Posts for: March, 2019
Many things can affect your child’s future dental health: oral hygiene, diet, or habits like thumb sucking or teeth grinding. But there’s one you might not have considered: how they breathe.
Specifically, we mean whether they breathe primarily through their mouth rather than through their nose. The latter could have an adverse impact on both oral and general health. If you’ve noticed your child snoring, their mouth falling open while awake and at rest, fatigue or irritability you should seek definite diagnosis and treatment.
Chronic mouth breathing can cause dry mouth, which in turn increases the risk of dental disease. It deprives the body of air filtration (which occurs with nose breathing) that reduces possible allergens. There’s also a reduction in nitric oxide production, stimulated by nose breathing, which benefits overall health.
Mouth breathing could also hurt your child’s jaw structure development. When breathing through the nose, a child’s tongue rests on the palate (roof of the mouth). This allows it to become a mold for the palate and upper jaw to form around. Conversely with mouth breathers the tongue rests behind the bottom teeth, which deprives the developing upper jaw of its tongue mold.
The general reason why a person breathes through the mouth is because breathing through the nose is uncomfortable or difficult. This difficulty, though, could arise for a number of reasons: allergy problems, for example, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids pressing against the nasal cavity and interfering with breathing. Abnormal tissue growth could also obstruct the tongue or lip during breathing.
Treatment for mouth breathing will depend on its particular cause. For example, problems with tonsils and adenoids and sinuses are often treated by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Cases where the mandible (upper jaw and palate) has developed too narrowly due to mouth breathing may require an orthodontist to apply a palatal expander, which gradually widens the jaw. The latter treatment could also influence the airway size, further making it easier to breathe through the nose.
The best time for many of these treatments is early in a child’s growth development. So to avoid long-term issues with facial structure and overall dental health, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect mouth breathing.
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”