The ongoing opioid addiction epidemic has brought together government, law enforcement and healthcare to find solutions. The focus among doctors and dentists has been on finding ways to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.
Opioids (or narcotics) have been a prominent part of pain management in healthcare for decades. Drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl can relieve moderate to extreme pain and make recovery after illness or procedures much easier. Providers like doctors and dentists have relied heavily on them, writing nearly 260 million narcotic prescriptions a year as late as 2012.
But although effective when used properly, narcotics are also addictive. While the bulk of overall drug addiction stems from illegal narcotics like heroin, prescription drugs also account for much of the problem: In 2015, for example, 2 million Americans had an addiction that began with an opioid prescription.
The current crisis has led to horrific consequences as annual overdose deaths now surpass the peak year of highway accident deaths (just over 54,000 in 1972). This has led to a concerted effort by doctors and dentists to develop other approaches to pain management without narcotics.
One that’s gained recent momentum in dentistry involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin work by dilating blood vessels, which reduces painful inflammation. They’re available over the counter, although stronger doses require a prescription.
NSAIDs are effective for mild to moderate pain, but without the addictive properties of narcotics. There are some adverse health consequences if taken long-term, but limited use for pain or during post-procedure recovery is safe.
Many dentists are recommending NSAIDs for first-line pain management after most dental procedures. Narcotics may still be prescribed, but in a limited and controlled fashion. As part of this new approach, dentists typically combine ibuprofen and acetaminophen: Studies have shown the two work together better at reducing pain than either one individually.
Still, many aren’t eager to move away from the proven effectiveness of narcotics to primarily NSAIDs. But as these non-addictive drugs continue to prove their effectiveness, there’s hope the use of addictive opioids will continue to decrease.
Your teeth face a hostile environment populated by disease-causing bacteria. But your teeth also have some “armor” against these microscopic foes: enamel. This hard outer tooth layer forms a barrier between harmful bacteria and the tooth’s more vulnerable layers of dentin and the inner pulp.
But although it’s tough stuff, enamel can erode when it comes into contact with high concentrations of mouth acid. Losing substantial amounts of enamel could leave your teeth exposed to disease.
So, here are 3 things you can do to help protect your enamel so it can keep on protecting you.
Careful on the brushing. Brushing removes dental plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. But be careful not to brush too often, too hard and too quickly after eating. Brushing more than twice a day can cause gum recession and enamel wear; likewise, brushing too aggressively. You should also wait at least 30 minutes after eating to brush to give your saliva sufficient time to neutralize any acid. You could lose tiny bits of softened enamel brushing too soon.
Cut back on acidic foods and beverages. Spicy foods, sodas and, yes, sports and energy drinks all contain high amounts of acid that can increase your mouth’s acidity. It’s a good idea, then, to reduce acidic foods and beverages in your diet. Instead, eat less spicy foods and drink primarily water or milk. Also, look for foods and beverages with calcium, which helps increase your enamel’s ability to remineralize after acid contact.
Don’t eat right before bedtime. There are a lot of reasons not to eat just before you hit the hay—and one of them is for protecting your tooth enamel. Saliva normally neutralizes acid within a half hour to an hour after eating. While you’re sleeping, though, saliva production decreases significantly. This in turn slows its neutralizing effect, giving acid more contact time with enamel. So, end your eating a few hours before you turn in to avoid too much acid remaining on your teeth.
The holidays have officially begun! Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, it’s fairly certain you’re going to be spending time with lots of folks. From family gatherings to neighborhood open houses to the office holiday party, you’ll find yourself rubbing elbows with all the in-laws and out-laws in your social orbit. And because it’s the season of cheer, you’ll probably smile—a lot.
So, before the festivities go full tilt, take a little time to freshen up that wonderful smile of yours. Here are a few suggestions for having a smile this holiday season that you’re confident to put on display.
Dental cleanings. While professional dental cleanings primarily remove any lingering disease-causing plaque and tartar, they can have the secondary benefit of improving your smile’s appearance. So, if it’s close to time for your regular dental visit or you would simply like to give your teeth a quick polish, schedule a cleaning appointment for a little extra holiday sparkle.
Teeth whitening. You can gain a noticeable increase in smile brightness with a professional whitening application. With our advanced bleaching solutions and techniques, we can precisely control the level of brightness you desire, from a more subdued natural white to a dazzling “Hollywood” shine. And with care, the effect could last for several months or even years with an occasional touch-up.
