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.
As a cancer patient, you know how important radiation and chemotherapy are to overcoming the disease. But these treatments often come at a price to other aspects of your health, including your teeth and gums if the treatment target includes the head or neck regions.
Radiation and chemotherapy are effective because they target and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also kill non-cancerous, healthy cells; in the mouth, for example, they can damage the cells in the salivary glands and disrupt their ability to produce adequate saliva flow, leading to xerostomia (dry mouth).
This could seriously affect your teeth’s protective enamel shell. As we eat or drink, our mouth’s pH level can become too acidic. Acid is your enamel’s primary enemy because it causes the minerals in the enamel to soften and dissolve (de-mineralization). Saliva neutralizes acid and replaces much of the enamel’s minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, the enamel will tend to erode over time. You can further aggravate the situation if you routinely consume acidic foods and drinks, like sipping energy drinks or soda during the day. Once the enamel is gone it can’t be replaced naturally, and the teeth will be in serious danger of tooth decay and eventual loss of function and appearance.
To avoid these consequences you should take steps during cancer treatment to reduce your risk for xerostomia or other unhealthy mouth conditions: limit your consumption of acidic foods and beverages; use mouth rinses to counteract acidity and inhibit bacterial growth; and promote saliva flow through medication.
It may be, though, that enamel erosion and subsequent tooth damage is unavoidable. In this case, you may need to consider restorative options with artificial crowns or other cosmetic enhancements — not only to improve your appearance but also to protect your natural teeth from further damage.
Before considering the latter, you should undergo a complete dental examination to assess your condition and make sure you have adequate bone and gum support, and any dental disease under control. From here, we can go about restoring the attractive smile that may have faded during your battle with cancer.
Do you wake up in the morning still feeling tired? Are you drowsy, irritable or have difficulty concentrating? And is your snoring habit a running joke around your household?
If you mostly answered yes, you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition is more than an irritation—it could also have major health implications if not addressed.
OSA occurs when the airway becomes temporarily blocked during sleep. The tongue (or other mouth structures like tonsils or the uvula) is often the cause as it relaxes and covers the back of the throat. Although you’re asleep, the brain notices the drop in oxygen and initiates arousal to unblock the airway. As this action usually only takes a few seconds, you may not fully awake every time; but because it can occur several times a night, it can rob you of the deep sleep you need for well-being.
If you’re diagnosed with OSA, your doctor may recommend continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP). This treatment uses a pump device to supply continuous pressurized air through a hose connected to a face mask worn during sleep. The elevated pressure helps keep the airway open.
While this approach is quite effective, many people find wearing the equipment uncomfortable or confining, and may choose not to use it. If that describes you, a qualified dentist may be able to provide you with an alternative called oral appliance therapy (OAT).
OAT uses a custom-made plastic oral appliance you wear while you sleep. The most common snaps over the teeth and uses a hinge mechanism to move the lower jaw (and the tongue with it) forward.
OAT is recommended for people with mild to moderate OSA, or those with severe symptoms who can’t tolerate CPAP. If you’d like to see if an OAT appliance could help you, contact us for a complete oral examination. Either treatment can improve your sleep and daily lifestyle, as well as help prevent certain health issues in the future.
If you would like more information on treatments for sleep apnea, 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.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
The 2020s are here, so throw those “new decade” parties! Well, maybe. Some of your party guests might insist the Twenties won't begin until January 1, 2021. For some reason, feelings can run hot on both sides of this “debate,” enough to warm up everyone's eggnog. Instead, steer the conversation to something a little less controversial: how to achieve the best possible dental health in the upcoming decade (whenever it comes!).
Sadly, many folks don't pay attention to their dental health until it's in dire need of attention. The better approach is to be proactive, not reactive: doing things now to ensure healthy teeth and gums years, and decades, later.
If you say brush and floss daily, you're already ahead of the game. Nothing you do personally promotes a healthy mouth more than dedicated oral hygiene. But there's one more critical piece to proactive dental care—a solid partnership with us, your dental professionals. Working together, we can help ensure you remain healthy dental-wise for the long term.
To understand the value of this partnership, it helps to think of dental care as a four-phased cycle:
Identifying your individual dental risks. Because of our individual physical and genetic makeup, each of us faces different sets of risks to our dental health. Over the course of regular dental visits, we can identify and assess those weaknesses, such as a propensity for gum disease or structural tooth problems due to past tooth decay.
Designing your personal care program. Depending on your risk profile assessment, we can develop an ongoing personal care program to minimize those risks. Part of this risk-lowering plan will be identifying recommended prevention measures like enhanced fluoride applications or areas that need correction or treatment.
Treating dental problems promptly. The key to the best possible dental health is treating any arising problems as soon as possible. Diseases like tooth decay or gum disease only get worse with time and cause more damage the longer they go untreated. Treatment, though, can also extend to less urgent matters: Straightening crooked teeth, for example, can make it easier to keep them clean.
Maintaining your optimum level of health. Through comprehensive treatment and care, we can help you reach “a good place” in your dental health. But we can't stop there: We'll continue to monitor for health changes and maintain the good practices we've already established through regular care. And with any new developments, we begin the cycle again to keep you focused on optimum dental health.
No one knows what their life will be like passing through the next decade. But one thing's for certain: A dental care partnership with us can help you achieve the health you desire for your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about ongoing dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Successful Dental Treatment” and “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
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