Your nightly snoring has become a major sleep disturbance for you and other family members. But it may be more than an irritation — it could also be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition that increases your risk for life-threatening illnesses like high blood pressure or heart disease.
Sleep apnea most often occurs when the tongue or other soft tissues block the airway during sleep. The resulting lack of oxygen triggers the brain to wake the body to readjust the airway. This waking may only last a few seconds, but it can occur several times a night. Besides its long-term health effects, this constant waking through the night can result in irritability, drowsiness and brain fog during the day.
One of the best ways to treat sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This requires an electric pump that supplies constant pressurized air to a face mask worn during sleep to keep the airway open. But although effective, many patients find a CPAP machine clumsy and uncomfortable to wear. That's why you may want to consider an option from your family dentist called oral appliance therapy (OAT).
An OAT device is a custom-made appliance that fits in the mouth like a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. The majority of OAT appliances use tiny metal hinges to move the lower jaw and tongue forward to make the airway larger, thus improving air flow. Another version works by holding the tongue away from the back of the throat, either by holding the tongue forward like a tongue depressor or with a small compartment fitted around the tongue that holds it back with suction.
Before considering an OAT appliance, your dentist may refer you to a sleep specialist to confirm you have sleep apnea through laboratory or home testing. If you do and you meet other criteria, you could benefit from an OAT appliance. There may be other factors to consider, though, so be sure to discuss your options with your dentist or physician to find the right solution for a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea treatments, 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 “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
Nearly half of all Americans have some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Without proper daily hygiene and treatment, this aggressive disease can ultimately cause tooth loss. It also appears the effects of gum disease reach beyond the mouth, as researchers have found relationships between it and other systemic diseases.
Inflammation, the body’s response to infection, is at the center of these relationships. In the case of gum disease, periodontal tissues become inflamed as the body attempts to isolate and fight the infection. If the inflammation becomes chronic, however, it will begin to damage gum tissues.
Inflammation is also a major feature of diabetes, a condition in which the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. Without enough of this hormone that transforms sugar into usable energy for the body, the sugar accumulates in the blood stream; as a result, the patient becomes more susceptible to an exaggerated inflammatory response when the body encounters an infection. This is especially true for periodontal infections: the resulting inflammation can be greater and harder to control in diabetic patients. What’s more, uncontrolled gum disease may worsen their blood sugar levels.
Although not as prominent as with diabetes, cardiovascular disease also seems to share a connection with gum disease. This collection of chronic conditions like high blood pressure or restricted blood vessel flow raises the risk of heart attack or stroke. Like gum disease, inflammation is a major component in the progression of cardiovascular disease — in fact, both diseases leave similar chemical “markers” in the blood that indicate their early development.
Ongoing research has also produced some promising treatment findings for both gum disease and inflammatory diseases, which also include osteoporosis, respiratory disease and rheumatoid arthritis. We’re now finding in many cases that treating one side of the disease connection can have positive effects on the other side. For example, diabetics who receive professional treatment for gum disease may see better blood sugar control.
With this in mind, the best approach is to practice effective, daily oral hygiene to reduce the risk of gum disease, coupled with regular office cleanings and checkups. Not only will this help you maintain optimum oral health, it may also contribute to better management of other conditions you may have.
If you would like more information on the relationship between periodontal (gum) disease and other diseases, 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
More than likely your great-grandparents, grandparents and even your parents had a common dental experience: when one of their teeth developed a cavity, their dentist removed the decayed portion (and maybe a little more) through drilling and then filled the cavity. In other words, treatment was mainly reactive—fix the problem when it occurred, then fix it again if it reoccurred.
You may have had similar experiences—but the chances are good your dentist’s approach is now quite different. Today’s tooth decay treatment is much more proactive: address first the issues that cause tooth decay, and if it does occur treat it with an eye on preventing it in the future.
This approach depends on maintaining equilibrium between two sets of competing factors that influence how your teeth may encounter tooth decay. This is known as the caries balance (caries being another name for tooth decay). On one side are factors that increase the risk of decay, known by the acronym BAD: Bad Bacteria that produce acid that dissolves the minerals in tooth enamel; Absence of Saliva, the body’s natural acid neutralizer; and Dietary Habits, especially foods with added sugars that feed bacteria, and acid that further weakens enamel.
There are also factors that decrease the risk of tooth decay, known by the acronym SAFE: Saliva and Sealants, which focuses on methods to boost low salivary flow and cover chewing surfaces prone to decay with sealant materials; Antimicrobials, rinses or other substances that reduce bad bacteria populations and encourage the growth of beneficial strains; Fluoride, increased intake or topical applications of this known enamel-strengthening chemical; and Effective Diet, reducing the amount and frequency of sugary or acidic foods and replacing them with more dental-friendly choices.
In effect, we employ a variety of techniques and materials that inhibit BAD factors and support SAFE ones. The foundation for prevention, though, remains the same as it was for past family generations—practice effective oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily and regular dental cleanings and checkups to keep bacterial plaque from accumulating and growing. Your own diligent daily care rounds out this more effective way that could change your family history of tooth decay for you and future generations.
Twice a year dental cleanings are an important aspect of optimal oral health. But if you’re not brushing and flossing every day, your dental visits could change from regular maintenance to teeth rescue missions.
These two hygiene tasks don’t take long—a single trip with floss around each tooth and a couple of minutes of brushing at least twice a day—but you’ll need to perform them effectively to get the most out of them. Not to worry, though: with a little practice and helpful advice from us, this small investment in time and effort could save your teeth—and your money.
The first thing to know, though, is the reason behind brushing and flossing: to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque that can build up daily on teeth. Bacteria produce acid, which at elevated levels can erode enamel and lead to decay; and some bacterial strains can cause periodontal (gum) disease. These infections could ultimately lead to gum recession, bone deterioration and tooth loss.
Daily brushing and flossing lowers your risk of this occurring. It’s your preference in what order you do them, but for now let’s start with flossing.
There are a number of techniques—and tools—for effective flossing. If you’re using thread floss, simply cut off about 18 inches and wrap each end around the middle finger from each hand. Use the remaining fingers to create a small amount of floss between the two best fingers for a particular area of the mouth and gently pull the floss in between the tooth gap. Form a “C” shape around one of the tooth sides and rub up and down until you hear a squeak (which you’ll only hear if you use un-waxed floss). Now, repeat the action with the adjacent tooth, then move to the next and each succeeding gap and do the same until you’ve cleaned each side of each tooth.
When brushing, hold your toothbrush gently like a paintbrush or pencil at about a 45-degree angle with just a small amount of toothpaste on the end bristles. All it takes is a gentle scrubbing or wiggling motion and the abrasives and detergents in the toothpaste will do the rest. Just make sure you fully brush all your teeth and gum surfaces, which should take about two minutes.
Along with regular dental visits and a low-sugar diet to discourage bacterial growth, brushing and flossing will help you avoid disease and enjoy the best oral health possible.
If you would like more information on keeping 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
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