Health is on everyone's mind, especially after dealing with COVID-19 this past year. Beyond the immediate concerns of coping with this novel coronavirus, many are taking a closer look at improving their overall well-being. If that describes you, then don't forget this very important component of good health—your teeth and gums.
It's easy to see the body as just a collection of individual organs and anatomical structures. But in reality, all these individual parts are intertwined—if one part is unhealthy, it could directly or indirectly impact the health of all the others.
That's especially true in the mouth. There's some evidence that both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease can increase inflammation throughout the body, and worsen conditions like diabetes. And problems like chronic jaw joint pain or teeth loss could make it more difficult for the body to meet its nutritional needs.
In other words, you need to take just as much care of your teeth and gums as you do the rest of your body. In recognition of Oral Health Month this June, here's how.
Clear away plaque. Dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates daily on tooth surfaces, is the most common cause of tooth-destroying dental diseases. Removing plaque buildup every day with brushing and flossing is the single best thing you can do personally to maintain optimal oral health.
See your dentist. Even so, the most thorough hygiene regimen can miss a few plaque deposits. These can then harden into tartar (or calculus) that's nearly impossible to remove with brushing or flossing. A regular dental cleaning clears up any lingering plaque and tartar to further lower your disease risk.
Eat a "tooth-friendly" diet. A diet high in carbohydrates (particularly refined sugar) and processed foods can spell trouble for both the body and the mouth. But whole foods rich in micronutrients like calcium, potassium, or vitamin D, strengthens your teeth and gums against tooth decay or gum disease.
Maintain your dental work. Dental work like fillings, crowns, implants or bridges aid dental health and function, not to mention appearance. But they can wear over time, so keep up regular dental visits to assess their condition and make any needed repairs. Be sure you also clean them and the rest of your mouth daily.
A healthy body depends on a healthy mouth. Following these steps for better oral health will go a long way in achieving optimum physical well-being.
There's still much about the underlying nature of chronic jaw joint dysfunction we have yet to unravel. Treating these conditions known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs) may therefore require some experimentation to find what works for each individual patient.
Most TMD therapies are relatively conservative: eating softer foods, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers or undergoing physical therapy. There have been some surgical techniques tried to relieve jaw pain and dysfunction, but these have so far had mixed results.
Recently, the use of the drug Botox has been promoted for relieving jaw pain, albeit temporarily. Botox contains tiny amounts of botulinum toxin type A, a poisonous substance derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can cause muscle paralysis. It's mainly used to cosmetically smooth out small wrinkles around facial features.
Because of these properties, some physicians have proposed Botox for TMD treatment to paralyze the muscles around the jaw to reduce pain and discomfort. While the treatment sounds intriguing, there are a number of reasons to be wary of it if you have TMD.
To begin with, the claims for Botox's success in relieving jaw pain have been mainly anecdotal. On the other hand, findings from randomized, double-blind trials have yet to show any solid evidence that Botox can produce these pain-relieving effects.
But even if it lived up to the claims of TMD pain relief, the effect would eventually fade in a few weeks or months, requiring the patient to repeat the injections. It's possible with multiple Botox injections that the body will develop antibodies to fight the botulinum toxin, causing the treatment to be less effective with subsequent injections.
Of even greater concern are the potential side effects of Botox TMD treatment, ranging from headaches and soreness at the injection site to more serious muscle atrophy and possible facial deformity from repeated injections. There's also evidence for decreased bone density in the jaw, which could have far-reaching consequences for someone with TMD.
The best approach still seems to lie in the more conservative therapies that treat TMD similar to other joint disorders. Finding the right combination of therapies that most benefit you will help you better manage your symptoms.
If you would like more information on treatments for TMD, 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 “Botox Treatment for TMJ Pain.”
Tara Lipinski loves to smile. And for good reason: The Olympic-gold medalist has enjoyed a spectacular career in ladies' figure skating. Besides also winning gold in the U.S. Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, in 1997 Lipinski became the youngest skater ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Now a sports commentator and television producer, Lipinski still loves to show her smile—and counts it as one of her most important assets. She also knows the importance of protecting her smile with daily hygiene habits and regular dental care.
Our teeth endure a lot over our lifetime. Tough as they are, though, they're still vulnerable to disease, trauma and the effects of aging. To protect them, it's essential that we brush and floss every day to remove bacterial plaque—that thin accumulating film on teeth most responsible for tooth decay and gum disease.
