Posts for: February, 2014
Your dental care would be much more limited without our ability to see “below the surface” with x-ray imaging. But since x-rays passing through the body are a form of radiation, could your exposure from them be hazardous to your health?
It depends on exposure dosages and, of course, the amount you have been exposed to over your lifetime. But, decades of research have demonstrated that exposure to dental x-rays during your regular office visits are only a fraction of the radiation you normally encounter from the natural environment every year.
X-rays have the ability to pass through body tissues, but at different rates for soft tissue like skin and muscle and hard tissue like bone. This effect creates shadows on exposed film; the differentiation is in such detail that a trained technician can interpret not only internal structures, but defects such as fractured bone or, in the case of dentistry, signs of tooth decay and bone loss from gum disease.
But like other energy sources in our environment, x-rays do emit radiation that in high doses can be dangerous to living tissue. The amount of exposure is measured in millisieverts (mSv), a unit that allows for comparison of doses from different sources of radiation. Scientists have calculated that we’re normally exposed to between 2 and 4.5 mSv every year.
By contrast, a single digital periapical image taken of a tooth is equal to 1 microsievert (μSv), or one thousandth of an mSv; a full mouth series (between 18 and 20 images) creates an exposure of 85 μSv, or 85/1000 of one mSv. In addition, advances in technology have further reduced the radiation exposure from x-ray imaging. For example, digital imaging has reduced exposure during full mouth x-rays from seven to ten days of equal exposure from normal background radiation to half a day, and with no loss in image quality.
In effect, dental x-rays pose little to no risk for patients. Still, understanding that x-ray imaging does expose patients to radiation, dentists follow certain protocols and safety precautions. For example, dentists will place a lead apron around their patients’ chest area during an x-ray exposure.
As your dentist, we’re happy to address any concerns you may have about x-ray radiation exposure. But rest assured, the x-ray devices used in your dental care, so necessary in the fight against tooth decay and other diseases, are safe and reliable.
If you would like more information on the use of x-ray technology and safety, 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 “X-Ray Frequency and Safety.”
Most people agree that bad breath is more than embarrassing. It affects personal, social and business relationships. Although Americans spend roughly $3 billion annually on gum, mints and mouth rinses that promise relief, they are nothing more than temporary cover ups. Discovering the underlying cause of the problem is the only way to effectively eliminate the halitosis (“halitus” – breath; “osis” – disorder) long term. If you have bad breath, we can help.
While it's true that there are a few systemic (general body) medical conditions that can cause bad breath, including lung infections, liver disease, diabetes and cancer, the majority of causes originate in the mouth. We can conduct a simple oral examination to help diagnose the underlying cause of your bad breath. We will check your mouth thoroughly for signs of any dental problems that can produce an odor, including decayed or abscessed teeth, diseased gums, a coated tongue or infected tonsils. Typically, halitosis occurs when bacteria collect on the surface and back of the tongue where it is drier. Bacteria thrive in this environment, resulting in a “rotten egg” odor that so many of us are all too familiar with. This odor actually emanates from volatile sulfur compounds (VSFs), but will go away with proper treatment.
Once the exact cause is pinpointed, your halitosis can be treated in several ways. For example, we can show you how to brush and floss properly to more effectively remove bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease — don't be embarrassed, nobody really knows until they're shown by a professional. We can also show you how to use a tongue scraper or brush to carefully clean the surface of your tongue. Treatment of tooth decay, the repair of defective or broken fillings, extraction of wisdom teeth (third molars) and periodontal (gum) therapy such as scaling and root planing (deep cleaning) will all help treat infection and consequently bad breath.
You don't have to be embarrassed by bad breath any longer! The sooner you call our office to schedule an examination, the sooner you will be able to breathe a lot more freely. For more information about the causes of bad breath, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”
Tooth decay can be relentless: left untreated it can work its way into a tooth’s inner core — the pulp chamber or better known as the root canal. Once this occurs, the best course of action to save the tooth may be a root canal treatment to clean out the diseased pulp (nerve) and seal the canal from further decay.
So, what signs and symptoms might you encounter if decay has invaded a tooth’s root canal? When the pulp is first infected you may experience acute pain; over time, however, the pain may suddenly dissipate. This doesn’t mean the tooth has healed itself — quite the contrary, it may mean the infected pulp tissue, including the nerves, has died. Once the nerves die, they no longer transmit pain signals to the brain.
While the pain may cease, the infection hasn’t and will continue to travel from the end of the tooth root into the bone. At this point, you may encounter pain whenever you bite on the tooth. This time the pain is originating in nerves located in the periodontal ligament that surrounds the tooth root and joins the tooth with the jawbone. This can lead to an acute abscess (with accompanying pain) or a chronic abscess that may have no pain symptoms at all. As the decay progresses you may eventually suffer bone and tooth loss.
The important point here is that you may or may not notice all the signs and symptoms that indicate deep decay within a tooth. That’s why it’s important to undergo a thorough dental examination if you have any symptoms at all, especially acute pain that “mysteriously” disappears.
A root canal treatment and removal of the decayed tooth structure will stop the progress of tooth decay and preserve the tooth. The longer you delay, though, the greater the risk your tooth will eventually lose the battle with tooth decay and infection will continue to spread.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”
A substantial amount of research has recently pointed up the connection between oral health and systemic (whole-body) health. But recently, one study went a step further: It seems to show that having certain dental-health issues in middle age — for example, tooth loss and gum disease — could signal a deterioration in cognitive function.
Study author Gary Slade, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, summed it up: “We were interested to see if people with poor dental health had relatively poorer cognitive function, which is a technical term for how well people do with memory and with managing words and numbers,” he said in an interview with U.S. News and World Report. “What we found was that for every extra tooth that a person had lost or had removed, cognitive function went down a bit. The same was true [for] patients with severe gum disease.”
Does this mean that losing teeth is a little like losing brain cells? Not really, because it isn’t clear which condition occurred first… or even if one caused the other. For example, it could be that a poor diet is responsible for both poor dental health and a decline in cognitive ability; on the other hand, there could be a genetic link between both conditions. Or, it could simply mean that people with cognitive difficulties don’t take good care of their teeth.
Still, the association is intriguing — especially because it echoes some previous studies, which indicate that systemic inflammation could be a major cause of both problems. What’s the oral-systemic connection? No one is exactly sure yet, but research suggests a relationship between periodontal disease and other diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The common link may be bacteria: The same microorganisms that cause problems in the mouth might be able to spread through the body, producing a low-grade inflammation — one that’s waiting for the right conditions to burst into fire.
So, should you rush out and grab everything off the drugstore’s oral health products shelf? Well, we wouldn’t necessarily go that far… but here’s a more sensible suggestion: Take good care of your teeth and gums. Both tooth decay and periodontal disease can cause a number of problems with your health — yet both can be treated effectively… and they’re largely preventable!
If you haven’t visited our office in a while, why not come in for an exam? When you do, ask us what’s the best way to keep your smile looking great and feeling clean and healthy. Our goal is to help you maintain proper oral hygiene — for life. If you would like more information about oral health and systemic diseases, call our office for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart & Gum Diseases.”