My Blog

Posts for: May, 2012

By Drake Tollefson DDS
May 30, 2012
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   dry mouth  
UnderstandingDryMouth

The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia (“xero” – dry; “stomia” – mouth), something that many of us have experienced at some point in life. However, for some people it can be a chronic condition that is ideal for promoting tooth decay. It can also be a warning sign of a more serious health condition.

Dry mouth occurs when there is an insufficient flow of saliva, the fluid secreted by the salivary glands. Your major salivary glands are located in two places: inside the checks by the back top molars and in the floor of the mouth, with about six hundred tiny glands scattered throughout your mouth. And many people are surprised to learn that when they are functioning normally, saliva glands secret between two and four pints of saliva per day! While this may sound like a lot (and it is), saliva is key for buffering or neutralizing acids in the mouth. Without this powerful protection, tooth decay can increase quickly. This is especially true for older individuals who have exposed tooth root surfaces.

It is also important to note that there are times when mouth dryness is perfectly normal. For example, when you wake, you will probably have a slightly dry mouth because saliva flow slows at night. Another example is if you are dehydrated when it is simply a warning sign that you need to drink more fluids (especially water). Other causes for temporary dry mouth include stress as well as what you consume: coffee, alcohol, onions, and certain spices.

You can also have a dry mouth due to a side effect from an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. If it turns out that this is the cause in your case, you need to talk to the prescribing physician to see if there is something else you can take to avoid this side effect. If there are no substitutes, one tip you can try is to take several sips of water before taking the medication followed by a full glass of water, or chew gum containing xylitol, which moistens your mouth and decreases the risk of tooth decay.

Another cause of dry mouth is radiation treatment for cancer in the head and neck region. Yes, these treatments are crucial for fighting cancer; however, they can inflame, damage or destroy salivary glands. You can also have dry mouth from certain systemic (general body) or autoimmune (“auto” – self; “immune” – resistance system) diseases, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cystic fibrosis and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

To learn more, continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Mouth.” Or, you can contact us today to ask your questions, discuss your circumstances or schedule an appointment.


By Drake Tollefson DDS
May 22, 2012
Category: Oral Health
Tags: sinus pain  
TooMuchPressureHowtoWardOffSinusPain

If you engage in frequent air travel, you have probably experienced pain in your ears and sinuses related to pressure changes. The pain is caused by “barotraumas” (from baro meaning pressure — also the root of the word “barometer” — and trauma meaning injury) and is also called a “squeeze.” Divers also sometimes experience this discomfort or pain.

The cause of barotraumas is air pressure (or water pressure, in the case of divers) on the outside of your body that is not equal to the pressure inside your body. Normally when pressure outside your body changes, your organs such as your blood, bones, and muscles transmit the changes equally from outside to inside. Some structures in your body, such as your middle ear spaces and your sinus cavities (spaces in the facial bones of the skull), don't transmit the pressure as well because they are filled with air and have rigid walls. The maxillary (upper jaw) sinuses are pyramid-shaped spaces in the bone located below your eyes, on either side of your nose.

You have probably tried to stop such pain in your ears by yawning, chewing, or moving your jaw back and forth. These maneuvers, called “clearing,” allow air to move from the back of your throat into your ear canals so that the pressure can equalize. Similarly, your sinuses have small openings near their lower borders, so that you can clear pressure changes within them. If you have a head cold or flu and the membranes lining your sinuses are swollen and inflamed, they may close off the openings and make it difficult to clear these spaces. This can sometimes lead to intense pain.

Because the lower walls of these sinuses are adjacent to your upper back teeth, these teeth share the same nerves as the maxillary sinuses. This sharing sometimes causes pain felt in your back teeth to be perceived as pain in the sinuses, or vice versa. Pain felt a distance from its actual stimulus because of shared nerves is called “referred pain.”

Be sure to make an appointment with us if you experience pain in any of your teeth. Any defect in a filling or tooth can allow air to enter the tooth. It could be referred pain from your sinuses, or the result of pressure changes on trapped air within a filling or a tooth. Such pain, called barodontalgia (from baro meaning pressure, don't meaning tooth, and algia meaning pain) is an early sign of injury in a tooth.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about tooth and sinus pain. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pressure Changes Can Cause Tooth & Sinus Pain.”


