Teeth grinding and other biting habits are more than a nuisance — they can generate twenty to thirty times the forces of normal biting. Over the long term, this can cause significant damage to teeth and supporting gums and bone.
This particular kind of damage is known as occlusal trauma (meaning injury from the bite). In its primary form, the habit itself over time can injure and inflame the jaw joints leading to soreness, swelling and dysfunction. The teeth themselves can wear down at a much faster rate than what normally occurs with aging. And although less common but even more serious, the periodontal ligaments holding teeth in place to the bone can stretch and weaken, causing the teeth to become loose and increasing the potential for tooth loss.
There are a number of techniques and approaches for treating excessive biting habits, but they all have a common aim — to reduce the amount of force generated by the habit and the associated problems that result. A custom occlusal guard, often worn while sleeping, helps lessen the force by keeping the teeth from making solid contact with each other. Tissue soreness and swelling can be relieved with anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. In cases where stress is a main driver, behavioral therapy and counseling may also be helpful.
Biting forces are also an issue for patients with periodontal (gum) disease. In this case even biting forces within normal ranges can cause damage because the diseased gums and bone have already been weakened. If gum disease is a factor, the first priority is to treat the disease by removing built up plaque. Plaque is the thin film of bacteria and food remnant that’s both the cause and continuing growth of the infection, as well as tartar (calculus) from all tooth and gum surfaces.
A thorough dental exam will reveal whether a tooth grinding habit is playing a role in your teeth and gum problems or if it’s magnifying the damage of gum disease. In either case, there are appropriate steps to stop the damage before it leads to tooth loss.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding or other biting habits, 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 “Loose Teeth.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
There’s a lot to like about replacing a missing tooth with a dental implant. This state-of-the-art restoration is by far the most durable and life-like option available. And unlike other replacement options implants stimulate bone growth, a major concern after tooth loss.
For that reason we encourage getting an implant as soon as possible — for adults, that is. We don’t recommend implants for younger patients because even a teenager’s jaws haven’t yet reached full maturity. Because it attaches to the jaw differently, an implant can’t move with the growing jaw as real teeth do. It would eventually look as if it were sinking into the jaw below the gum line or being left behind as the rest of the jaw grows.
It’s best, then, to postpone placing an implant until the jaw fully matures, usually in a patient’s early twenties. In the meantime, there are some things we can do to prepare for a future implant while also restoring the tooth with a temporary replacement.
As previously mentioned, our biggest concern is bone health. Like other living tissue, bone has a growth cycle of older cells dissolving and newer ones forming in their place. The teeth transmit the pressure produced when we chew to the bone to stimulate this growth. With the absence of a tooth, the adjacent bone no longer receives this stimulation — the growth cycle slows and may eventually lead to bone loss.
We can help this situation by placing a bone graft in the missing tooth socket at the time of extraction. The graft serves as a scaffold that’s eventually taken over and replaced by new bone growth. We can also try to control how fast the graft is replaced by using grafting material that’s slowly removed and lasts longer — often a preferable situation if an implant is years away.
As for appearance, we can create a custom partial denture or even a type of bridge that bonds a prosthetic tooth to neighboring teeth without significantly altering them. If the patient undergoes orthodontic treatment it’s also possible to add prosthetic teeth to an orthodontic appliance.
Eventually, we’ll be able to provide the permanent solution of a dental implant. With careful planning and measures to preserve bone health, there’s a good chance the outcome will be worth the wait.
If you would like more information on treatments for lost teeth in children and teenagers, 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 “Dental Implants for Teenagers.”
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