serves as a barrier for the underlying bone and nerves during the healing process; without it these tissues can become irritated from contact with air, food or fluids.

Dry sockets (which usually occur in the back, lower molars) are fortunately rare, mainly in patients over 25, smokers or women using oral contraceptives. Patients also have a higher risk of developing a dry socket if they attempt certain activities too soon after tooth extraction like vigorous chewing or brushing that may dislodge the protective clot.

You can reduce your chances of a dry socket after a tooth extraction with a few simple guidelines. Unless advised otherwise by your dentist, avoid brushing the day after extraction and gently rinse the mouth instead. It also helps to avoid hot liquids and eat softer foods for a few days. If you smoke, you should avoid smoking during this time and use a nicotine patch if necessary.

Over the next few days, you should remain alert for any signs of a dry socket, often a dull, throbbing pain that radiates outward toward the ears, and a bad taste or mouth odor. A prompt visit to the dentist will help alleviate these symptoms, often in just a few minutes.

To treat it, a dentist will typically irrigate the socket and apply a medicated dressing, which you would need to change every other day for up to a week. After that, you'll leave the dressing in place for a while as you heal.

A dry socket doesn't interfere with the healing process: Your extraction site will heal whether or not you have one. But prevention and treatment for a dry socket will help ensure your healing after an extracted tooth is much less uncomfortable.

If you would like more information on dry socket after tooth extraction, 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 “Dry Socket.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
December 10, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
4ThingsYouCanDoToProtectOralHealthDuringCancerTreatment

Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.

If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.

Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.

Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.

Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.

Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.

It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.

If you would like more information on dental care during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
December 05, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition  
KeepaLidonSugarThisHolidayforHealthierTeethandGums

During this time of year, many of us dust off traditional family recipes and make our favorite holiday treats. There is, however, a small price to pay for all that nostalgic goodness in the shape of a few extra pounds to deal with in the new year. We may also be increasing the risk for something even more unpleasant: tooth decay.

The main cause, of course, is a certain carbohydrate integral to many holiday goodies: sugar.  We humans love it, but so do oral bacteria that readily devour any sugar lingering in our mouth after eating. This fuels bacterial reproduction, which in turn increases the production of acid that softens tooth enamel.

There are a number of strategies you can follow to reduce this effect. You can remove sugar completely from your holiday preparations—and risk family and friends “voting you off the island.” Or, you can try these tips for easing the impact of holiday sugar on your dental health.

Look for ways to reduce sugar. Just because you're not throwing the sugar bowl out the window doesn't mean you have to go all out using it. Instead, try to modify older recipes (or look for newer versions) to decrease the amount of sugar in candies and baked goods. You may also consider alternative sweeteners like sucralose that tolerate high baking temperatures.

Balance savory with sweet. Not all holiday treats need to be sweet—you can add items that take advantage of more savory seasonings. For example, try offering up popcorn with a sprinkling of cinnamon or other holiday spice, or a creative assortment of cheeses (which in turn promote saliva flow to neutralize acid).

Combine treats with mealtimes. Continuous snacking may be part of the holiday tradition, but it can also raise the risk for tooth decay. Acidity increases when we eat, but saliva normally neutralizes it within thirty minutes to an hour. However, saliva can get overwhelmed during continuous snacking, resulting in longer periods of high acidity that damages tooth enamel. Instead, try to combine snack times with mealtimes.

Don't neglect your oral hygiene. Even though things can get hectic during the holidays, make a point of keeping up daily brushing and flossing. Regular hygiene keeps dental plaque, a thin film of harmful bacteria and food particles (including sugar), from building up on your teeth. Reducing plaque lowers your overall decay risk. Attention to oral health through your day-to-day dental hygiene routine along with regular professional cleanings and checkups is the best thing you can do to avoid dental disease.

The holidays should be a joyous time for you and your family. They can also be a healthy time for your teeth and gums, if you minimize the role of sugar in your holiday treats.

If you would like more information about boosting your dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”

By Dr. Mark C. Pothitakis
November 30, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth pain  
TheKindofToothPainYouHaveMayIdentifytheTrueProblem

Pain can tell you things. Not verbally, of course, as in, “Hey, your appendix is inflamed!” But the quality of your pain—dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, acute or general—can point the way to the actual problem.

That's especially true of tooth pain, which could signal any number of dental problems. Looking at its characteristics, though, can narrow the search. Here are a few examples.

Sharp, momentary pain. This could be an indication of a number of possible dental problems. If it occurs for a few seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold, it might signal a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling or early signs of gum recession. The latter could be a symptom of periodontal (gum) disease, so you should seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

Sharp pain when biting. Like tooth sensitivity, this could be a sign of decay or a loose filling, or it could indicate a fractured (cracked) tooth. If it's the latter, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth problems, if you want the best chance for saving the tooth.

Dull ache in upper teeth. This might not be a dental problem at all, but radiating pain from an infection of the sinus just above the upper posterior teeth. The infection could also have begun with one of the molar teeth and advanced into the sinus. You'll need to see your dentist for any teeth or gums involved and possibly a physician to address any potential sinus infection.

Constant throbbing pain. That horrible toothache that won't stop could be the nerves in the tooth's interior under attack from decay. The primary means for saving a tooth with deep decay is a root canal treatment to clean out diseased tissue and replace it with a filling or a crown. You should see a dentist even if the pain suddenly subsides—this may only mean the nerves have died, but the infection is still active.

These are just a few of the problems, including true dental emergencies, that oral pain can signal. For any instance of pain in your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible.

If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it might indicate, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!