Bonding. A chipped tooth can stand out from your smile like a smudge on a masterpiece painting. In many cases, though, we can repair minor chips and other defects by bonding composite resin to the tooth in a single visit. The process is simple: We color-match the resin to the tooth, then apply, shape and cure it. Your tooth will look good as new.
Porcelain veneers. For a more durable and comprehensive solution, consider veneers for dental flaws you do not wish to live with. These thin wafers of porcelain are permanently bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, heavy staining or slight misalignments. And they are quite affordable compared to more extensive cosmetic restorations.
All of these cosmetic options can fit into most people’s budgets and don’t take a lot of time in the dentist’s chair. Veneers are the one slight exception: These require more than one visit to the dental office because they are custom-made for you in a dental lab. Also note that veneers often require the permanent removal of tooth enamel, so the tooth will require a veneer or other restorative covering from then on.
All in all, though, it doesn’t take much to put some much-needed zing back into your smile. In most cases, it only takes one visit—just in time to brighten up your holiday season.
Howie Mandel, one of America’s premier television personalities, rarely takes it easy. Whether performing a standup comedy gig or shooting episodes of America’s Got Talent or Deal or No Deal, Mandel gives it all he’s got. And that intense drive isn’t reserved only for his career pursuits–he also brings his A-game to boosting his dental health.
Mandel is up front about his various dental issues, including multiple root canal treatments and the crowns on his two damaged front teeth. But he’s most jazzed about keeping his teeth clean (yep, he brushes and flosses daily) and visiting his dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
To say Howie Mandel is keen on taking care of his teeth and gums is an understatement. And you can be, too: Just five minutes a day could keep your smile healthy and attractive for a lifetime.
You’ll be using that time—less than one percent of your 1,440 daily minutes—brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque buildup. This sticky, bacterial film is the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease. Daily hygiene drastically reduces your risk for these tooth-damaging diseases.
But just because these tasks don’t take long, that’s not saying it’s a quick once-over for your teeth: You want to be as thorough as possible. Any leftover plaque can interact with saliva and become a calcified form known as calculus (tartar). Calculus triggers infection just as much as softer plaque—and you can’t dislodge it with brushing and flossing.
When you brush, then, be sure to go over all tooth areas, including biting surfaces and the gum line. A thorough brushing should take about two minutes. And don’t forget to floss! Your toothbrush can’t adequately reach areas between teeth, but flossing can. If you find regular flossing too difficult, try using a floss threader. If that is still problematic, an oral irrigator is a device that loosens and flushes away plaque with a pressurized water stream.
To fully close the gate against plaque, see us at least every six months. Even with the most diligent efforts, you might still miss some plaque and calculus. We can remove those lingering deposits, as well as let you know how well you’re succeeding with your daily hygiene habit.
Few people could keep up with Howie Mandel and his whirlwind career schedule, but you can certainly emulate his commitment to everyday dental care—and your teeth and gums will be the healthier for it.
If you would like more information about daily dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Here’s the bad news about periodontal (gum) disease: It’s a leading cause for tooth loss. Even worse: Half of adults over 30 will have some form of it during their lifetime.
But here’s the good news: If caught early, we can often treat and stop gum disease before it can do substantial harm to your mouth. And the best news of all—you may be able to avoid a gum infection altogether by adopting a few healthy habits.
Here are 4 habits you can practice to prevent a gum infection from happening.
Practice daily brushing and flossing. Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often arising from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing will reduce your chances of a gum infection. And be sure it’s daily—missing just a few days is enough for gum inflammation to get started.
Get regular dental cleanings and checkups. Even the most diligent personal hygiene can miss plaque, which may then harden into a calcified form impossible to remove with brushing and flossing called calculus (tartar). At least twice-a-year professional dental cleanings will clear away any remnant plaque and tartar, which can greatly reduce your risk for dental disease.
Make gum-friendly lifestyle changes. Smoking more than doubles your chances of gum disease. Likewise, a sugar-heavy diet, which feeds disease-causing bacteria, also makes you more susceptible to infection. Quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption and following a dental-friendly diet could boost your teeth and gum health and avoid infection.
Watch for signs of infection. Although you can greatly reduce your risk of gum disease, you can’t always bring that risk to zero. So, be aware of the signs of gum disease: sometimes painful, swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you notice any of these signs, make a dental appointment—the sooner you’re diagnosed and begin treatment, the less likely gum disease will ruin your dental health.
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