Posts for: February, 2014
When you think of saliva, the word “amazing” probably doesn’t come to mind. But your life and health would be vastly different without this “wonder” fluid at work in your mouth.
Saliva originates from a number of glands located throughout the mouth. The largest are a pair known as the parotids, located just under the ears on either side of the lower jaw, which produce a thin and watery liquid. The sublingual glands under the tongue produce thicker saliva with a mucous secretion; the saliva from the submandibular glands located under the lower jaw has a consistency somewhere between that of the parotids and the sublingual glands. All these different consistencies of saliva combine to produce a fluid rich in proteins, enzymes, minerals and antibodies.
Saliva performs at least five basic functions in the mouth. First, it washes away food particles after eating and reduces the amount of sugar available for decay-causing bacteria to consume. It protects and disinfects the mouth with antibodies, proteins and enzymes that fight against and help prevent the growth of bacteria. Saliva neutralizes high acidity levels in the mouth, necessary to prevent enamel erosion from acid; and when enamel has softened due to acidity (de-mineralization), the calcium and other minerals in saliva help restore some of the enamel’s lost minerals (re-mineralization). Saliva also aids in digestion by lubricating the mouth and helping the body break down starches in food with its enzymes.
In recent years, scientists have also gained insight into another property of saliva that promises better disease diagnosis in the future. Like blood and urine, saliva contains biological markers for disease. As more diagnostic machines calibrated to these specific markers are developed and used, it could signal a more effective way to identify conditions from saliva samples that are easier to collect than other bodily fluids.
Its less than glamorous image aside, your mouth would be quite a different (and unhealthy) place without saliva. And, developments in diagnostics could make this unsung fluid even more valuable in maintaining your health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to oral 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 “Secrets of Saliva.”
Periodontal (gum) diseases like gingivitis (inflammation of the gum tissues) can exist in a chronic form for some time, while gradually worsening. But given the right conditions, gingivitis could elevate quickly into an acute, painful condition known as Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG). While it can be effectively treated, it’s important to diagnose ANUG early and begin treatment as soon as possible.
ANUG is also known as “trench mouth” as it was commonly recognized among soldiers in the trenches during World War I. Its name describes it as “necrotizing” and “ulcerative,” because when left untreated it kills (“necrotizes”) soft gum tissue, particularly the triangular tissue between teeth known as papillae, and causes severe and painful sores. A person with ANUG may also exhibit very bad breath and taste, with an odor peculiar to the disease. It’s believed that acute stress, poor nutrition and a lack of sleep can trigger the condition in individuals with pre-existing gingivitis.
As with other forms of gum disease, the first priority of treatment is to alleviate the symptoms. Besides initial cleaning (also known as scaling), we would also prescribe antibiotics (particularly Metronidazole, which is effective against the specific bacteria responsible for ANUG), an antibacterial mouthrinse like chlorhexidine, and a mild saline rinse. We would also control pain and inflammation with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.
As the symptoms come under control, it’s then necessary to treat the underlying gingivitis by continuing the thorough cleaning of the affected surfaces, including the roots, of as much plaque and tartar as possible. Good oral hygiene with semi-annual professional cleanings must become regular habits to inhibit future reoccurrences of the disease. Quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and managing stress are also advisable.
Without treatment, ANUG symptoms will persist; you could eventually lose the affected papillae, and experience other detrimental effects to other periodontal tissue and bone structures. If you suspect you may have gingivitis or this acute form, you should visit us as soon as possible for a full evaluation and treatment. The earlier we diagnose and treat gum disease, the better your long-term outlook.
If you would like more information on painful gums, 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 “Painful Gums in Teens and Adults.”
Traveling to faraway places is the stuff of daydreams for many people, and even more exciting when the dream comes true. But that excitement could be dampened should you ever be faced with the reality that your medical treatment options abroad can be quite different from what you enjoy at home in the United States.
Dental care is no exception. If you have a dental emergency abroad, you may be unpleasantly surprised at the lack of available care at the level of quality you’re accustomed to at home. It’s prudent, therefore, to take a few precautions before you go and do a little research on sources of dental care where you’ll be traveling.
Before your trip you should schedule a dental visit, especially if you have some lingering issues that need attending; you should also be sure to plan this well enough in advance to allow time for any subsequent treatment and convalescence. It’s especially important that you have damaged or cracked teeth treated, as well as complete any recommended root canals. You should also schedule a cleaning, and have any teeth with sensitivity issues checked for possible periodontal (gum) disease.
While you can significantly reduce your risk of a dental emergency before you travel, you can’t eliminate it all together — a problem could still arise during your trip. It’s advisable, then, that you bring along contact information for people or organizations that could assist you with obtaining medical or dental treatment. Your hotel concierge, the U.S. Consulate or Embassy, or even other Americans living or stationed in the country you’re visiting can be helpful sources of information. You might also contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (www.iamat.org) or, if in Europe, the American Dental Society of Europe (ADSE) (www.adse.co.uk) for recommendations on care.
A dental emergency during foreign travel could turn that dream vacation into a nightmare. You can lessen the chance of that by taking these few precautions before you go.
For a copy of A Traveler’s Guide to Safe Dental Care, visit www.osap.org. If you would like more information on dental concerns when you are traveling, 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 “Traveling Abroad? Tips for Dealing with Dental Emergencies.”
When your baby’s first teeth erupt in the mouth, it’s a big step in their development. Unfortunately, you may not have much opportunity to celebrate — you’re too busy tending to your infant whose experience is anything but pleasant.
Commonly known as teething, the eruption process usually begins between six and nine months of age, although some children may begin as early as three months or as late as twelve. Not all teeth come in at the same time: it usually begins with the two lower front teeth, then the two upper front teeth, followed by the molars and then the canines (eye teeth). By age three, most children have all twenty of their primary teeth.
Each child’s teething experience is different and may vary in length of time and intensity. The usual signs are heightened irritability, biting and gnawing accompanied by gum swelling, ear rubbing, drooling and sometimes facial rashes. Babies also may have disturbed sleeping patterns and a decreased appetite. Occasionally, this discomfort can be intense.
There are some things you can do to ease this discomfort. Provide your baby a clean, chilled (not frozen) rubber teething ring, chilled pacifier or wet washcloth to gnaw on. Cold foods, like popsicles for older children can also be soothing, though you should limit sugary foods to lower the risk of tooth decay. You can also finger massage swollen gums to counteract the pressure coming from the erupting tooth, or administer pain relievers like baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can use products with Benzocaine®, a numbing agent, for children two years or older — but you should never use alcohol for children of any age for inflamed gums.
Be sure to also set up a Year One dental examination around their first birthday. This is an important first step in your child’s long-term dental care, and a good opportunity to check their teething progress. And, by all means, if you have concerns about your child’s experience with teething, don’t hesitate to call our office.
Teething is a normal part of your child’s development. There’s much you can do to help make it as comfortable and pain-free as possible.
If you would like more information on teething, 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 “Teething Troubles.”