E-cigarettes have taken the world by storm, especially among younger adults. The reason: the widespread perception that “vaping” is healthier than smoking tobacco.
But a deeper look at this wildly popular habit reveals a product that doesn't live up to its reputation as smoking's “safer alternative.” One aspect of health that's especially in harm's way is the mouth: Teeth and gums could in fact be just as prone to disease with an e-cigarette as the tobacco variety.
E-cigarettes are handheld devices that hold a cartridge of liquid vaping product, which is then heated to produce an inhalable vapor. Technically, it's an aerosol in which solid chemical compounds within the vaping liquid are suspended in the vapor. The aerosolized vapor thus serves as a transporting medium for these chemicals to enter the user's body.
It's these various chemicals inhaled during vaping that most concern dentists. Top on the list: nicotine, the addictive chemical also found in regular tobacco. Among its other effects, nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, causing less blood flow of nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the gums and teeth. This not only heightens the risk for gum disease, but may also mask initial infection symptoms like swelling or redness.
Flavorings, a popular feature of vaping solutions, may also contribute to oral problems. These substances can form new chemical compounds during the vaping process that can irritate the mouth's inner membranes and trigger inflammation. There's also evidence that e-cigarette flavorings, particularly menthol, might soften enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay.
Other chemicals commonly found in vaping solutions are thought to increase plaque formation, the sticky film on teeth that is a major cause for dental disease. And known carcinogens like formaldehyde, also included in many formulations, raise the specter of oral cancer.
These are just a few of the possible ways vaping may damage oral health. Far from a safe tobacco alternative, there's reason to believe it could be just as harmful. The wise choice for your body and your mouth is not to smoke—or vape.
If you would like more information on the oral hazards of e-cigarettes, 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.”
Parents have been dealing with their children's teething pain for as long as parents and children have been around. Along the way, the human race has developed different ways to ease the discomfort of this natural process of dental development. While most are good, common-sense measures, one in particular needs to be avoided at all costs—applying topical oral products to the gums containing Benzocaine.
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic often found in oral products like Anbesol, Orajel or Topex to help ease tooth pain or sensitivity. The agent can be found in gel, spray, ointment or lozenge products sold over-the-counter. As an analgesic, it's considered relatively safe for adults to use.
But that's not the case with infants or younger children. Researchers have found a link between Benzocaine and methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal blood condition. Methemoglobinemia elevates the amount of a hemoglobin-like protein called methemoglobin, which in high concentrations can lower oxygen levels being transported to the body's cells through the bloodstream.
Because of their smaller anatomy and organ systems, younger children can have severe reactions to increases in methemoglobin, which can range from shortness of breath or fatigue to seizures, coma or even death. That's why you should never use products with Benzocaine or similar numbing agents to ease teething pain. Instead, follow these common sense practices:
- Give your child chilled rubber teething rings, wet washcloths or pacifiers to chew or gnaw on. The combination of cold temperatures and pressure from biting on them will help ease the pain. Just be sure the item isn't frozen, which could cause frost burns to soft tissues.
- For temporary relief from soreness, gently massage your baby's gums with a clean, bare finger or with it wrapped in a clean, wet cloth. The massaging action helps counteract the pressure of the incoming tooth.
- For intense episodes of teething discomfort, ask your healthcare provider about using an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be sure you use only the recommended dose size for your child's age.
Teething is in many ways like a storm—it too shall pass. Be sure you're helping your baby weather it safely.
Orthodontics, veneers and other cosmetic dental techniques can turn a less than perfect smile into a beautiful one—but not always very quickly. For example, porcelain veneers can take weeks from planning to installation, including the meticulous work of an outside dental lab to produce veneers that look natural as well as beautiful.
But you may be able to take advantage of another approach, one that often takes no more than a couple of dental visits. Called direct veneers, it's actually a process of bonding and sculpting life-like composite materials to teeth that are heavily stained, chipped or that contain tiny crevices called “craze lines.”
Unlike the similarly-named traditional method, direct veneers don't involve the creation of layered porcelain veneers fashioned by a dental lab. But this newer process is similar to the older one in that some of the enamel must be removed from the teeth in question to provide a suitable surface for the composite material to adhere. This alteration will be permanent, requiring a restorative covering on the treated teeth from then on.
