Posts for category: Oral Health

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
June 14, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
AlthoughItSoundsExoticThisMouthSoreIsntaBigConcern

Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.

Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.

Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.

But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.

As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.

In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.

As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.

Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.

If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Lichen Planus.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
June 04, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
5TipsStudentsandEveryoneElseShouldHeedforHealthyTeethandGums

Though it sounds like an elite academic society, "The Freshman 15" is anything but. The phrase stands for the weight, pegged at 15 pounds, that many incoming students gain in their first few months at college—the result of poor dietary habits brought on by a hectic schedule and newfound freedoms.

These and other habits have consequences—and not just for unwanted pounds. Many can lead to dental problems, which could continue to overshadow a student's oral health long after college is over.

Here, then, are 5 tips to pass along to your newly minted college student (or anyone else, for that matter) to keep their teeth and gums as healthy as possible.

Brush and floss daily. While a hectic course load beckons, a student should still make time every day to brush and floss their teeth. Along with regular dental cleanings, these two tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a bacterial film that causes dental disease. Daily oral hygiene is good insurance against developing future tooth decay and gum disease.

Cut back on sugar. A student may rely on sugary snacks for a boost of energy throughout their day, but it could be setting them up for dental disease. That's because harmful oral bacteria also feed on sugar. Choose instead real, whole foods and snacks that are better for teeth—and for avoiding those dreaded freshman pounds.

Limit acidic beverages. Besides added sugar, sodas, sports and energy drinks also contain acid, another ingredient unfriendly to teeth. During prolonged contact, acid softens and erodes the mineral content in tooth enamel, opening the door to tooth decay. Those who drink these kinds of beverages should limit their consumption as much as possible.

Don't smoke. Smoking dries out the mouth, preventing saliva from buffering the acid that causes tooth decay. Its main ingredient nicotine restricts the mouth's blood vessels, further increasing the chances of dental disease. Tobacco use in general, including smoking, is also a key risk factor for oral cancer.

Avoid mouth "jewelry." It might be the bomb on campus, but lip rings, tongue bolts and other mouth jewelry can cause dental damage. Besides the possibility of chipped teeth, metal jewelry in or around the mouth is more likely to cause infection. Better to skip this fashion statement for healthier teeth.

If you would like more information on good oral practices, 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.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
May 25, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: gum disease   nutrition  
EatingtheRightKindofCarbsCanHelpYouAvoidGumDisease

There are great health benefits to eating better, including for your teeth and gums. But to determine your ideal diet, you'll have to come to terms with carbohydrates, the sugars, fiber and starches found in plants or dairy products that convert to glucose after digestion.

Carbohydrates (also known as carbs) are important because the glucose created from them supplies energy and regulates metabolism in the body's cells. But they can also create elevated spikes of glucose in the bloodstream that can cause chronic inflammation. Besides conditions like diabetes or heart disease, chronic inflammation also increases your risk of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection arising from dental plaque.

Many concerned about this effect choose either to severely restrict carbs in their diet or cut them out altogether. But these hardline approaches deprive you of the benefits of carbs in maintaining good health. There's a better way—and it starts with understanding that not all carbs are the same. And, one difference in particular can help you properly manage them in your diet.

Here's the key: Different carbs convert to glucose at different digestive rates of speed measured on a scale known as the glycemic index. Carbs that digest faster (and are more apt to cause glucose spikes in the bloodstream) are known as high glycemic. Those which are slower are known as low glycemic.

Your basic strategy then to avoid blood glucose spikes is to eat more low glycemic foods and less high glycemic. Foods low on the glycemic index contain complex, unrefined carbohydrates like most vegetables, greens, legumes, nuts or whole grains. High glycemic foods tend to be processed or refined with added sugar like pastries, white rice, or mashed potatoes.

Low glycemic foods also tend to have higher amounts of minerals and nutrients necessary for healthy mouths and bodies. And fresh vegetables in particular often contain high amounts of fiber, which slows down the digestion of the accompanying carbohydrates.

