Ask people about the “Great American Smoke-Out,” and many could tell you about this annual promotion encouraging tobacco smokers to quit. Ask them about “The Great American Spit-Out,” though, and they may look puzzled. That’s because most of society’s attention is on quitting smoking; but the truth is smoking isn’t the only tobacco habit that needs to be kicked.
Whether chewing tobacco or the more finely ground snuff, smokeless tobacco is a popular habit especially among young athletes. It doesn’t receive the attention of smoking tobacco because it’s perceived as less dangerous. The truth is, though, it’s just as hazardous — especially to your oral health.
While any form of tobacco is considered a carcinogen, smokeless tobacco in particular has been linked to oral cancer. This is especially dangerous not only because oral cancer can lead to physical disfigurement and other negative outcomes, but it also has a dismal 58% survival rate five years from diagnosis.
And because it too contains highly addictive nicotine, smokeless tobacco can be just as difficult to quit as smoking. Fortunately, the same techniques for smoking cessation can work with chewing habits. Nicotine replacements like nicotine gum, lozenges and patches, as well as Zyban, a cessation medication, have all been shown helpful with quitting smokeless tobacco.
Often, however, it takes a change in perception — taking chewing tobacco down from its pedestal of “coolness” and seeing it for what it is: a dangerous habit that increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and even decreased sexual arousal and function. And although not life-threatening, it can also give you bad breath, dry mouth and an assortment of dental problems that incur financial and social costs. Teeth and gums in that environment aren’t so cool.
The first step is to consider the consequences of continuing the chewing or dipping habit and making the decision to quit. You may also benefit from the help of others: counselors experienced with tobacco cessation programs or a support group of others trying to quit. Following through aggressively will help ensure smokeless tobacco won’t lead to the loss of your teeth, health or life.
If you would like more information on quitting smokeless tobacco, 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 “Quitting Chewing Tobacco.”
Exchanging passionate kisses with big-screen star Jennifer Lawrence might sound like a dream come true. But according to Liam Hemsworth, her Hunger Games co-star, it could also be a nightmare… because J.Law’s breath wasn’t always fresh. “Anytime I had to kiss Jennifer was pretty uncomfortable,” Hemsworth said on The Tonight Show.
Lawrence said the problem resulted from her inadvertently consuming tuna or garlic before the lip-locking scenes; fortunately, the two stars were able to share a laugh about it later. But for many people, bad breath is no joke. It can lead to embarrassment and social difficulties — and it occasionally signifies a more serious problem. So what causes bad breath, and what can you do about it?
In 9 out of 10 cases, bad breath originates in the mouth. (In rare situations, it results from a medical issue in another part of the body, such as liver disease or a lung infection.) The foul odors associated with bad breath can be temporarily masked with mouthwash or breath mints — but in order to really control it, we need to find out exactly what’s causing the problem, and address its source.
As Lawrence and Hemsworth found out, some foods and beverages can indeed cause a malodorous mouth. Onions, garlic, alcohol and coffee are deservedly blamed for this. Tobacco products are also big contributors to bad breath — which is one more reason to quit. But fasting isn’t the answer either: stop eating for long enough and another set of foul-smelling substances will be released. Your best bet is to stay well hydrated and snack on crisp, fresh foods like celery, apples or parsley.
And speaking of hydration (or the lack of it): Mouth dryness and reduced salivary flow during the nighttime hours is what causes “morning breath.” Certain health issues and some medications can also cause “dry mouth,” or xerostomia. Drinking plenty of water can encourage the production of healthy saliva — but if that’s not enough, tell us about it: We may recommend switching medications (if possible), chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva substitute.
Finally, maintaining excellent oral hygiene is a great way to avoid bad breath. The goal of oral hygiene is to control the harmful bacteria that live in your mouth. These microorganisms can cause gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath — so keeping them in check is good for your overall oral health. Remember to brush twice and floss once daily, stay away from sugary foods and beverages, and visit the dental office regularly for checkups and professional cleanings.
So did J.Law apologize for the malodorous makeout session? Not exactly. “[For] Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, yeah, I’ll brush my teeth,” she laughed.
Hemsworth jokingly agreed: “If I was kissing Christian Bale I probably would have brushed my teeth too. With you, it’s like, ‘Eh. Whatever.’”
If you would like more information about bad breath and oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More than Just Embarrassing.”
As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
“You need a root canal,” isn’t something you want to hear during a dental visit. But whatever your preconceptions about it may be, the fact is root canal treatments don’t cause pain — they alleviate it. What’s more, it may be your best chance to save a tooth that’s at high risk for loss.
First of all, root canal treatments address a serious problem that may be occurring inside a tooth — tooth decay that’s infiltrated the pulp chamber. If it’s not stopped, the decay will continue to advance through the root canals to the bone and weaken the tooth’s attachment. To access the pulp and root canals we first administer a local anesthesia and then create an opening in the tooth, typically in the biting surface.
After accessing the pulp chamber, we then remove all the pulp tissue and clean out any infection. Â We then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling and seal the opening we first created. The procedure is often followed some weeks later with a laboratory made crown that permanently covers the tooth for extra protection against another occurrence of decay and protects the tooth from fracturing years later.
Besides stopping the infection from continuing beyond the roots and saving the tooth from loss, root canal treatments also alleviate the symptoms caused by decay, including tenderness and swelling of surrounding gum tissue and sensitivity to hot and cold foods or pressure when biting down. And, it reduces pain — the dull ache or sometimes acute pain from the tooth that may have brought you to our office in the first place.
General dentists commonly perform root canal treatments; in more complicated cases they’re performed by an endodontist, a specialist in root canal treatments. Afterward, any discomfort is usually managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
Root canal treatments are a common procedure with a high rate of success. Undergoing one will end the pain and discomfort your infected tooth has caused you; more importantly, your tooth will gain a new lease on life.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, 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 “Common Concerns about Root Canal Treatment.”
Have you ever felt a hot, burning sensation in your mouth—like it had been scalded—but you didn't eat or drink anything that could have caused it?
While you may think you’re hallucinating, there’s another possibility: Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). This condition, which can last for years, produces sensations in the mouth of not only scalding or burning, but also tingling, numbness and a decline in your ability to taste. Patients may feel it throughout their mouth or only in localized areas like the lips, tongue or inside the cheeks.
The exact cause of BMS is also something of a mystery. It’s been theoretically linked to diabetes, vitamin or mineral deficiencies and psychological problems. Because it’s most common among women of menopausal age hormonal changes have been proposed as a factor, although hormone replacement therapy often doesn’t produce any symptomatic relief for BMS.
To complicate matters, other conditions often share the condition’s effects, which need to be ruled out first to arrive at a BMS diagnosis. A feeling of scalding could be the result of mouth dryness, caused by medications or systemic conditions that inhibit saliva flow. Some denture wearers may display some of the symptoms of BMS due to an allergic reaction to denture materials; others may have a similar reaction to the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate found in some toothpaste that can irritate the skin inside the mouth.
If these other possibilities can be ruled out, then you may have BMS. While unfortunately there’s no cure for the condition, there are ways to lessen its impact. There’s even the possibility that it will resolve itself over time.
Until then, keep your mouth moist by drinking lots of water or using saliva-stimulating products, limiting alcohol, caffeinated drinks or spicy foods and refraining from smoking. If you’re taking medications that could cause dry mouth, speak with your physician about changing to an alternative. And try to reduce stress in your life through exercise, mindfulness practices or support groups.
While BMS isn’t considered harmful to your physical health it can make life less enjoyable. Careful symptom management may help improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth Syndrome, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome: A Painful Puzzle.”
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