Sleep apnea is more than an annoyance. This chronic condition not only interferes with your alertness during the day, it may also contribute long-term to serious issues like cardiovascular disease.
Sleep apnea occurs when your airway becomes temporarily blocked during sleep. Of the possible causes, one of the most common is the tongue, which as it relaxes may cover and block the back of the throat. This lowers the body's oxygen level, which in turn alerts the brain to wake you to clear the airway. You usually go immediately back to sleep, unaware you've wakened. This can happen several times a night.
Although older people are at higher risk, anyone can have sleep apnea, even children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids. If you or a loved one regularly experiences fatigue, brain fog, irritability or loud snoring, sleep apnea could be the culprit. You'll need a complete medical examination to properly diagnose it.
If you do indeed have sleep apnea, there are a number of ways to treat it depending on its severity. One prominent way is with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine that produces a higher air pressure in the mouth to force the tongue forward and keep the airway open.
While CPAP is effective, the pump, hose and face mask you must wear may become uncomfortable while you sleep. We may, however, be able to supply you with a less cumbersome device: a custom-made oral appliance you wear while you sleep. Similar to a retainer, this appliance mechanically pulls and holds the lower jaw forward, which in turn moves the tongue away from the airway opening.
This oral appliance won't work with all forms of sleep apnea, so you'll need an examination to see if you're a candidate. With more advanced conditions, you may even need surgery to reshape the airway or remove soft tissue obstructions around the opening.
Whichever treatment is best for your situation, it's well worth reducing your sleep apnea. Not enduring these nightly incidences of airway blockage will help ensure you're getting a good night's sleep — and enjoying a higher quality of health and life.
If you would like more information on treating sleep apnea, 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 “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Surgical treatment for periodontal (gum) disease can go a long way toward restoring your mouth to good health; however, it does not change your susceptibility to the disease. That’s why we recommend that you come in regularly for periodontal cleanings after your treatment. Here are some frequently asked questions about keeping your mouth healthy after gum disease treatment.
How often do I have to come in for periodontal cleanings?
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer to that question: It really depends on your individual situation. For example, some individuals may have a more aggressive form of periodontal disease that requires more frequent periodontal maintenance (PM) treatments to maintain control. Others may have greater success controlling the buildup of disease-causing plaque with at-home oral hygiene measures, and therefore need PM less often. However, for people with a history of periodontal disease, getting PM treatments at a three-month interval may be a good starting point.
What happens at a periodontal maintenance appointment?
A thorough cleaning of the crown and root surfaces of the teeth, aimed at removing sticky plaque and hardened dental calculus (tartar), is a big part of PM treatments — but there’s much more. You’ll also receive a thorough clinical examination (including oral cancer screening), a review of your medical history, and x-rays or other diagnostic tests if needed. The status of any ongoing periodontal disease will be carefully monitored, as will your success at maintaining good oral hygiene. Decisions about further treatment will be based on the results of this examination.
What else can I do to keep gum disease at bay?
Keeping your oral hygiene in top-notch condition — which includes effective brushing and flossing every day — can go a long way toward controlling gum disease.Â In addition, you can reduce risk factors by quitting tobacco use and eating a more balanced diet. And since inflammatory conditions like diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease can make periodontal disease worse (and vice versa), keeping these conditions under control will greatly benefit both your oral health and your overall health.
We’ve all had physical ailments that were more irritating than serious. The problem of skin cracking at the corners of the mouth fits into that category.
Both dentists and dermatologists encounter this condition often and have a name for it: perleche, derived from the French word lecher, meaning “to lick.” The term arises from patients’ tendency to excessively lick the broken skin to soothe the itching or burning.
Perleche most often arises from certain mouth conditions, although systemic problems like anemia or diabetes may also cause it. Children or younger adults, especially those with orthodontic braces or a tendency to drool as they sleep, often develop perleche; older adults with wrinkling around the mouth are also susceptible. Mouth dryness caused by reduced saliva flow may also irritate the skin and cause discomfort.
As the skin becomes irritated, the person may begin to lick the corners of the mouth to soothe them. This sets up conditions for an infection, most often caused by yeast known as candida albicans. The infection may become more acute and begin to affect the entire inside of the mouth or throat.
If you’ve developed perleche, our primary treatment goal is to reduce any infection with the aid of oral or topical antifungal drugs. One drug, Nystatin, is often taken as a lozenge that dissolves in the mouth and works its way from there through the rest of the body. You can also apply antifungal ointments several times a day to the corners of the mouth, often in combination with steroid ointments that reduce redness and swelling. You can also apply antifungal zinc oxide paste to the cracked skin, which also serves as a barrier between the skin and outer contaminants.
To reduce the chance of future outbreaks, we may recommend you rinse with Chlorhexidine, as well as replace missing teeth or refit loose dentures — these too are contributing factors to erupting yeast infections. You might also need to undergo dermatologic treatment for wrinkles if they’ve proven to be a factor in developing perleche.
Although not a major problem, perleche can be exceedingly uncomfortable and embarrassing. Thanks to a number of treatment options, you don’t have to put up with that discomfort for long.
If you would like more information on perleche (angular cheilitis), 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
What makes a beautiful smile? The teeth, of course: bright, evenly shaped and precisely aligned with each other. But your teeth can be as perfect as can be and your smile will still appear unattractive.
The reason? Your gums show more than they should when you smile.
What's considered a gummy smile is largely a matter of perception that can vary from person to person. As a rule of thumb, though, we consider a smile “gummy” if four millimeters (mm) or more of the gums show.
Fortunately, we can minimize the gums' prominence and make your smile more attractive. But what methods we use will depend on why your gums stand out. And it's not always because of the gums themselves.
It could be your teeth didn't erupt normally during dental development. Mature crown (the visible part of the tooth) length is normally about 10 mm with a width about 75-85% of that. But an abnormal eruption could result in teeth that appear too short, which can make the gums stand out more. We can correct this with a surgical procedure called crown lengthening in which we remove excess gum tissue and, if necessary, reshape the underlying bone to expose more of the tooth crown.
Another potential cause is how far your upper lip rises when you smile. Normally the lip rises only enough to reveal about 4 mm of teeth. In some cases, though, it may rise too high and show more of the gums. We can modify lip movement in a number of ways, including Botox injections to temporarily paralyze the lip. A more permanent solution is a lip stabilization procedure. It sounds bad, but it's a fairly simple procedure to surgically reposition the muscle attachments to restrict movement.
Your gummy smile may also result from an upper jaw too long for your facial structure. We can correct this with orthognathic (“ortho” – straighten, “gnathos” – jaw) surgery. During the procedure the surgeon permanently positions the jaw further up in the skull; this will reduce the amount of teeth and gums displayed when you smile.
Discovering the true cause of your gummy smile will determine how we treat it. After a complete oral examination, we can then discuss your options to transform your smile into a more attractive one.
If you would like more information on treating gummy smiles and other cosmetic problems, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
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