X-ray imaging is such an intricate part of dentistry, we usually don't think twice about it. Without it, though, the fight against dental disease would be much harder.
At the same time, we can't forget that x-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. It's that very quality and the difference in the absorption rate between denser bone and teeth and softer diseased tissue that makes disease diagnosis possible.
But this same penetrative power can potentially harm the tissues it passes through. For that reason when practicing any form of x-ray diagnostics, dentists follow a principle known as ALARA, an acronym for "As Low As Reasonably Achievable." In lay terms ALARA means getting the most benefit from x-rays that we can with the lowest dose and exposure time possible.
While practicing ALARA with x-rays is important for patients of any age, it's especially so for children who are more sensitive to radiological energy given their smaller size and anatomy. We can't use the same settings, dosages or exposure times with them as with an adult.
To protect children, dentists have developed techniques and protocols that lessen their exposure time and rate, while still providing usable images for diagnosing disease. The bitewing is a good example of safe and effective pediatric x-ray imaging.
A bitewing is a plastic device holding exposable film that patients bite down on and hold in their mouth while x-raying. The x-rays pass through the teeth and gums and expose the film behind them on the bitewing. Using a bitewing we can capture a set of two to four radiographs to give us a comprehensive view of the back teeth, while exposing the child less radiation than they normally receive daily from background environmental sources.
This and other advances in equipment and digital imaging greatly reduce the amount of radiation patients receive during x-rays. If, though, you're still concerned about your child's x-ray exposure, talk with your dentist who can explain in more detail the x-ray safety protocols they follow. Just like you, they want your child to be as safe as possible while still benefiting from the diagnostic power of x-rays.
If you would like more information on safety precautions using x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
As spring weather heats up, so do a lot of outdoor sports like baseball or soccer. Unfortunately, the chances of sports-related injuries increase as well. Your child’s mouth in particular is a prime target for injury—and you need to be prepared.
First and foremost, players should wear a mouthguard during contact sports to reduce their risk of injury. Mouthguards can absorb much of the force generated during impact—and may make the difference between minor bruising and a fractured or knocked-out tooth.
“Boil and bite” mouthguards available from the local pharmacy or sporting goods store are popular because of their cost and availability. These are softened in hot water before the wearer bites down to create a semi-customized fit. An even better option, though, is a custom mouthguard that is made from a precise impression of your child’s teeth that we take in our office. This type of mouthguard costs more, but it provides greater protection and comfort than one from your corner store.
A mouthguard can significantly reduce the risk of injury but won’t eliminate it entirely. If a dental injury does occur, you need to know what to do. This will depend mainly on the type of injury: If the tooth is chipped but not pushed out of position, you can collect any tooth fragments and see us within 12 hours for an examination and possible repairs. If the tooth has moved or is loose, you should see us even sooner—within 6 hours so we can readjust the tooth and, if needed, splint it until it is securely reattached.
A more serious injury is a tooth that has been knocked completely out of its socket. It can often be saved, but you’ll need to act quickly—optimally, within 5 minutes—by reinserting the tooth in its socket. Although it sounds daunting, it’s really a matter of a few simple steps: First, find the tooth and rinse off any debris with clean water. Holding it by the crown (the visible part you are used to seeing) insert the root end into the empty socket. If your placement isn’t “just right,” don’t worry; we can adjust it later, but it will require some pressure to place it in the socket. Have the person bite down on a piece of gauze or clean cloth to hold the tooth in place. Call us immediately. If you cannot reach us, go to an emergency room.
Quick action and prompt follow-up dental care after a mouth injury increase the chance of a happy outcome. Along with proper mouthguard protection, remembering these pointers will help ensure that your family has an enjoyable sports season this year!
If you would like more information about sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Every May, the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association asks people around the world to spread awareness of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. Anyone with fibromyalgia and its associated joint and muscle pain knows all too well how chronic pain can disrupt everyday life. And as we see frequently in the dental office, people contending with the jaw pain and dysfunction associated with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can equally relate.
But here’s the kicker—if you’ve been diagnosed with either TMD or fibromyalgia, there’s a good chance you’re also dealing with both conditions. For example, in one recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients, two-thirds reported also having fibromyalgia or similar kinds of health issues. Researchers are looking intently at possible connections between TMD and fibromyalgia since understanding any potential link between the two might open the door to new ways of treatment.
Fibromyalgia patients experience frequent muscle spasms and fatigue throughout their bodies, coupled with other problems like sleeplessness and memory difficulties. Most researchers today believe it’s caused by a malfunction within the central nervous system (CNS) to process pain. Those working with TMD research are also considering whether the same type of malfunction contributes to jaw joint pain and dysfunction.