To keep her smile in top shape and reduce her chances of dental disease, Lipinski flosses and brushes daily, the latter at least twice a day. She also uses a tongue scraper, a small handheld device about the size of a toothbrush, to remove odor-causing bacteria and debris from the tongue.
Lipinski is also diligent about visiting the dentist for professional cleanings and checkups at least twice a year because even a dedicated brusher and flosser like her can still miss dental plaque that can then harden into tartar. Dental hygienists have the training and tools to clear away any lingering plaque and tartar that could increase your disease risk. It's also a good time for the dentist to check your teeth and gums for any developing problems.
The high pressure world of competitive figure skating and now her media career may also have contributed to another threat to Lipinski's smile: a teeth-grinding habit. Teeth grinding is the unconscious action—often while asleep—of clenching the jaws together and producing abnormally high biting forces. Often a result of chronic stress, teeth grinding can accelerate tooth wear and damage the gum ligaments attached to teeth. To help minimize these effects, Lipinski's dentist created a custom mouthguard to wear at night. The slick plastic surface of the guard prevents the teeth from generating any damaging biting forces when they clench together.
The importance of an attractive smile isn't unique to celebrities and media stars like Tara Lipinski. A great smile breeds confidence for anyone—and it can enhance your career, family and social relationships. Protect this invaluable asset with daily oral hygiene, regular dental visits and prompt treatment for disease or trauma.
Dinnertime is a great opportunity to enjoy not only your meal, but also the company of friends and family. But a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can drain the pleasure from these dining experiences if the mere act of chewing is a painful ordeal.
Besides curbing pleasure while dining, eating difficulties caused by TMD can also affect your health: You may find yourself limiting your choices to only those that cause the least amount of discomfort. But those restricted choices may deprive you of a balanced diet essential to overall well-being.
But there are ways to reduce your discomfort and enjoy a greater abundance of healthy foods, as well as your dining experience. Here are 3 tips to make eating easier if you have TMD.
Prepare your food. Easing TMD discomfort starts while you're preparing your food to cook. First off, remove the tougher peel or skin from apples, potatoes or similar fruits and vegetables. And, be sure to chop foods into small enough pieces to reduce how much your jaws must open to comfortably chew your food.
Choose “wetter” cooking methods. One of the best ways to soften foods is to moisten them, either during the cooking process or by adding it in some form to the dish. Use braising techniques when you cook as much as possible. And try to incorporate sauces or gravies, especially with leaner meats, for added moisture.
Modify your eating habits. Food prep is only one aspect of a more comfortable dining experience with TMD—you can also benefit from modifying how you eat. Concentrate on taking smaller bites of food and slow down your chewing motion. You should also limit how much you open your jaw while chewing to keep it within your comfort range as much as possible.
With a little experimentation, you can find the right balance between a wide variety of foods and more comfortable eating. If you have TMD, using these tips could help mealtime become a delightful—and more nutritious—experience.
If you would like more information on managing TMD, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
In an ideal world, your family's dental needs would mesh seamlessly with the family budget. Alas, it's not always that way, and it can often be a head scratcher figuring out how to pay for needed dental work.
You can reduce treatment costs with dental insurance, which could conceivably cut your bill in half. But dental policies often have payment caps and coverage limitations on materials and procedures. And unless someone else like an employer is paying for it, you'll have to subtract the premiums you're paying from any benefits you receive to reveal what you're actually saving.
Even with dental insurance, you can still have a remaining balance that exceeds what you can pay outright. You may be able to work out a payment plan with the dentist for extended treatments like braces, but this might not be possible in other cases.
That leaves financing what you owe with loans or credit cards. For the latter, it's highly likely your dentist accepts major credit cards. But since many cards charge high interest rates, you could pay a hefty premium on top of your treatment charges the more you extend your payments on a revolving account over time.
Your dentist may also participate with a healthcare credit card. Although similar to a regular credit card, it only pays for healthcare costs like dental fees. Interest rates may also be high like regular cards, but some healthcare cards offer promotional periods for paying a balance over a designated time for little to no interest. But late payments and overextending the promotional period could nullify this discount.
You might save more on interest with a loan that has a fixed interest rate and payment schedule rather than a credit card with revolving interest (although credit cards may be more suitable for smaller expenditures while a fixed loan works better for larger one-time charges). One in particular is a healthcare installment loan program, one of which your dentist might be able to recommend, which is often ideal for paying dental costs.
Paying for your family's needed dental care can be financially difficult. But you do have options—and your dentist may be able to assist you in making the right choice.
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