Posts for category: Oral Health

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
December 31, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   nutrition  
3ThingsYouCanDotoKeepHolidaySweetsFromInterferingWithYourDentalHealth

In his iconic poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Clement Moore wrote of children sleeping "while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads." Indeed, sweet treats are still interwoven into the holidays—and a prime reason why we tend to put on pounds during the season. It may also be why your next dental visit might come with some unpleasant news.

The starring actors in much of traditional holiday snacking and feasting are naturally-occurring or added sugars. Carbohydrates like refined sugar in particular can dramatically affect your dental health if you over-consume them, because they can feed the bacteria that causes both tooth decay and gum disease.

There are ways, though, to reduce their impact on your teeth and gums. You can, of course, go "cold turkey" and cut refined sugar out completely, as well as curtail other carbohydrates like refined flours and fruit. It's effective, but not much fun—and what are the holidays without fun?

More in line with "moderation in all things," there are other ways to minimize the impact of carbohydrates on your teeth and gums during the holiday season. Here are a few of them.

Limit refined sugar. While you and your family may not be up for banning sugar during the holidays, you can reduce it significantly. For instance, prepare more savory items rather than the sweeter kinds. If you must go for sweet, opt for naturally occurring sugars in fruit or dairy rather than refined table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Eat sweet treats with meals. Constant snacking often comes with the holiday season. And, why not—all those abundant goodies are just begging to be eaten. But noshing all the time never allows your mouth's saliva, which neutralizes the enamel-eroding acid produced by the bacteria fueled by sugar, a chance to finish its buffering. Instead, try as much as possible to limit treats to mealtimes.

Use different sweeteners. There are a number of alternative sweeteners to regular sugar, both natural and artificial. Some work better in baked goods, while others are more suitable for candies or beverages. Xylitol in particular, a sugar alcohol, actually discourages oral bacterial growth. You can also use natural sweetening agents like stevia or erythritol to help reduce refined sugar in your treats.

Even if you normally limit carbohydrates, it's understandable if their consumption rises during the holidays. That's why it's important you don't neglect daily brushing and flossing to help control bacterial plaque, the main driver for dental disease. Both effective oral hygiene and reining in the sweets will help your teeth and gums sail through the holidays into the new year.

If you would like more information about protecting your oral health during the holidays, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
December 21, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: teeth grinding  
GetAheadofTeethGrindingtoAvoidHarmtoYourTeeth

We like to think we're more prone to stress in our modern, fast-paced world than those who lived in "simpler" times, but a finding from the recent discovery of Richard the III's remains in England suggests differently. Investigators noted the king had well-worn teeth, perhaps from grinding them out of stress.

We can't be sure this was the cause for the king's dental problems, or if teeth grinding was common in the 15th Century. But we are sure the problem exists today among adults.

Tooth grinding is the grinding, gnashing or clenching of teeth involuntarily when not engaged in regular dental functions like eating or speaking. It can occur while a person is awake, but most often while they're asleep.

The habit regularly occurs in children, but is not considered a major problem as most outgrow it by adolescence, usually with no lingering damage. Not so with adults: Because the habit generates abnormally high biting forces, teeth grinding can lead to accelerated tooth wear. It can also weaken teeth, making them more susceptible to fracture or disease.

People who grind their teeth will typically awaken with sore jaws or the complaints of family members about the loud chattering noise emitted during an episode. If you suspect a problem, you should see your dentist for a definitive diagnosis, and to learn how to reduce its occurrence and effects.

Treatments for the habit vary depending on underlying causes. They may involve lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco, limiting alcohol or altering your use of certain drugs or medications.  Because stress is often a major factor, learning better relaxation techniques through meditation, group therapy or biofeedback may also help reduce teeth grinding.

These treatments, though, can take time, so you may also need ways to minimize the effects of the habit in the meantime. One of those ways is for your dentist to create an occlusal guard that you wear while you sleep. The guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact, thus reducing the potential biting forces.

It's important, then, to see your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect you're grinding your teeth. Finding out as early as possible and then taking positive steps to stop or reduce its effect can save your teeth from a good deal of harm.

If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
December 11, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay  
RecurringSinusInfectionsCouldBeaSignofToothDecay

It seems like every year you make at least one trip to the doctor for a sinus infection. You might blame it on allergies or a "bug" floating around, but it could be caused by something else: tooth decay.

We're referring to an advanced form of tooth decay, which has worked its way deep into the pulp and root canals of a tooth. And, it could have an impact on your sinuses if the tooth in question is a premolar or molar in the back of the upper jaw.

These particular teeth are located just under the maxillary sinus, a large, open space behind your cheek bones. In some people, these teeth's roots can extend quite close to the sinus floor, or may even extend through it.

