Morning tiredness, brain fog and snoring are just some of the indicators of a medical condition known as sleep apnea. And, it's worse than waking up on the wrong side of the bed—over time, sleep apnea could increase your risk for heart disease or other life-threatening conditions.
Sleep apnea occurs when air flow becomes restricted during sleep, usually by the tongue blocking the airway. As oxygen levels begin to fall, the brain signals the body to wake up to "fix" the air flow problem.
As this arousal may only last a second or two, you may not remember it when you awaken in the morning. But it can happen numerous times a night, depriving you of the deep sleep your body needs for rest and repair.
Fortunately, there are ways to treat sleep apnea. In extreme instances, you may need surgery to correct anatomical defects causing the condition. For most cases, though, the most common treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which consists of a portable pump delivering pressurized air through a face mask that keeps the throat open while you sleep.
Used by millions of patients, CPAP can be quite effective. Some patients, though, feel uncomfortable using a CPAP machine for various reasons. If you're one of those unhappy CPAP campers or you would like to consider a possible alternative, your dentist might have the answer: oral appliance therapy (OAT).
An OAT device is worn in the mouth during sleep to prevent the tongue from falling back against the back of the throat and blocking the airway. There are various forms of OAT appliances, but they're all custom-made by a dentist to fit an individual patient's mouth. They work best for mild to moderate sleep apnea in which the tongue is the primary culprit in airway blockage.
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you should undergo a complete examination by a doctor or dentist to confirm it. If you've been diagnosed with mild to moderate sleep apnea, talk to your dentist about an OAT device. You may find OAT can provide you the relief you need for a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on oral treatments for sleep apnea, 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 “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”
Advanced decay doesn't necessarily mean it's curtains for an infected tooth. Millions of teeth in that condition have been saved by a tried and true procedure called root canal therapy.
Although they may vary according to the complexity of a case, all root canal procedures share some similarities. After numbing the tooth and gum areas with local anesthesia, the procedure begins with a small hole drilled into the tooth to access the infected pulp and root canals, tiny passageways inside the root.
The dentist then uses special instruments to clear out infected tissue from the pulp and canals, followed by thoroughly sanitizing the resulting empty spaces. This is followed with filling the pulp chamber and root canals with a rubber-like substance (gutta percha) to seal the interior of the tooth from further infection. Later, the dentist typically crowns the tooth for further protection and support.
Root canals have become the standard treatment for teeth with advanced decay. There are, however, some circumstances where performing a root canal isn't a good idea. For example, a previously root-canaled tooth with a crown and supporting post. A dentist would need to fully disassemble the restoration to gain access into the tooth, which could significantly weaken it.
But there may be another option if a standard root canal is out of the picture: a surgical procedure performed by an endodontist (a specialist in interior tooth treatment) called an apicoectomy. Instead of drilling through the tooth crown, the endodontist accesses the tooth root through the adjacent gum tissue.
Like a traditional root canal, the procedure begins by anesthetizing the tooth and surrounding gums. The endodontist then makes a small incision through the gums to expose the diseased tissues at the tooth's root. After removing the infected tissue and a few millimeters of the root tip, they place a small filling to seal the end of the root canal against infection and suture the gum incision.
This is a specialized procedure that requires the state-of-the-art equipment and advanced techniques of an endodontist. But it does provide another possible option for saving a diseased tooth that might otherwise be lost.
If you would like more information on treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Apicoectomy: A surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
As summer wanes, thousands of high school grads will begin the new adventure called college. For many of these "freshmen," it will also be their first taste of true independence—mom and dad and the guidance they normally provide will be far away.
This is generally a good thing. But there are also consequences to making (or not making) your own choices that can have long-lasting effects, some of which may not be pleasant. For example, neglecting teeth and gum care could disrupt oral health (as well as overall health) for years or even decades to come.
As your newly minted college student sets off on their new academic journey, be sure that among the advice you give them are these 3 important dental care habits.
Brush and floss daily. It's important to stress that among the things of childhood to leave behind, oral hygiene isn't one of them. Dental disease is mainly caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing greatly reduces disease risk. It's a top priority, even with a hectic college schedule.
Eat "tooth-friendly." That hectic schedule may also tempt them to grab whatever food is quick and available. Unfortunately, such food isn't always the healthiest, especially for teeth and gums. Foods and snacks loaded with sugar are especially perilous to oral health—sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Healthier food choices contribute to healthier teeth and gums.
Avoid bad habits. The exhilaration of new independence can lead to a flurry of bad habits, some of which could affect teeth and gum health. Using tobacco increases the risk of dental disease and oral cancer. Wearing lip piercings or tongue jewelry may cause tooth damage. And certain forms of unprotected sex raise the chances of viral infection and an increased risk of oral cancer.
College can be an exciting adventure. But there are pitfalls along the way, especially for oral health. Advising your college student to follow these tips will help ensure their teeth and gums stay healthy beyond graduation.
If you would like more information on ways to keep your student's teeth and gums healthy, 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 “10 Health Tips For College Students.”
Your gums don't just attractively frame your teeth—they protect them as well. If they shrink back (recede) from their normal covering, portions of the teeth could become exposed to bacteria and other hazards.
Unlike the visible crown, which is protected by enamel, the tooth root depends largely on the gums as a shield against bacteria and other hazards. When the gums recede, it exposes the roots and makes them more susceptible to disease or trauma. It may also cause sensitivity to hot and cold foods as the now exposed dentin gets the full brunt of temperature and pressure sensations once muffled by the gums.
There are actually a number of causes for gum recession. In rare cases, a tooth may not have erupted normally within its bony housing, which inhibits the gums from covering it fully. Thinner gum tissues, passed down genetically, are also more susceptible to recession. And a person can even damage their gums and cause them to recede if they brush too aggressively.
The most common cause, though, is advanced periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection arises from dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, usually because of poor hygiene practices. As the infection and resulting inflammation in the gums worsens, they lose their attachment to teeth resulting in a number of harmful outcomes that include recession.
The first step then in treating gum recession is to treat the underlying problem as much as possible. In the case of gum disease, effective treatment could stop mild to moderate recession and sometimes reverse it. For more extensive recession, a patient may need gum grafting surgery to help regenerate lost gum tissue.
You can help prevent gum disease, and thus lower your risk for recession, with daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque. Likewise, see your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque).
You should also visit your dentist promptly if you notice swollen or bleeding gums, or more of your teeth surfaces showing. The earlier your dentist diagnoses and begins treatment for gum recession, the better your chances for a healthy and more attractive outcome.
If you would like more information on maintaining good gum health, 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 “Gum Recession.”
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