It wasn't too many years ago that e-cigarettes were promoted as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. “Vaping” was in and “smoking” was out.
But vaping's recent link with certain lung disorders, especially among younger users, has slowed the promotion train down considerably. And if respiratory health isn't enough, there's another reason to be wary of the practice—it's possible effect on oral health.
An e-cigarette is a handheld device with a reservoir that holds a mixture of water, flavoring, nicotine and other chemicals. The device heats up the liquid to transform it into a vapor that's then inhaled by the user. Technically, the vapor is an aerosol, a gaseous substance containing solid particles from chemical compounds.
Within this aerosol are a number of ingredients that can have a harmful effect on your teeth and gums. Foremost among them is nicotine, a chemical that's also a major ingredient in regular tobacco. Nicotine causes constriction of blood vessels, including those supplying the teeth and gums.
As these vessels constrict, they deliver to the teeth and gums fewer nutrients and antibodies to control infection. As a result, users of nicotine products, whether tobacco or e-cigarettes, will have a compounded risk for dental disease over a non-user.
E-cigarettes may in fact be worse than regular cigarettes in regards to nicotine. Cigarette nicotine is primarily inhaled into the lungs, while e-cigarette nicotine is absorbed by the mouth's mucous membranes, a much more efficient transfer. It's estimated that the amount of nicotine in one e-cigarette cartridge equals the nicotine from 20 cigarettes.
Nicotine isn't the only ingredient in e-cigarettes that could harm your mouth. Chemicals within the flavorings can irritate and dry out the mucous membranes of the mouth, as well as damage tooth enamel. There are a variety of other chemicals present like formaldehyde that could raise your risk for oral cancer.
Rather than a healthy alternative to smoking, e-cigarette users may simply be trading one form of health risk for another—and, in the case of your oral health, just as bad or worse. The best alternative for healthier teeth and gums is to leave both habits—smoking and vaping—far behind.
If you would like more information on vaping and 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”
Your tooth enamel is often under assault from oral acid produced by bacteria and certain foods. Unless neutralized, acid can erode your enamel, and lead to destructive tooth decay.
But there's another type of acid that may be even more destructive—the acid produced in your stomach. Although important for food digestion, stomach acid outside of its normal environment can be destructive. That includes your teeth, if stomach acid finds its way into your mouth. And that can happen if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD, a chronic condition affecting 1 in 5 adults, is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle at the intersection of the esophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach acid from traveling back into the digestive tract and damaging the esophageal liner.
It's also possible for stomach acid to travel as far up as the mouth. With a pH of 2.0 or less, stomach acid can lower the mouth's normal pH level of 7.0 well below the 5.5 pH threshold for enamel softening and erosion. This can cause your teeth, primarily the inside surfaces of the upper teeth, to become thin, pitted or yellowed. Your teeth's sensitivity may also increase.
If you have GERD, you can take precautions to avoid tooth damage and the extensive dental work that may follow.
- Boost acid buffering by rinsing with water (or a cup of water mixed with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda) or chewing on an antacid tablet.
- Wait about an hour to brush your teeth following a reflux episode so that your saliva has time to neutralize acid and re-mineralize enamel.
- If you have chronic dry mouth, stimulate saliva production by drinking more water, chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva supplement.
You can also seek to minimize GERD by avoiding tobacco and limiting your consumption of alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control your GERD symptoms.
Preventing tooth decay or gum disease from the normal occurrences of oral acid is a daily hygiene battle. Don't let GERD-related acid add to the burden.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth from acid reflux, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Osteoporosis is a serious bone weakening disease in older adults that can turn a minor fall into a major bone fracture. But the condition could also impact dental treatment—triggered ironically by the drugs used to treat osteoporosis rather than the disease itself.
From the Latin for “porous bone,” osteoporosis causes bone to gradually lose mineral structure. Over time the naturally-occurring spaces between mineralized portions of the bone enlarge, leaving it weaker as a result.
Although there's no definitive cure for osteoporosis, a number of drugs developed over the last couple of decades can inhibit its progress. Most fall into two major categories, bisphosphonates and RANKL inhibitors.
These drugs work by inhibiting the normal growth cycle of bone. Living bone constantly changes as cells called osteoblasts produce new bone. A different type, osteoclasts, clear away older bone to make room for these newer cells. The drugs selectively destroy osteoclasts so that the older bone, which would have been removed by them, remains for a longer period of time.
Retaining older cells longer initially slows the disease process. But there is a downside: in time, this older bone kept in place continues to weaken and lose vitality. In rare instances it may eventually become detached from its blood supply and die, resulting in what is known as osteonecrosis.
Osteonecrosis mostly affects two particular bones in the body: the femur (the long bone in the upper leg) and the jawbone. In regard to the latter, even the stress of chewing could cause osteonecrosis in someone being treated for osteoporosis. It can also occur after tooth extractions or similar invasive procedures.
If you're taking a bisphosphonate or RANKL inhibitor, you'll want to inform your dentist so that the necessary precautions can be taken before undergoing dental work more invasive than routine cleanings or getting a filling or crown. If you need major dental work, your dentist or you will also need to speak with your physician about stopping the drug for a few months before and after a dental procedure to minimize the risk of osteonecrosis.
Fortunately, the risk for dental problems while undergoing treatment for osteoporosis is fairly low. Still, you'll want to be as prepared as possible so that the management of your osteoporosis doesn't harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
In any given year, 4 million tweens and teens are in the process of having their teeth straightened with braces or clear aligners. It's so common we tend to consider orthodontic treatment for young people as a rite of passage into adulthood.
But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way—it might be possible to stop or at least minimize a poor bite before it fully develops. That's the goal of interceptive orthodontics—treatments that head off or “intercept” a bite problem early.
The goal isn't necessarily to reposition misaligned teeth, but to correct a problem that can lead to misalignment. Here are some examples.
A narrow jaw. A narrowly developing jaw can crowd incoming teeth out of their normal positions. For the upper jaw, though, we can take advantage of a temporary separation in the bones in the roof of the mouth (palate) with a device called a palatal expander. Placed against the palate, the expander exerts outward pressure on the teeth and jaw to widen this separation. The body fills in the gap with bone to gradually widen the jaw.
Abnormal jaw alignment. It's possible for a jaw to develop abnormally during childhood so that it extends too far beyond the other. Using a hinged device called a Herbst appliance, it's possible to interrupt this abnormal growth pattern and influence the bones and muscles of the jaw to grow in a different way.
Missing primary teeth. An important role for a primary (baby) tooth is to hold a place for the future permanent tooth. But if the primary tooth is lost too soon, other teeth can drift into the space and crowd out the intended permanent tooth. To prevent this, we can insert a space maintainer: This simple looped metal device prevents teeth from drifting and preserves the space for the permanent tooth.
Although these and other interceptive treatments are effective, some like the palatal expander do their best work within a limited age frame. To take advantage of interceptive orthodontics in a timely manner, parents should seek a bite evaluation for their child from an orthodontist around age 6. The earlier we detect a growing bite problem, the greater your chances for successful intervention.
If you would like more information on treating emerging bite problems early, 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 “Interceptive Orthodontics.”
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