TMD is an umbrella term for various disorders involving the jaw joints and associated muscles. When you come to the dental office, it is important that we know about any TMD pain you may be experiencing because this can affect your dental visits. For example, people with TMD may have trouble holding their mouth open for an extended period of time, so we can adjust dental exams and treatments accordingly. Also, we will want to look for underlying dental conditions that may have contributed to your TMD.
If you’re experiencing both TMD and fibromyalgia symptoms, be sure you let us as well as your rheumatologist know the various symptoms you’re experiencing with each condition, the treatments you’re undergoing and the medications you’re taking.
For TMD in particular, here are a few things you can do to reduce its impact on your daily life:
- Avoid foods that require heavy chewing or jaw widening;
- Use thermal therapies like warm compresses or ice packs to ease jaw stiffness and pain;
- Practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress in your life;
- Ask about muscle relaxants or other medications that might help.
You may find that some of these practices, particularly stress reduction, are also helpful in managing fibromyalgia. And if there is a deeper connection between TMD and fibromyalgia, unraveling the mystery could hopefully lead to even greater relief for both.
If you would like more information about managing your symptoms, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions” and “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
Unlike our primitive ancestors, our teeth have it relatively easy. Human diets today are much more refined than their counterparts from thousands of years ago. Ancient teeth recovered from those bygone eras bear that out, showing much more wear on average than modern teeth.
Even so, our modern teeth still wear as we age—sometimes at an accelerated rate. But while you can't eliminate wearing entirely, you can take steps to minimize it and preserve your teeth in your later years. Here are 3 things you can do to slow your teeth's wearing process.
Prevent dental disease. Healthy teeth endure quite well even while being subjected to daily biting forces produced when we eat. But teeth weakened by tooth decay are more susceptible to wear. To avoid this, you should practice daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque. And see your dentist at least twice a year for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
Straighten your bite. A poor bite, where the top and bottom teeth don't fit together properly, isn't just an appearance problem—it could also cause accelerated tooth wear. Having your bite orthodontically corrected not only gives you a new smile, it can also reduce abnormal biting forces that are contributing to wear. And don't let age stop you: except in cases of bone deterioration or other severe dental problems, older adults whose gums are healthy can undergo orthodontics and achieve healthy results.
Seek help for bruxism. The term bruxism refers to any involuntary habit of grinding teeth, which can produce abnormally high biting forces. Over time this can increase tooth wear or weaken teeth to the point of fracture or other severe damage. While bruxism is uncommon in adults, it's still a habit that needs to be addressed if it occurs. The usual culprit is high stress, which can be better managed through therapy or biofeedback. Your dentist can also fashion you a custom guard to wear that will prevent upper and lower teeth from wearing against each other.
If you would like more information on minimizing teeth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make if you want to reduce your risk of oral cancer, with quitting a tobacco habit at the top of the list. You should also moderate your alcohol consumption and practice safe sex to prevent the spread of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) linked to oral cancer.
And there's one other area that might be ripe for change—your diet. The foods we consume can work both ways in regard to cancer: some, especially processed products with certain chemicals, increase your cancer risk; more natural foods, on the other hand, can help your body fight cancer formation.
Although how cancer forms and grows isn't fully understood, we do know some of the mechanisms involved. One major factor in cancer growth is damage to DNA, the molecule that contains all the instructions for normal cell growth. Certain chemicals called carcinogens cause much of this DNA damage.
One example of these dangerous chemicals are nitrosamines, found in substances used to preserve meats like bacon or ham. Nitrosamines also occur in beer during the brewing process, some fish and fish products, processed cheese and foods pickled with nitrite salt. It's believed long-term consumption of foods with these chemicals can increase the risk of cancer.
On the other hand, there are foods with substances called antioxidants that help our bodies resist cancer. Antioxidants protect cells from unstable molecules called free radicals that can also damage DNA. You'll find antioxidants in abundance in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those high in fiber. Vitamins like C and E found in many natural foods also have antioxidant properties.
So, to help keep your risk of cancer and other diseases low, make sure your diet includes mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, along with plant-based fats found in nuts or olive oil. At the same time minimize your consumption of processed foods with preservatives and other chemicals, along with animal and saturated fats.
A change in eating not only reduces your cancer risk, it can also improve your overall health and well-being. You'll also find a healthy diet can be dental-friendly—it can help keep your teeth and gums disease-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on dental-friendly nutrition practices, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
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