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Posts for category: Oral Health

By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
September 22, 2021
Category: Oral Health
VanHalensPassingRemindsUsoftheDangersofOralCancerandHowtoHelpPreventIt

Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.

Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.

Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.

But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:

Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.

Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.

Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.

Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.

One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.

Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.

If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”

By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
September 12, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: loose teeth  
SeeYourDentistASAPIfYouHaveaLoosePermanentTooth

Unless you're 6 years old and on speed dial with the Tooth Fairy, a loose tooth isn't a good feeling. It's also a sign something is wrong in your mouth. If you don't take prompt action, you may lose that tooth for good.

To begin with, teeth are held in place by an elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and attaches to both through tiny fibers. The thing to note about the ligament is that it does allow for tooth movement, which serves as a “shock absorber” against the forces generated while biting and chewing.

But that movement is normally so slight, you won't perceive it. If you do, chances are there's a problem with the ligament attachment, which may have been damaged due to trauma or disease.

A hard blow to the face could certainly damage both the teeth and their attachments. But it can also happen if one tooth extends out farther than the rest and absorbs more stress during chewing. You could encounter similar damage if you attempt DIY orthodontics or wear tongue jewelry.

The more common source of ligament damage, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, usually caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on tooth surfaces. If not treated, the infection can advance deeper into the gum tissues (and eventually the supporting bone), causing the ligaments to weaken and detach. In fact, a loose tooth is often a sign of well-advanced gum disease.

If you notice a loose tooth, you should make an appointment with us as soon as possible. Our first step is to ascertain the underlying cause and initiate any needed treatment. We may also want to splint a loose tooth to adjacent teeth to prevent excessive movement while the ligaments heal and reform their attachment to the tooth.

There will be times when a loose tooth is beyond repair. In that case, it may be best to remove the tooth and install a life-like replacement like a dental implant. But that's not inevitable. If at all possible and practical, we'll try to save your loose tooth.

If you would like more information on loose permanent teeth, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”

By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
September 02, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene   oral health  
4GuidelinestoHelpMakeSureYourChildsOralHealthStaysonTrack

As they mature, your child's teeth, gums and jaws develop—if all goes well, they'll all be healthy and functioning normally when they enter adulthood. But tooth decay and other problems could derail that development and cause lingering oral health issues later in life.

Following these 4 guidelines now during your child's early years will help ensure their teeth and gums have a healthy future.

Start oral hygiene early. There's no need to wait for their first teeth to come in to begin your child's regular oral hygiene. Start with wiping their gums right after feeding with a clean wet cloth to minimize bacterial development. Then, start brushing as soon as teeth appear—to begin with, use a slight smear of toothpaste on the brush. As they mature, teach them to brush and later floss for themselves.

Check your water. Most utilities add tiny traces of fluoride to their drinking water supply. If your water supplier does, it can make a big difference (along with fluoride toothpaste) in helping your child avoid tooth decay. If your system doesn't, then speak to your dentist about whether your child could benefit from topical fluoride applied directly to their teeth.

Keep a check on sugar. Decay-causing bacteria thrive on the sugar added to processed foods, candies and many beverages. Even milder forms of sugar like lactose found in milk or formula can stimulate bacterial growth. So, in addition to daily brushing and flossing, do your best to minimize sugar in your child's diet. And don't put infants or toddlers to bed with a bottle filled with any liquid other than water.

See the dentist. Starting around their first birthday, regular dental visits can help keep your child's dental development on track. Dental visits are also an opportunity for preventive treatments against decay like sealants or topical fluoride. Your dentist may also detect the early signs of bite problems that if addressed now, could lessen their impact later in life.

Your child's dental health could get off course before you even realize it. But partnering with your dentist, you can help make sure your child's teeth and gums have a bright and healthy future.

If you would like more information on how best to care for your child's oral health, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”

By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
August 03, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene   gum disease  
PlaqueRemovalistheTopPriorityforPreventingorTreatingGumDisease

Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.

Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.

Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.

Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.

This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.

The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).

To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.

Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.

If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations?

By Mark D. Zahn, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
July 24, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene  
SeeHowWellYoureRemovingPlaqueWithaDisclosingAgent

You've just finished your daily brushing and flossing. How did you do? Swiping your tongue across your teeth can generally tell you: It's a good sign if it glides smoothly; but if it feels rough and gritty, you better take another run at it.

This "tongue test," however, only gives you a rough idea of how well you're removing plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. Plaque, though, can be sneaky, "hiding" in the nooks and crannies on the biting surfaces of teeth, around the gum line and in between teeth.

So, how do you know if you're clearing out any plaque holdouts? An effective way is to use a plaque disclosing agent. This over-the-counter dental product consists of a swab, tablet or solution, which contains a dye that's reactive to plaque.

After brushing and flossing as usual, you apply the solution to your teeth for about 30 seconds. You then take a look in the mirror: Any remaining plaque will be stained a bright color that makes it stand out. There are also agents with two colors of dye, one that stains older plaque and one for newer plaque.

The plaque staining not only helps you see how well you've been brushing and flossing, it can also show you areas in need of improved hygiene. For example, if you notice a scalloped pattern around the gum line, that may mean your brush isn't getting into that area effectively. In this way, you can use a disclosing agent to fine-tune your hygiene.

Repeated use of a disclosing agent is safe, but just remember the dye color can be vivid. It does wear off in a few hours, though, so perhaps schedule it for a day off around the house. You should also avoid swallowing any solution or getting any of it on clothing.

The ultimate test, though, is a thorough dental cleaning with your dentist at least every six months. They can verify whether you've been fairly successful with your brushing and flossing, or if you have room for improvement. If you do use a disclosing agent, you can also discuss that with them in working out better strategies to protect your teeth from tooth decay and gum disease.

If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”