By Drake Tollefson DDS
May 14, 2012
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: teeth whitening  
WhiteningaDiscoloredToothfromtheInsideOut

If you have discolored teeth, the cause is often staining on the enamel surfaces from foods, beverages, or smoking. But tooth discoloration may also originate deep within the root of a tooth. Sometimes this happens to a tooth that had to have earlier root canal treatment because of injury or decay.

In such cases the living pulp tissue and its blood vessels and nerves had to be removed from the root canals, resulting in the death of the dentin layer, which makes up most of the tooth's body. Over time this caused the dentin to darken. The color may come from remains of blood that was left in the tissue, or from filling materials left in the root canal that are showing through.

Since these stains are caused internally (intrinsic) and not on the outside of the tooth (extrinsic) they must be whitened from the inside. This is usually done by putting a bleaching agent into the empty chamber from which the pulp was removed. Usually the bleaching agent is a substance called sodium perborate.

When it is mixed with a solution of hydrogen peroxide, sodium perborate slowly bleaches the color from the tooth's internal material. It is considered to be safe and reliable for this use.

The work begins by taking x-ray images to make sure that the root canal is correctly sealed and the bone is healthy. After this, we will make a small hole in the back of the tooth through which the root canal space will be cleaned. The root canal space will be sealed and the bleach will be applied in a putty-like form and sealed off from the rest of your mouth. Every few days this procedure will be repeated until the bleaching reaches the desired level.

At this point a tooth-colored composite resin will be used to seal the small hole that was made in the dentin to insert the bleach. After the tooth has reached the level of whiteness that matches it to your other teeth, veneers or crowns must sometimes be used to repair the surface if it is chipped or misshapen, for example.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about whitening internally discolored teeth. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Whitening Traumatized Teeth.”


By Drake Tollefson DDS
May 06, 2012
Category: Oral Health
Tags: sleep apnea   snoring  
HowYourDentistCanHelpYouGetaBetterNightsSleep

Scientists don't know much about sleep even though it has been extensively studied. We do know that several hours of deep, restful sleep per night are essential for a healthy life.

Many people remain tired and unrefreshed, even after a full night's sleep. About a third of them are affected by sleep related breathing disorders (SRBD). Dentists can play a significant role in helping patients overcome these disorders, which range from frequent snoring to severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). If you think you may have such a disorder, read on.

Under normal conditions, your upper airway is open, allowing air to flow from your nose, through your throat, and into your lungs. If you suffer from SRBD, you experience frequent reductions in the flow of air to your lungs during sleep. You may not be aware of it, but sometimes your breathing may even stop for brief periods. These reductions happen when your tongue and other soft tissues in the back of your throat collapse backwards and block your upper airway or windpipe. You may briefly awaken as many as 50 times per night because of these breathing lapses. These brief awakenings, called micro-arousals, keep you from reaching the deep stages of sleep your body needs.

The resulting reduced oxygen flow to your heart and to your brain can cause serious damage. You will also be tired during the day and experience a lack of energy, even if you sleep for seven or eight hours per night. This constant drowsiness puts you at greater risk for accidents.

Because dentists generally see their patients at six-month or other regular intervals, we are in a good position to screen and refer patients with suspected SRBD to physicians for diagnosis and treatment. Dentists can also treat SRBD in a number of ways.

  • One of these is Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT), in which a device that looks something like an orthodontic retainer holds your lower jaw in a forward position relative to your upper jaw, preventing your tongue and soft tissue from collapsing into your airway.
  • Another consists of breathing equipment called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). The CPAP is a mask connected to a machine that pushes air into your lungs.
  • Other treatments include oral surgery or orthodontia. The goal of these techniques is to increase the volume of air passing through your upper airway by pushing your tongue forward.

Medical insurance usually covers the cost of much of these treatments.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about sleep disorders and their treatments. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders and Dentistry.”