The ongoing opioid addiction epidemic has brought together government, law enforcement and healthcare to find solutions. The focus among doctors and dentists has been on finding ways to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions.
Opioids (or narcotics) have been a prominent part of pain management in healthcare for decades. Drugs like morphine, oxycodone or fentanyl can relieve moderate to extreme pain and make recovery after illness or procedures much easier. Providers like doctors and dentists have relied heavily on them, writing nearly 260 million narcotic prescriptions a year as late as 2012.
But although effective when used properly, narcotics are also addictive. While the bulk of overall drug addiction stems from illegal narcotics like heroin, prescription drugs also account for much of the problem: In 2015, for example, 2 million Americans had an addiction that began with an opioid prescription.
The current crisis has led to horrific consequences as annual overdose deaths now surpass the peak year of highway accident deaths (just over 54,000 in 1972). This has led to a concerted effort by doctors and dentists to develop other approaches to pain management without narcotics.
One that’s gained recent momentum in dentistry involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin work by dilating blood vessels, which reduces painful inflammation. They’re available over the counter, although stronger doses require a prescription.
NSAIDs are effective for mild to moderate pain, but without the addictive properties of narcotics. There are some adverse health consequences if taken long-term, but limited use for pain or during post-procedure recovery is safe.
Many dentists are recommending NSAIDs for first-line pain management after most dental procedures. Narcotics may still be prescribed, but in a limited and controlled fashion. As part of this new approach, dentists typically combine ibuprofen and acetaminophen: Studies have shown the two work together better at reducing pain than either one individually.
Still, many aren’t eager to move away from the proven effectiveness of narcotics to primarily NSAIDs. But as these non-addictive drugs continue to prove their effectiveness, there’s hope the use of addictive opioids will continue to decrease.
Every year many parents learn their “tweenager” or teenager needs their bite corrected, often with specialized orthodontics. Imagine, though, if these families could go back in time to when their child’s poor bite was just developing to stop or slow it from forming.
Time travel may still be science fiction, but the approach suggested isn’t. It’s called interceptive orthodontics, a group of techniques and procedures performed during the early stages of jaw development. The focus is usually on getting abnormal jaw growth back on track, enough so that a poor bite won’t form.
The upper jaw, for example, may be growing too narrow, reducing the amount of available space for tooth eruption. If it isn’t corrected, teeth can erupt out of position. To correct it, an orthodontist places a palatal expander in the roof of the child’s mouth (palate). The appliance applies gentle pressure against the inside of the teeth, which stimulates the jaws to develop wider.
The expander works because of a separation in the bones at the center of the palate, which later fuse around puberty. The pressure applied from the expander keeps this gap slightly open; the body then continues to fill the widening expansion with bone, enough over time to widen the jaw. If you wait until puberty, the gap has already fused, and it would have to be reopened surgically to use this technique. Ideally, then, a palatal expander should be employed at a young age.
Not all interceptive techniques are this extensive—some, like a space maintainer, are quite simple. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost prematurely, teeth next to the empty space tend to drift into it and cause the intended permanent tooth to erupt out of place due to a lack of space. To prevent this an orthodontist places a small wire loop within the space to prevent other teeth from moving into it.
These are but two examples of the many methods for stopping or slowing a developing bite problem. To achieve the best outcome, they need to be well-timed. Be sure, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If an interceptive orthodontic approach is needed, it could eliminate the need for more extensive—and expensive—treatment later.
Here’s the bad news about periodontal (gum) disease: It’s a leading cause for tooth loss. Even worse: Half of adults over 30 will have some form of it during their lifetime.
But here’s the good news: If caught early, we can often treat and stop gum disease before it can do substantial harm to your mouth. And the best news of all—you may be able to avoid a gum infection altogether by adopting a few healthy habits.
Here are 4 habits you can practice to prevent a gum infection from happening.
Practice daily brushing and flossing. Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often arising from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing will reduce your chances of a gum infection. And be sure it’s daily—missing just a few days is enough for gum inflammation to get started.
Get regular dental cleanings and checkups. Even the most diligent personal hygiene can miss plaque, which may then harden into a calcified form impossible to remove with brushing and flossing called calculus (tartar). At least twice-a-year professional dental cleanings will clear away any remnant plaque and tartar, which can greatly reduce your risk for dental disease.
Make gum-friendly lifestyle changes. Smoking more than doubles your chances of gum disease. Likewise, a sugar-heavy diet, which feeds disease-causing bacteria, also makes you more susceptible to infection. Quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption and following a dental-friendly diet could boost your teeth and gum health and avoid infection.
Watch for signs of infection. Although you can greatly reduce your risk of gum disease, you can’t always bring that risk to zero. So, be aware of the signs of gum disease: sometimes painful, swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you notice any of these signs, make a dental appointment—the sooner you’re diagnosed and begin treatment, the less likely gum disease will ruin your dental health.
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Henry Ford famously said a customer could have any color they wanted on their Model T “as long as it was black.” Those days are over—today’s cars and trucks come with a slew of options, and not just their paint color.
There’s something else with a wide array of possible options: your choice of toothbrush. Your local store’s dental care aisle has dozens of toothbrushes in a myriad of sizes, shapes and features. And many promise better hygiene outcomes because of their unique design.
It’s enough to make your head spin. But you can narrow your search for the right toothbrush— just look for these basic qualities.
Bristle texture. At this all-important juncture between brush and teeth, softer-textured bristles are better. That might sound counter-intuitive, but soft bristles are just as capable at removing bacterial plaque, that sticky tooth film most responsible for dental disease, as stiffer bristles. Stiffer bristles, on the other hand, can damage gums and cause recession. Also, look too for rounded bristles (gentler on the gums), and multi-leveled or angled ones for better access around teeth.
Size and shape. Toothbrushes come in different sizes because, well, so do mouths. Look, then, for a brush and bristle head that can comfortably reach all the teeth in your mouth. If you have problems with manual dexterity, choose a brush with larger grip handles. A brush that’s comfortable to use and easy to handle can make your brushing more effective.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. The American Dental Association tests hygiene products like toothbrushes. If they pass the association’s standards, the manufacturer includes the ADA Seal of Approval on their packaging. Not all submit their brushes for this evaluation, so the seal’s absence doesn’t necessarily mean a brush is of low quality. The seal, though, does tell you the product passes muster with dental professionals.
It often takes a little trial and error to find the right brush, but since you should change yours out every six months, it’s a small price to experiment. And, no matter how great the brush, it’s only as good at removing plaque as the hand that holds it. So, be sure you learn proper brushing techniques—that and the right brush will keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on choosing the right toothbrush, 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 “Sizing Up Toothbrushes.”
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