In the midst of the current global pandemic, we're all focused on staying healthy and avoiding infection. For many, their first thought before resuming any regular activity is, “Will I or my family be safe?”
If you've asked that about visiting the dentist, rest assured, it is. In fact, dentists have been at the forefront in protecting patients from viral and bacterial infections for decades. Here's why you're in safe hands at the dentist's office.
Barrier control. Although we're focused at the moment on Covid-19, there are other pathogens (microorganism that cause disease) for which there has been an ongoing concern among healthcare providers. Many of these like the viruses that cause hepatitis or HIV/AIDS spread through blood-to-blood contact. That's why we routinely use gloves, face shields and other barrier devices, even during routine visits, to prevent bloodborne transmission between patients and staff, or other patients.
Disinfection. Viruses and other pathogens may continue to live on surfaces in treatment areas for various durations. To prevent their transmission to humans, we follow strict procedures for disinfecting all treatment-related surfaces after each patient visit. One-use treatment items are disposed separately from regular waste. Permanent instruments and equipment are cleaned and thoroughly sanitized to the highest standard.
Protocols. There are approximately 170,000 dentists across the U.S., yet each generally follows the same high standards for infection control. Regulating bodies at state levels have made infection control a crucial part of licensing requirements and continuing education, and every dental practice must have an infection control plan they meticulously follow. Because of these strict standards, an infection occurring in a dental office setting is extremely rare.
In addition to these regular procedures, dentists have also added extra safety measures to better address the current crisis, and will continue these until the crisis has abated. Staying knowledgeable and flexible to new challenges is also a feature of dental providers' infection control mission.
If you do have concerns, please feel free to contact us to learn more about the specific measures we have in place to keep patients safe. Protecting you and your family during dental care will always be our top priority.
If you would like more information on patient safety at the dentist's office, 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 “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
We all benefit from regular dental care, regardless of our state of oral health. But if you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, those regular dental visits are even more important in making sure your healed gums stay that way.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces. The infection triggers inflammation in the gums that quickly becomes chronic. That's why people with gum disease have reddened and swollen gums that bleed easily.
The infection can aggressively spread deeper below the gum line, eventually affecting the bone. The combination of weakened gum detachment from the teeth and bone loss may ultimately cause tooth loss. But we can stop the infection by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from the teeth and gums. As the plaque is removed, the gums respond and begin to heal.
It's possible then even with advanced gum disease to restore health to your teeth and gums. But although the infection has been arrested, it can occur again. In fact, once you've had gum disease, your susceptibility for another infection is much greater. To stay on top of this, you may need to visit the dentist more frequently.
These upgraded visits known as periodontal maintenance (PM) are actually a continuation of your treatment. Depending on the extensiveness of your gum disease, we may need to see you more than the standard twice-a-year visits: Some periodontal patients, for example, may need a visit every two to three months. Again, the state of your gum health will determine how often.
In addition to standard dental cleanings and checkups, PM visits will also include more thorough examination of the teeth and gums, particularly the health of the tooth roots. We'll also check how well you're doing with daily plaque removal and if there are any signs of gum infection. We may also prescribe medication, rinses or topical antibiotics to help control your mouth's levels of bacteria.
A patient's periodontal “maintenance schedule” will depend on their individual condition and needs. The key, though, is to closely monitor gum health for any indications that another infection has set in. By staying alert through dedicated PM, we can stop a new infection before it harms your dental health.
If you would like more information on gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
If we were playing word association with the term “oral hygiene,” you'd probably answer “brushing.” And you would be right—brushing cleans tooth surfaces of accumulated bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease.
But brushing is only half of the oral hygiene equation: You also need to remove dental plaque between teeth where brushing can't reach. And, that requires that other practice—flossing.
Unfortunately, brushing is more popular than its hygienic sibling because many people find traditional thread flossing more difficult and messier than brushing. That can make it tempting to skip flossing—but then you're only getting half the benefit of oral hygiene for reducing the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
There is, however, a way to floss that doesn't involve a roll of thread: oral irrigation. This form of flossing uses a countertop device that directs a pressurized spray of water between teeth through a handheld wand. The directed spray loosens and then flushes away accumulated plaque.
Oral irrigators (also known as water flossers) have been an important tool for decades in dental offices, and have been available for home use since the 1960s. In the last few years, though, the devices have become more compact and easier to use. More importantly, studies have shown they're as effective in removing between-teeth plaque as regular flossing.
These irrigation devices are especially useful for people wearing braces. The attached brackets and wires make it extremely difficult to maneuver flossing thread between teeth. Because of this (as well as similar difficulties in brushing), patients are more susceptible to dental disease while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
But a 2008 study showed that oral irrigators are quite effective for braces wearers in removing between-teeth plaque. It found those who used an irrigator after brushing removed five times the amount of plaque than those that only brushed.
Even if you're not wearing braces, you may still find an oral irrigator to be a useful flossing alternative. Speak with your dentist for recommendations on what to look for in an oral irrigator and tips on how to use it. It could make a positive difference in your dental health.
If you would like more information on how best to keep your teeth and gums clean, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Millions of Americans rely on dental insurance to help them better afford dental care. Depending on the benefit package, an insurance policy can be useful in restoring dental health compromised by disease or injury.
But how life-like that restoration may appear is often a secondary concern with many insurance plans. For example, dental insurance will pay for a crown restoration that restores function to a tooth, but not necessarily of the highest aesthetic quality for achieving a truly life-like appearance.
To be sure, not all dental crowns are the same. Some are all metal, usually gold or silver. Some are “hybrids,” made of an interior metal shell with an outer fused porcelain shell (porcelain-fused-to-metal or PFM). In recent years all -ceramic crowns made of stronger life-like ceramics have become the most popular.
The type of crown used will depend a great deal on the type and location of the tooth. Teeth on the back of the jaw that encounter greater biting forces and are not as noticeable in the smile may do better with a metal or PFM crown. Visible side and front teeth are more likely candidates for all-ceramic. Your dentist will give you your best options as it pertains to your dental needs and appearance.
There's also a difference in crown workmanship. Dental laboratories now use milling machinery that sculpts a crown from a single block of material. Although some final handwork by skilled technicians is still necessary, milling has streamlined the process—and the cost—for producing a crown of high functioning quality.
But crowns that achieve the most natural smile appearance require more in the way of artistic craftsmanship. This in turn can increase the crown's price—beyond what many dental policies agree to cover. You may then be faced with a decision: an insurance-covered functional crown with an acceptable level of life-likeness or a more life-like crown for which you may have to pay more out-of-pocket.
Your dentist can advise you on your best options for a crown restoration, also factoring in what your insurance will cover. Ultimately, though, you'll have to weigh the kind of smile you desire with your dental situation and finances.
If you would like more information on dental 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 “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
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