Right before this preparation, though, a dentist typically makes an impression of the patient's mouth. This will be the basis for creating the procedural plan for the dental work, particularly a “trial smile” from similar composite material that can be applied to the patient's teeth before actual restoration work begins. This temporary application gives both patient and dentist an opportunity to visualize the final look, and make needed adjustments in color and shaping.
Once the work plan is finalized, the patient then returns for the actual restoration procedure. The dentist begins by applying and bonding the composite material to the prepared teeth. Then, using a drill and manual instruments, the dentist shapes and smooths the material into a tooth-like appearance that blends with other teeth. The procedure can take a few hours, but it can usually be completed during a single visit.
Although direct veneers may not last as long as porcelain veneers, the process is less costly and requires less time to complete. Direct veneers could be an economical solution for achieving a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on direct veneers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic with a firsthand patient account by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “A New Smile With Direct Veneers.”
Dental implants are far and away the most “tooth-like” restoration available today for missing teeth. Not only do they look real, they also mimic dental anatomy in replacing the tooth root.
To install an implant, though, requires a minor surgical procedure. And, as with any surgery, that includes a slight risk for a post-surgical infection. For most patients this isn't a major concern—but it can be for people with certain medical conditions.
One way to lessen the risk for implant patients whose health could be jeopardized by an infection is to prescribe a prophylactic (preventive) antibiotic before implant surgery. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the measure for patients with artificial heart valves, a history of infective endocarditis, a heart transplant and other heart-related issues.
In the past, their recommendation also extended to people with joint replacements. But in conjunction with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery (AAOS), the ADA downgraded this recommendation a few years ago and left it to the physician's discretion. Indeed, some orthopedic surgeons do recommend antibiotic therapy for patients before surgical procedures like implantation for up to two years after joint replacement.
These changes reflect the ongoing debate over the proper use of antibiotics. In essence, this particular argument is over risks vs. benefits: Are pre-surgical antibiotics worth the lower infection risk for patients at low to moderate risk in return for increased risk of allergic reactions and other side effects from the antibiotic? Another driver in this debate is the deep concern over the effect current antibiotic practices are having on the increasing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
As a result, dentists and physicians alike are reevaluating practices like prophylactic antibiotics before procedures, becoming more selective on who receives it and even the dosage levels. Some studies have shown, for example, that a low 2-gram dose of amoxicillin an hour before the procedure can be effective with much lower risks for side effects.
If you're considering dental implants and you have a medical condition you think could be impacted by the procedure, discuss the matter with your dentist and physician. It may be that pre-surgical antibiotics would be a prudent choice for you.
If you would like more information on getting dental implants, 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 “Implants & Antibiotics.”
Infancy is perhaps the only time in a person's life where a smile with just a few tiny teeth is still endearing. More will come—and then each will gradually depart, succeeded by permanent replacements.
That short lifespan, though, doesn't diminish their importance. Primary teeth not only provide children the ability to eat solid food and develop speech, but they set the stage for future dental health.
The latter arises from primary teeth's role as placeholders for incoming permanent teeth. Because permanent teeth eruption occurs in stages, primary teeth prevent earlier erupted teeth from drifting into the space intended for a later tooth. If they're lost prematurely and other teeth crowd into the space, the intended tooth may not have enough room to erupt properly, cascading from there into a poor bite (malocclusion).
The most common reason for premature loss is an aggressive form of tooth decay in children under 6 called early childhood caries (ECC). About one in four U.S. children encounter ECC, with those in poverty at higher risk. Infection in one tooth can spread to others, including newly erupted permanent teeth.
The goal then is to prevent ECC as much as possible, and initiate prompt treatment should it still occur. A good prevention strategy has two prongs: the actions and habits of parents or caregivers; and the prevention and treatment measures taken by dental providers.
At home, it's important that you wipe your newborn's gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding to reduce bacterial growth. As teeth erupt, switch then to gentle brushing with a rice grain-sized amount of baby toothpaste. You should also limit their sugar consumption, including not allowing them to sleep with a bedtime bottle of any liquid other than water.
It's also important that you start your child's regular dental visits around their first birthday. This allows us to detect any developing cavities, as well as apply sealants and topical fluoride to help prevent decay. And should a cavity develop, regular visits help ensure prompt treatment to preserve the tooth.
Your child's set of primary teeth only last a few short years, but their contribution echoes for a lifetime. Taking these measures to protect them from tooth decay ensures they'll fully make that contribution.
If you would like more information on dental care for 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
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