Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.
That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.
GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.
Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.
But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.
If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.
- Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
- Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
- Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).
You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.
GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.
If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
For over half a century now, community water systems have been adding fluoride to drinking water to help reduce the risk of tooth decay. Numerous long-term studies have demonstrated the soundness of this practice, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to call water fluoridation one of the ten most effective public health measures of the 20th Century.
In the 1960s, after years of study into the teeth-strengthening effects of fluoride, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended that drinking water utilities add fluoride at a rate of between 0.7 and 1.20 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm) of water. This recommendation held fast until 2015 when the service changed the recommendation to no more than 0.7 mg/L.
Why the change to guidelines that had been in place for over fifty years? The revision was in response to an increasing occurrence of dental fluorosis. This condition happens when the teeth absorb more fluoride than necessary, leading to discoloration of the surface enamel, creating effects like small white spots or brownish “mottling.”
Dental fluorosis is the only known health condition caused by fluoride. As such, it doesn't damage the tooth itself, and is mainly a cosmetic problem. But it can still be avoided if fluoride intake is kept at moderate levels.
The original recommendation was sound science when first introduced. Since then, though, the prevalence of fluoride in everyday life has grown, with the chemical commonly found in dental care products like toothpastes or mouthrinses, as well as many processed foods and beverages and even infant formula. Our society's overall intake of fluoride has been growing as a result.
The new recommendation came after several years of research to verify water fluoridation levels of 0.7 mg/L would still be effective in the fight against tooth decay while lowering the risk of dental fluorosis. With this adjustment, this important and safe measure for keeping your family's teeth protected against disease is safer than ever.
Fluoride is an important part of your child's dental development. But if children take in too much of this important mineral, they could experience enamel fluorosis, a condition in which teeth become discolored with dark streaking or mottling.
That's why it's important to keep fluoride levels within safe bounds, especially for children under the age of 9. To do that, here's a look at the most common sources for fluoride your child may take in and how you can moderate them.
Toothpaste. Fluoridated toothpaste is an effective way for your child to receive the benefits of fluoride. But to make sure they're not getting too much, apply only a smear of toothpaste to the brush for infants. When they get a little older you can increase that to a pea-sized amount on the end of the brush. You should also train your child not to swallow toothpaste.
Drinking water. Most water systems add tiny amounts of fluoride to drinking water. To find out how much your water provider adds visit “My Water's Fluoride” online. If it's more than the government's recommendation of 0.70 parts of fluoride per million parts of water, you may want ask your dentist if you should limit your child's consumption of fluoridated drinking water.
Infant formula. Many parents choose bottle-feeding their baby with infant formula rather than breastfeed. If you use the powdered form and mix it with tap water that's fluoridated, your baby could be ingesting more of the mineral. If breastfeeding isn't an option, try using the premixed formula, which normally contains lower levels of fluoride. If you use powdered formula, mix it with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
It might seem like the better strategy for preventing fluorosis is to avoid fluoride altogether. But that can increase the risk of tooth decay, a far more destructive outcome for your child's teeth than the appearance problems caused by fluorosis. The better way is to consult with your dentist on keeping your child's intake within recognized limits to safely receive fluoride's benefits of stronger, healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on fluoride and your baby's 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Kids get pretty inventive pulling a loose primary (baby) tooth. After all, there's a profit motive involved (aka the Tooth Fairy). But a young Kansas City Chiefs fan may have topped his peers with his method, revealed in a recent Twitter video that went viral.
Inspired by all-star KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes (and sporting his #15 jersey), 7-year-old Jensen Palmer tied his loose tooth to a football with a line of string. Then, announcing “This is how an MVP gets their tooth out,” the next-gen QB sent the ball flying, with the tooth tailing close behind.
It appears young Palmer was no worse for wear with his tooth removal technique. But if you're thinking there might be a less risky, and less dramatic, way to remove a loose tooth, you're right. The first thing you should know, though: Primary teeth come out when they're good and ready, and that's important. Primary teeth play an important role in a child's current dental and speech function and their future dental development. For the latter, they serve as placeholders for permanent teeth developing within the gums. If one is lost prematurely, the corresponding permanent tooth might erupt out of position and cause bite problems.
In normal development, though, a primary tooth coming out coincides closely with the linked permanent tooth coming in. When it's time, the primary tooth lets you know by becoming quite loose in the socket.
If you think one of your children's primary teeth is ready, clean your hands first with soap and water. Then using a clean tissue, you should be able to easily wiggle the tooth with little tension. Grasp the tooth with the tissue and give it a little horizontal twist to pop it out. If that doesn't work, wait a day or two before trying again. If it does come out, be sure you have some clean gauze handy in case of bleeding from the empty socket.
Normally, nature takes its course from this point. But be on the lookout for abnormal signs like fragments of the tooth left behind in the socket (not to be mistaken for the top of the permanent tooth coming in). You should also look for redness, swelling or complaints of pain the following day—signs of possible infection. If you see anything like this, make a prompt appointment so we can take a look. Losing a primary tooth is a signpost pointing the way from childhood to adulthood (not to mention a windfall for kids under their pillows). You can help make it a smooth transition—no forward pass required.
If you would like more information about caring for primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
Each year, millions of children and teenagers wear braces or clear aligners to straighten a crooked smile. But there may be a way to treat some of these bite problems and avoid braces—by intercepting the problem at an earlier age.
This can often be done if the bite problem stems from abnormal jaw development rather than misaligned teeth. An example of this occurs when the upper jaw growth outpaces the lower jaw, causing the upper teeth to protrude beyond the lower teeth. Aside from the effect on appearance, protruding front upper teeth may extend beyond the protection of the lip and be more prone to injury.
A device called a Herbst appliance could prevent this from happening. The top of the device has two hinged metal tubes that connect to elastic bands bonded to the back teeth on both sides of the upper jaw. The bottom also has tubes affixed in the same way to the bottom teeth, except they're slightly smaller and fit within the upper tubes.
The lower tubes sliding within the upper tubes produces slight pressure against the lower jaw to ease it forward. This gradually influences the lower jaw to grow at a pace equal with the upper jaw to decrease the chances of poor bite development. Unlike other corrective methods, the Herbst appliance fixed in place and out of the way won't interfere with sports or other physical activities.
An installed Herbst appliance may change a patient's sensations during swallowing, eating or speaking, but most children adapt to the changes within a few days. And, because the device can create challenges for keeping the back teeth clean, many dentists recommend adding a fluoride rinse to daily brushing and flossing as an added boost against tooth decay.
The Herbst appliance is most effective during the period of most rapid physical growth between the ages of 11 and 14, but if the teeth are already beginning to protrude it can be undertaken as early as 8 or 9. Either way, this important orthodontic tool could help address a complicated bite problem and reduce the need for more costly orthodontic treatment later on.
If you would like more information on early interventions for poor bites, 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 “The Herbst Appliance.”
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