It's thus possible for an infection in such a tooth to spread from the tip of the roots into the maxillary sinus. Unbeknownst to you, the infection could fester within the tooth for years, occasionally touching off a sinus infection.

Treating with antibiotics may relieve the sinus infection, but it won't reach the bacteria churning away inside the tooth, the ultimate cause for the infection. Until you address the decay within the tooth, you could keep getting the occasional sinus infection.

Fortunately, we can usually treat this interior tooth decay with a tried and true method called root canal therapy. Known simply as a "root canal," this procedure involves drilling a hole into the tooth to access the infected tissue in the pulp and root canals. After removing the diseased tissue and disinfecting the empty spaces, we fill the pulp and root canals and then seal and crown the tooth to prevent future infection.

Because sinus infections could be a sign of a decayed tooth, it's not a bad idea to see a dentist or endodontist (root canal specialist) if you're having them frequently. Treating it can restore the tooth to health—and maybe put a stop to those recurring sinus infections.

If you would like more information on the connection between tooth decay and sinus problems, 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
November 21, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: facial pain  
ThereMayBeaSolutionToYourFacialPain

Physical pain is unpleasant—but not knowing why you're hurting makes it worse. Thousands of people encounter such as experience when parts of their face suddenly and mysteriously erupt in pain.

Often, though, the mystery can be quickly solved—more than likely, it's a nerve disorder known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Typically seen in people over 50 (and in more women than men), TN is a chronic condition that produces brief episodes of acute, spasmodic pain.

The source of this pain is the trigeminal nerve, which courses down each side of the face. Each nerve consists of three distinct branches that serve the upper, middle and lower areas of the face and jaw.

Physicians usually find that a blood vessel has come in contact with the nerve at some point, and the resulting pressure has damaged the nerve's outer insulative layer (myelin sheath). This causes the nerve to become hypersensitive at the point of contact, overreacting in a sense to the slightest touch (even a wisp of wind) on the face and jaw.

TN isn't the only source of facial pain. It can also accompany other conditions like TMD, which is why it's important to undergo a diagnostic examination. If you are diagnosed with TN, there are a number of ways to manage it. The most conservative approach (and the one usually tried first) is the use of medications to block pain signals from the nerve to the brain or to lessen abnormal nerve firing.

If medication proves ineffective or there are other factors related to age and health, you may be a candidate for a surgical solution. In one such procedure, a surgeon inserts a thin needle into the affected nerve and selectively damages some of its fibers to prevent the transmission of pain signals. Another procedure relocates the impinging blood vessel, which then allows the nerve to heal.

These surgical methods are effective but they can cause side-effects in rare cases like numbness or hearing impairment. It's best then to discuss with your doctor which approach would be best for you and your life situation. Ultimately, though, there are ways to relieve you of this painful condition.

If you would like more information on treating facial pain, 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 “Trigeminal Neuralgia.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
November 11, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: gum disease   nutrition  
CurbYourCarbConsumptiontoBoostYourDefensesAgainstGumDisease

You're doing the right things to avoid the return of gum disease: brushing and flossing every day, dental visits on a regular basis and watching for symptoms of another infection. But while you're at it, don't forget this other important part of gum disease prevention—your diet.

In relation to oral health, not all foods are alike. Some can increase inflammation, a major factor with gum disease; others strengthen teeth and gums. Carbohydrates in particular are a key part of this dynamic.

The body transforms these biomolecules of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen into the sugar glucose as a ready source of energy. But glucose levels in the bloodstream must be strictly controlled to avoid a harmful imbalance.

When elevated the body injects the hormone insulin into the bloodstream to bring glucose levels into normal range. Eventually, though, regular injections of insulin in high amounts in response to eating carbs—known as "spikes"—can increase inflammation. And, inflammation in turn increases the risk and severity of gum infections.

So, why not cut out carbohydrates altogether? That might be akin to throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. A wide range of carbohydrates, particularly fruits and vegetables, are a rich source of health-enhancing nutrients.

It's better to manage your carbohydrate consumption by taking advantage of one particular characteristic: Not all carbohydrates affect the body in the same way. Some cause a higher insulin response than others according to a scale known as the glycemic index. It's better, then, to eat more of the lower glycemic carbohydrates than those at the higher end.

One of the latter you'll definitely want to restrict is refined sugar—which also happens to be a primary food source for bacteria. You'll also want to cut back on any refined or processed foods like chips, refined grains or pastries.

Conversely, you can eat more of a number of low glycemic foods, most characterized as "whole", or unprocessed, like fresh fruits and vegetables, or whole grains like oatmeal. You should still, however, eat these in moderation.

Better control over your carbohydrate consumption is good for your health overall. But it's especially helpful to your efforts to keep gum disease at bay.

If you would like more information on nutrition and your oral 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”