For over a century now, health providers have depended on blood and urine samples to diagnose many forms of disease. Very soon, though, we may routinely use a different bodily fluid that's easier and cheaper to collect: saliva.
Secreted by six hundred or more glands in the mouth, saliva performs a number of important functions for digestion and overall oral health. Saliva lubricates the mouth to make food easier to swallow. Its enzymes begin the digestion process breaking down food even before we swallow. It also helps wash out food particles that could build up as plaque on the teeth and harbor disease-causing bacteria.
In terms of dental health, its greatest role is as a neutralizer of food acid. It's natural after we eat for the acid levels in the mouth to rise above normal. If acid remains in contact with enamel for an extended period of time it can soften the enamel's minerals and make it easier for them to erode. Within thirty minutes to an hour after eating, saliva neutralizes acid and restores the mouth's normal pH level. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate materials, which helps restore some of the minerals the enamel may have lost from the acid contact.
But we're discovering saliva can do even more: we can now use it as an indicator for certain conditions in the body. Like blood or urine, saliva contains molecules that can serve as biological markers for different types of disease. By employing devices calibrated to detect these markers, we can use saliva to uncover cancer, diabetes or other systemic conditions.
As these particular devices are manufactured and become more available, the use of saliva for disease diagnosis will rise. In the future, you may not need a trip to the bathroom or wince at a needle stick — a swab of your saliva will do!
If you would like more information on saliva's role in your 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
You know the basics for a healthy mouth: daily oral hygiene and regular dental checkups. But there are other elements unique to you that also factor into your oral care: the mouth and facial structure you inherited from your parents (like a poor bite) and your past history with dental disease. Both of these help define your individual risk factors for potential dental problems.
That’s why you need a treatment strategy personalized to you to achieve the best health possible for your teeth and gums. We create this plan by using a detailed and thorough 4-step process.
Step 1: Identify your unique risk factors. To find your risk factors for dental disease, we carefully assess your history and other areas of oral function and health: the soundness of your supporting bone and gum structures; your teeth’s structural integrity and any effects from decay, enamel erosion or trauma; functional issues like a poor bite, a jaw joint disorder or a grinding habit; and problems with appearance like disproportional gums.
Step 2: Prioritize risk factors and form the treatment plan. Once we’ve identified your individual risk factors, we assess how each could impact you and whether any require immediate treatment. Any current dental disease should be treated immediately to minimize and prevent further damage. Depending on severity, other issues like bite problems or unattractive teeth may be scheduled for later treatment.
Step 3: Execute the treatment plan. With our priorities in place, we then proceed with treating your teeth and gums, the most pressing needs first. Throughout this step, our goal is to bring your oral health to the highest level possible for you.
Step 4: Monitoring and maintaining health. Once we’ve achieved an optimum level of health, we must remain vigilant about keeping it. So we monitor for any emerging problems and perform preventive treatments like clinical cleanings to help maintain that healthy state. This also means regularly repeating our 4-step process to identify and update any new, emerging risks and incorporate them into our treatment strategy.
While this process may seem overly methodical, it can actually result in more efficient and cost-effective treatment. It’s the best way to ensure good health for your teeth and gums throughout your lifetime.
If you would like more information on creating a long-term dental care plan, 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 “Successful Dental Treatment: Getting the Best Possible Results.”
Thanksgiving is an appropriate time to spotlight an often unsung group: individuals providing primary care for another family member. During November, National Family Caregivers Month recognizes those caring for children with special needs or senior adults with life challenges—and part of that ongoing care includes watching out for their loved one's oral health.
Keeping teeth and gums healthy requires a concerted personal effort to prevent dental disease. While most of us can handle this on our own, some need assistance. If you're caring for someone like this, be sure you focus on two main areas: daily hygiene and regular dental visits. These are the two foundation stones for preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
The relatively simple tasks of brushing and flossing are crucial for disease prevention—but they can pose a challenge for someone with diminished physical, mental or behavioral capacity. In some cases, you as a caregiver may have to perform the task for them.
But even someone with severe limitations may be able to do these tasks for themselves with some adaptations. For one, choose a place for brushing and flossing that's most comfortable for the person (not necessarily the bathroom) and keep to a routine schedule. Above all, approach the task in a positive and playful way, especially for children.
Choose a toothbrush and flosser that your loved one can easily handle. Flossers are also available with toothbrush-sized grips for those with less manual dexterity. An older person with arthritis may need an extra-large grip or a toothbrush modified with a bicycle handle. As an alternative, both children and older adults may benefit from using an electric toothbrush. Some special needs children can have a gag response to toothpaste, so you may wish to use less or substitute it with a diluted fluoride mouthwash on the brush.
Dry mouth is a concern among many older adults, often due to the medications they take. In fact, hundreds of medications can have dry mouth as a side effect. Saliva serves the important oral health function of washing away food debris and neutralizing acid in the mouth, but when saliva production is low, it is not only uncomfortable—it greatly increases the risk of tooth decay. To help with dry mouth, encourage your loved one to drink more water during the day and ask us to recommend a product that will boost their saliva production. You can also ask their physicians about drug alternatives without dry mouth side effects.
To make dental visits easier, be sure we know about any needs or conditions that might affect their care. If possible, accompany your older family member during their visit: Because health problems often increase with age, even routine visits may be more involved.
We understand that caring for family members who need assistance can be demanding, with needs often being prioritized. We urge you to keep dental care on the high-priority list—it could make a difference with the rest of their health and overall quality of life.
If you would like more information about oral care for a family member with special needs, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging and Dental Health.”
Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.
Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.
Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:
- If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
- If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
- If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
- If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.
What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!
While the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation have contributed to rising cancer survival rates, they can still have an adverse effect on the rest of the body. That includes the mouth: these treatments can damage healthy tissues like the salivary glands. The decrease in saliva flow increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
While overcoming cancer is certainly the patient’s main health priority, it’s important for them to tend to their oral health. The best approach often involves a three-way partnership between patient, dentist and family caregivers all doing their part to keep the patient’s teeth, gums and mouth healthy during cancer treatment.
Here’s what each “partner” can do to protect a cancer patient’s oral health during treatment.
The dentist. To minimize dental disease odds, patients should enter cancer treatment with their teeth and gums in the best shape possible. Before beginning treatment, then, the dentist can assess their oral health status and recommend a treatment plan for any existing disease or condition. The dentist can also monitor a patient’s oral health during the treatment period.
The patient. Patients can do the most to protect their oral health by removing disease-causing plaque buildup with daily brushing and flossing, as well as maintaining their regular schedule of dental cleanings (if possible). They should also attempt to reduce dry mouth, a potential consequence of cancer treatment, by consuming more water and using saliva boosters like Xylitol-sweetened gums and mints. A nutritious diet is also important for protecting oral health.
The caregiver. Many cancer patients depend on family or friends to aid them during treatment. One of the best things a caregiver can do is act as a liaison between the patient and their medical and dental providers. When it comes to oral health, caregivers should be on the alert for any mouth changes including tooth pain, gum swelling or bleeding, foul breath and other signs of disease.
Focusing on oral health can be a daunting challenge for patients during their fight with cancer. But with help from their other partners, they can come out of this fight with their teeth, gums and mouth in good health.
If you would like more information on oral care during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
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