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.”
Unless you're 6 years old and on speed dial with the Tooth Fairy, a loose tooth isn't a good feeling. It's also a sign something is wrong in your mouth. If you don't take prompt action, you may lose that tooth for good.
To begin with, teeth are held in place by an elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and attaches to both through tiny fibers. The thing to note about the ligament is that it does allow for tooth movement, which serves as a “shock absorber” against the forces generated while biting and chewing.
But that movement is normally so slight, you won't perceive it. If you do, chances are there's a problem with the ligament attachment, which may have been damaged due to trauma or disease.
A hard blow to the face could certainly damage both the teeth and their attachments. But it can also happen if one tooth extends out farther than the rest and absorbs more stress during chewing. You could encounter similar damage if you attempt DIY orthodontics or wear tongue jewelry.
The more common source of ligament damage, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, usually caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on tooth surfaces. If not treated, the infection can advance deeper into the gum tissues (and eventually the supporting bone), causing the ligaments to weaken and detach. In fact, a loose tooth is often a sign of well-advanced gum disease.
If you notice a loose tooth, you should make an appointment with us as soon as possible. Our first step is to ascertain the underlying cause and initiate any needed treatment. We may also want to splint a loose tooth to adjacent teeth to prevent excessive movement while the ligaments heal and reform their attachment to the tooth.
There will be times when a loose tooth is beyond repair. In that case, it may be best to remove the tooth and install a life-like replacement like a dental implant. But that's not inevitable. If at all possible and practical, we'll try to save your loose tooth.
If you would like more information on loose permanent teeth, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
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.”
Life has changed dramatically over the centuries. But although our ancient forebears wouldn't recognize much of our modern world, they would be well acquainted with one particular oral habit that still persists. There's some evidence from archeological dental examinations that our ancestors also clenched or ground their teeth.
This habit of involuntarily gnashing, clenching or grinding the teeth together is most prevalent among children, although not considered a major problem at these younger ages. But it can continue into adulthood, as it does for one in ten people, and lead to an array of problems from worn teeth to jaw joint pain.
As to why adult teeth grinding occurs, researchers have proposed a number of possibilities. Some believe it may be related to the arousal response that occurs when a person passes through various stages of sleep. It also appears that certain psychoactive drugs can trigger it. But at the top of the cause list, teeth grinding is believed to be a physical outlet for stress.
Because of the possibility of multiple causes, there is no one method for treatment—instead, it's better to tailor treatments to the individual. Universally, though, patients who use drugs, alcohol or tobacco, all of which are considered contributing factors, may reduce grinding episodes by restricting their use of these substances.
It's also possible to reduce the incidence of teeth grinding through better stress management. People can learn and use individual relaxation techniques like meditation, mindfulness or biofeedback. For sleep-related teeth grinding it may also be helpful to forgo use of electronic devices before bedtime for a better night's sleep.
Dental treatments like an occlusal guard worn mainly during sleep can minimize the effects of nocturnal teeth grinding. This custom-made appliance prevents teeth from coming fully into contact with each other, thus lowering the intensity of the biting forces generated and preventing cumulative damage to teeth and dental work.
If you have symptoms like sore teeth and jaws, reports from your family hearing you grind your teeth, or catching yourself during the day clenching your teeth, make an appointment for a full examination. From there, we'll help you find the right combination of solutions to keep this old habit from complicating your oral health.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding.”
Most dental problems are caused by tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, easily preventable with dedicated daily hygiene and regular dental care. But there are a few other rare conditions to be on alert for that could pose just as serious a threat to your dental health.
One of these is a phenomenon called root resorption. Put simply, certain cells arise within a tooth root that eat away and dissolve (resorb) tooth structure. Left unchecked, it could eventually lead to the tooth's demise.
Although its exact cause remains elusive, we suspect root resorption is associated with trauma to the gum ligaments earlier in life, perhaps from an injury or too much force applied during orthodontics. Other possible contributing factors include teeth-grinding habits or internal tooth bleaching procedures.
Root resorption in adults isn't that common, so your chances of experiencing it are low. But it is still possible, so you should be on the lookout for potential signs: Early on, it may appear as faint pink spots on teeth where the enamel has filled with the destructive cells eating away at the tooth. In time, these spots can increase to form cavities.
More than likely, though, your dentist may detect the problem during a dental exam. That's why regular dental cleanings and checkups are essential—a routine exam is a prime opportunity to uncover conditions like root resorption that silently undermine your teeth.
If found early, we can often treat root resorption effectively. We can often expose a small affected area with minor gum surgery, remove the harmful cells and fill any cavities with a tooth-colored filling. In some cases, we may recommend orthodontics beforehand to encourage a buildup of bone around the root by moving the affected tooth outward from the jawbone. If the resorption has affected the tooth pulp, you may also need a root canal treatment.
There is also the possibility with advanced resorption that the best course of action is to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant. So, keep up your regular dental visits—early detection and intervention can stop this destructive dental condition from destroying your tooth.
If you would like more information on root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
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