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.
You already know the basics for healthy and attractive teeth and gums: brush and floss every day; and have your teeth cleaned and checked by a dentist every six months. But there are also some lesser known things you can do to improve what you're already doing—and some of them may go against popular wisdom.
Here then are 3 counter-intuitive tips for turbo-boosting your teeth and gum health.
Avoid brushing too hard and too often. While it may not seem like it, “The more, the better” isn't necessarily a good thing when it comes to brushing your teeth. Vigorous brushing several times a day could actually damage both your teeth enamel and your gums, eventually leading to problems like sensitive teeth. So, easy does it on the brushing pressure—let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the work removing disease-causing dental plaque. Likewise, avoid brushing more than twice a day.
Wait on brushing right after eating. If your first instinct right after a meal is to head to the sink to brush your teeth, curb your enthusiasm. Your enamel is actually in a slightly softened state right after eating and drinking because of an increase in mouth acid (especially if you've consumed sodas, sports drinks or juices). Saliva restores the mouth's pH balance and helps remineralize enamel in about an hour. If you brush before then, you could be sloughing off microscopic bits of enamel—an eventual problem if this is a regular habit.
Stop snack “grazing.” If you're one of those that likes to munch on food throughout the day, you could be thwarting your overall efforts to maintain good dental health. Remember saliva? As mentioned, it effectively neutralizes acid in a few minutes. But continuous snacking maintains a constant high level of acid in the mouth—saliva has little chance to catch up. As a result, your mouth stays acidic, which can lead to higher risk of dental disease. If possible, limit your snacking to mealtimes.
These tips might be surprising, but they're based on sound science and research. Incorporating them into your regular, ongoing dental care, could increase your chances of healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on how best to clean and care for your 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
While dental implants have become the most popular restoration among both dentists and patients, it’s primarily a tooth replacement — either for a missing tooth or a tooth beyond repair that must be extracted. But what if your tooth is still viable beneath its unattractive exterior? From an oral health standpoint, it’s usually wise to preserve it.
Even so, you still have options for making a tooth that’s spoiling your smile more attractive. One of the most effective solutions happens to be one of the oldest in dentistry: a crown. In effect, a crown is a life-like replica made of metal or dental porcelain that’s bonded over a tooth. And with today’s advanced materials and methods a crown can not only enhance the appearance of the tooth it covers, it can also be made to blend with the color and symmetry of adjacent teeth.
Here are a few dental situations where a crown could provide both protection for a tooth and a more attractive appearance.
Chipped, Damaged or Abnormally Developed Teeth. Teeth often take the brunt of mouth injuries, resulting in chips or even fractures. Also, teeth sometimes don’t erupt fully or develop a normal shape. A crown can effectively cover these missing or abnormal parts of a tooth and restore a more natural appearance.
Following Root Canal Treatment. Trauma or deep decay can damage the interior of a tooth - the pulp and root canals - and endanger its survival. A root canal treatment cleans out and repairs these areas, filling them with a special filling to prevent further infection. A crown is usually necessary to both protect the tooth and restore its appearance.
Discoloration. There’s a difference between outward staining of the enamel, which can usually be brightened with whitening solutions, and staining deep within the tooth from various causes. While there are techniques to bleach “intrinsic” staining, a crown provides another option for covering a heavily discolored tooth for a more attractive appearance.
Excessive Wear. We all experience some teeth wearing as we age; but grinding or clenching habits can accelerate that wear and shorten teeth, resulting in a prematurely aged look. Crowns restore worn teeth to a more normal length that can take “years” off your smile.
If you would like more information on crown restorations, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
The Health Policy Institute, part of the American Dental Association, recently conducted a survey of around 15,000 people across the U.S., asking them about problems with their teeth and gums. Three issues in particular stood out, each affecting about one-third of those surveyed.
Here are those top 3 dental problems that plague Americans and what to do about them.
Tooth Pain. As with other parts of the body, tooth or mouth pain is a sign of something wrong — in some instances ignoring it could lead to tooth loss. Because there are a number of possible pain sources like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, anyone with tooth pain should see a dentist for an examination to pinpoint the actual cause. That will determine what kind of treatment will remedy the problem and stop the pain.
Difficulty with Chewing. For 31% in the ADA survey, chewing food was a difficult and often painful task. The consequences go well beyond the mouth: with less chewing efficiency a person may be unable to eat certain foods that supply his or her body with essential nutrients. Like tooth pain, there are a number of possible causes: cracked or deeply decayed teeth, enamel erosion or recessed gums that have exposed sensitive tooth layers, or poorly fitted dentures. Finding and then treating the cause of the difficulty could help restore chewing ability.
Dry Mouth. The most prevalent dental issue in the survey was chronic dry mouth. It's more than simply being thirsty: chronic dry mouth usually stems from inadequate saliva flow. It's often caused by some systemic diseases or as a side effect to a prescription drug. Saliva helps neutralize decay-causing acid and supplies antibodies to fight infection. Without sufficient flow a person is more susceptible to diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Changing medications or using products to increase saliva could help prevent these dental problems.
So, have you experienced symptoms for any these common oral health problems? If you have, be sure you see your dentist as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
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