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Arlington, VA 22209

"I have high anxiety during dental visits. Not this time!" — Alexa H.

Monthly Archives: January 2020

Sleep Apnea, Jaws, and Gums

IN JUST THE UNITED STATES, sleep apnea affects over 18 million adults and up to 20 percent of children who habitually snore. Sleep apnea is a disorder involving brief, repeated interruptions to normal breathing during sleep. In addition to being potentially life-threatening, this disorder can be very harmful to oral health.

The Different Types of Sleep Apnea

There are different ways sleep apnea can occur. The most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), caused by a blocked airway — typically the tongue collapsing against the soft palate, which then collapses against the back of the throat, leaving no space for air to get through. A rarer form is central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to signal the respiratory muscles to keep breathing. Some people experience a combination of the two, which is called complex sleep apnea.

In any type of sleep apnea, the brain reacts with alarm to the lack of air and forces the person to wake up and take a breath. Even though this process is over in seconds and they usually remember nothing, it can happen hundreds of times in a single night. We need uninterrupted sleep in order to be fully rested, so even tiny interruptions can have a very detrimental impact on quality of sleep.

Okay, But How Does That Affect Oral Health?

On top of struggling with the effects of sleep deprivation like exhaustion, morning headaches, and trouble concentrating, sleep apnea affects oral health in a number of ways. People with OSA are more likely to struggle with moderate to severe periodontitis (gum disease), but they are even more likely to develop temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD).

A sleep apnea episode happens when the throat relaxes, and studies have shown that the jaw tends to reflexively clench in an effort to keep the airway open. This TMD issue leads to other problems, including pain when chewing, chronic headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and even damaged teeth.

The Dentist Is Your Best Ally

Dental side-effects are so common in sleep apnea cases that the dentist is often the first one to recognize the signs and diagnose it. That’s only one way keeping up with your regularly scheduled dental appointments can benefit your overall health, not just your oral health. Common treatment options for sleep apnea patients include nighttime dental devices that push the tongue or lower jaw forward and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines.

Sleep Healthy, Smile Healthy!

We all need good sleep in order to feel our best, so if you’ve been living with sleep apnea symptoms, your next dental appointment could change your life. Stop by our practice today or give us a call to schedule a dental exam, and we’ll be able to discover if sleep apnea is the cause. Then you’ll be on the path to a better night’s sleep and a healthier smile!

Sleep tight, wonderful patients!

Top image by Flickr user anoldent used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

What Makes Teeth Sensitive?

IF YOU CAN’T REALLY enjoy ice cream because every bite sends a nasty jolt through your teeth, then you know what it’s like to deal with tooth sensitivity. You aren’t alone in that; at least one in eight people in the U.S. has sensitive teeth, including kids. So why does this happen to so many of us?

Dental Anatomy 101

To understand how teeth become sensitive, it helps to know a little about the structure of a tooth. The part above the gums is the crown, which is made of three layers. The outermost layer is the tooth enamel, which is the hardest substance in the body. Beneath that is the softer dentin layer, which is a lot like bone. The innermost layer is the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels.

Exposed Nerves and Tooth Sensitivity

The way the nerves in our dental pulp detect what’s going on at the surface is through the thousands of microscopic tubules running through the dentin. However, if the enamel wears too thin, these tubules can become exposed. Then the nerves inside the teeth feel way too much, which can be painful, particularly when eating or drinking anything hot or cold or even sweet or sour.

Other Causes of Sensitivity

Root exposure is another major cause of sensitivity. Unlike the crowns of our teeth, the roots don’t have a layer of enamel to protect them; that job is performed by the gum tissue. Gum recession, sometimes the result of chronic teeth grinding or of overbrushing, leaves the roots exposed and vulnerable. Sensitivity can also be caused by cavities or an injury that chips or fractures a tooth.

Protecting Your Teeth

There are a few ways you can fight back if you have sensitive teeth, and it starts with switching to a soft-bristled toothbrush if you aren’t already using one. Hard bristles can cause additional damage to the enamel and gum tissue, and soft bristles are more than enough to effectively clean your teeth. Switching to a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth can also help, as can cutting down on sugary or acidic foods and drinks (especially soda).

The Dentist Is Here to Help

If you’ve been suffering tooth sensitivity in silence, schedule a dental appointment to discover the cause. In addition to the things you can do to reduce sensitivity on your own, there’s a lot the dentist can do, such as applying a fluoride varnish to strengthen your enamel, performing dental restoration, prescribe a desensitizing toothpaste, or recommend a gum graft if needed to cover exposed roots.

Keeping your smile healthy and strong is our top priority!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Spotlight on Women’s Oral Health

WHEN YOU THINK of the differences between men and women, oral health concerns probably don’t appear high on the list. In reality, men and women face very different challenges with maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Women have a few advantages that men don’t while struggling with being more at risk for certain issues.

Oral Health Conditions More Common in Women

Two conditions impacting oral health that women are much more likely to have than men are temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) and Sjögren’s syndrome. TMJ is chronic pain or soreness in the jaw joints and is most commonly caused by bruxism (chronic teeth grinding), but can also be caused by joint structure, vitamin deficiency, stress, arthritis, or hormones. 90 percent of people diagnosed with TMJ are women.

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks salivary glands and tear ducts (leading to dry mouth and dry eye), as well as other tissues and organs. Dry mouth can make chewing and swallowing more difficult, but it’s also dangerous to oral health. We need our saliva to wash away leftover food particles, neutralize the pH of our mouths, and fight oral bacteria.

How Hormonal Changes Affect Teeth

The major hormonal changes a woman experiences during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can all affect oral health. During puberty and pregnancy, gingivitis and gum inflammation are common, which is why good oral hygiene habits are essential in these conditions. That means daily flossing and twice daily brushing with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste.

Women going through menopause are likely to experience dry mouth and bone loss. Bone loss in the jaw can compromise the gums and the roots of teeth. We recommend discussing these things with the dentist, ideally before any symptoms begin to appear.

Eating Disorders Versus Oral Health

Eating disorders are far more common among teenage girls than among teenage boys. In fact, twice as many girls develop these dangerous disorders than their male counterparts. Eating disorders are devastating to every system in the body, including oral health.

Malnutrition, including vitamin and mineral deficiency, can lead to a variety of oral health problems because teeth and gums lack the raw materials to maintain themselves. Another way eating disorders affect oral health is through acid erosion in the case of bulimia.

Those suffering from eating disorders should seek psychiatric help to begin the mental recovery process, but recovery for dental health will require help from dental professionals and a rigorous dental hygiene routine.

Team Up with the Dentist for Better Oral Health!

It might seem after learning all of this that women must be much worse off than men in the oral health department, but they do have a major advantage: women, on average, are better at taking care of their teeth. Women are more likely to keep good oral health habits, including scheduling regular dental appointments. They’re also more likely to go to the dentist when experiencing tooth pain, instead of trying to tough it out. All this means that the effects of these problems are greatly reduced.

We love working with our patients to keep those smiles healthy!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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