Eating mainly low glycemic foods can provide you the right kinds of carbs needed to keep your body healthy while avoiding glucose spikes that lead to inflammation. You're also much less likely to experience gum disease and maintain a healthy mouth.

If you would like more information on nutrition and dental 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.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
May 05, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
AnEatingDisorderMayShowItselfinTheMouth

Although dental care is our primary focus, we dentists are also on the lookout for other health problems that may manifest in the mouth. That's why we're sometimes the first to suspect a patient may have an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are abnormal dietary patterns that can arise from mental or emotional issues, the most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Each has different behaviors: Anorexics abnormally restrict their food intake (“self-starvation”), while bulimics typically eat heavily and then induce vomiting (“binge and purge”).

Although bulimics are more likely to binge and purge, anorexics may also induce vomiting. That practice in particular can leave a clue for dentists. While vomiting, powerful stomach acid enters the mouth, which can then soften and erode tooth enamel.

It's the pattern of erosion a dentist may notice more than the erosion itself that may indicate an eating disorder. A person while vomiting normally places their tongue against the back of the lower teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid. The more exposed upper teeth will thus tend to show more erosion than the bottom teeth.

A dentist may also notice other signs of an eating disorder. Enlarged salivary glands or a reddened throat and tongue could indicate the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting. Lack of oral hygiene can be a sign of anorexia, while signs of over-aggressive brushing or flossing may hint of bulimia.

For the sake of the person's overall well-being, the eating disorder should be addressed through professional counseling and therapy. An excellent starting point is the website nationaleatingdisorders.org, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association.

The therapy process can be lengthy, so patients should also take steps to protect their teeth in the interim. One important measure is to rinse out the mouth following purging with a little baking soda mixed with water. This will help neutralize oral acid and reduces the risk of erosion. Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental visits can also help prevent dental disease.

An eating disorder can be traumatic for both patients and their families, and can take time to overcome. Even so, patients can reduce its effect on their dental health.

If you would like more information on eating disorders and dental care, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”

By Jennifer L. McCoy, DDS, Cosmetic & Family Dentistry
April 25, 2021
Category: Oral Health
ThisMinorDentalProcedureCouldMakeBreastfeedingEasierforanInfant

Breastfeeding is nature's way of providing complete nourishment to a newborn in their first years of life. It can also have a positive impact on their emerging immune system, as well as provide emotional support and stability. But although nursing comes naturally to an infant, there are circumstances that can make it more difficult.

One example is an abnormality that occurs in one in ten babies known as a tongue tie. A tongue tie involves a small band of tissue called a frenum, which connects the underside of the tongue with the floor of the mouth. The frenum, as well as another connecting the inside of the upper lip with the gums, is a normal part of oral anatomy that helps control movement.

But if the frenum is too short, thick or taut, it could restrict the movement of the tongue or lip. This can interfere with the baby acquiring a good seal on the breast nipple that allows them to draw out milk. Instead, the baby may try to chew on the nipple rather than suck on it, leading to an unpleasant experience for both baby and mother.

But this problem can be solved with a minor surgical procedure called a frenotomy (also frenectomy or frenuplasty). It can be a performed in a dentist's office with just a mild numbing agent applied topically to the mouth area (or injected, in rare cases of a thicker frenum) to deaden it. After a few minutes, the baby's tongue is extended to expose the frenum, which is then snipped with scissors or by laser.

There's very little post-op care required (and virtually none if performed with a laser). But there may be a need for a child to “re-learn” how to breastfeed since the abnormal frenum may have caused them to use their oral muscles in a different way to compensate. A lactation expert may be helpful in rehabilitating the baby's muscles to nurse properly.

A restrictive frenum isn't necessarily a dire situation for an infant—they can continue to feed with a bottle filled with formula or pumped breastmilk. But employing this minor procedure can enable them to gain the other benefits associated with breastfeeding.

If you would like more information on tongue ties and other oral abnormalities in children, 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.”