Periodontal Disease—Is it Contagious?

During cold and flu season, some people wear masks to protect themselves from infection. Simply breathing the air exhaled by someone with the flu can be enough to send you to bed for several days. Periodontal disease—infections of the gums—is much more common than the flu, with more than half of all Americans over the age of 30 afflicted with some form of gum disease. But can you catch periodontal disease from someone else?

Periodontal disease results from a bacterial infection in the gums. Adult mouths typically contain billions of bacteria from 500 or more strains. The vast majority of these bacteria are harmless; some even provide a necessary benefit to our lives. A few, however, can cause inflammation associated with gingivitis and periodontitis.

Unlike the flu, you can’t catch periodontal disease by being in the same room with someone who already has it. However, according to the American Academy of Periodontology, the bacteria that cause the inflammatory reaction in periodontal disease can be spread through saliva. That means you should never share a toothbrush with anyone, including family members. Do not use someone else’s fork or spoon, or drink out of another person’s cup or glass.

Be especially careful not to share your saliva with small children, whose immune systems are not as powerful as adults’. Avoid tasting their food with the same utensil they will be using or cleaning that stain from your infant’s face with your saliva.

Your best defense against periodontal disease is to maintain good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Floss every day, and see us every six months for a checkup and a cleaning. Also, tell family members with signs of potential periodontal disease—bad breath or red, swollen or bleeding gums—to call our office to make an appointment. It could help protect the oral health of everyone in the family.

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Healthy Body, Healthy Smile

Whether from personal experience or reading news articles, we all know the health benefits of sports and exercise. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that most adults do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. But did you know that getting this exercise may affect your oral health?

First, the good news: Maintaining a healthy body mass index has been found to correlate with better oral health. Many conditions associated with obesity, such as hypertension and diabetes, can contribute to poor oral health, so we highly recommend that you maintain an active lifestyle.

However, there are some caveats. If you are not careful, sports and exercise may put you at higher risk for tooth decay and dental injuries. The following are three areas of concern and things you can do to prevent any adverse effects:

  • Sports drinks. Though marketed as “healthy,” many sports drinks coat the teeth in sugar and acid, which can lead to tooth erosion and decay. Consider low-sugar alternatives, such as coconut water or bottled water with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Dry mouth. Athletes who engage in vigorous physical activity often breathe through their mouths, which reduces the amount of saliva produced. Because saliva has a protective quality, this could be detrimental to oral health. Sipping water during workouts may be helpful, but so, too, is maintaining good oral hygiene.
  • Dental injuries. Dentists estimate that up to 40% of mouth injuries in adolescents and adults are sustained during sports activities. We recommend that most athletes wear a mouthguard. These can be purchased over the counter, but custom-fitted guards made in our office are more effective. We can review the pros and cons of this option at your next visit.

The best way to safeguard against dental health problems is to be vigilant about oral hygiene. That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, as well as visiting us twice a year for cleanings and examinations.

Any time it has been more than six months since your last visit, call us for an appointment. We can explore the ways your sports and exercise routines may adversely affect your oral hygiene. While you pursue a healthy body, we will ensure that you maintain a healthy smile as well.

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The Depression–Dental Care Link

If you, like millions of other Americans, suffer from depression, your oral health may be suffering, too. Depression can sometimes lead to poor oral health and vice versa. It can be difficult to prioritize consistent oral hygiene when you are in mental or emotional distress. But it is important to be aware of the potentially dangerous relationship between depression and dental care. Here are some of the facts:

  • Untreated depression can cause decreased ability to cope with daily tasks. Under this umbrella fall routine oral hygiene habits like brushing and flossing. Care lapses easily lead to increased likelihood of decay and gingivitis.
  • For relief, those with untreated depression may be more likely to pick up or increase unhealthy coping strategies. Turning to smoking or, unconsciously, to grinding or clenching the teeth may result in adverse long-term impacts. In fact, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders often force a depression sufferer to see the dentist due to excruciating pain.
  • Reduced serotonin levels are characteristic of untreated depression. With decreased serotonin—a feel-good natural brain chemical—can come increased cravings for sweets and carbohydrates. The consumption of sugary snacks, especially combined with infrequent brushing and flossing, improves the chance of tooth decay. A depression-related impaired sense of taste may also be present.
  • Medications used to treat depression can have oral side effects. These include dry mouth, mouth and gum infections, and even the aforementioned teeth grinding. Let us know if you are experiencing such side effects so we can help (with special mouth rinses or mouthguards, for instance).
  • Poor oral health can trigger depression. Self-consciousness about cosmetic imperfections of your smile or difficult-to-treat bad breath, for example, may limit social interactions. Symptoms of depression could result, potentially fomenting a vicious cycle.

To maintain both your oral and mental health, assemble a team of professionals you trust. You should disclose to us your entire health history—physical and mental—so we can best help you. If you tell us you take antidepressants, we will know to look for evidence of related oral side effects.

For more comprehensive, integrated treatment, we would be happy to speak with other members of your health care team. We want to do what is in your best interest, not just for your teeth and mouth but for you as a whole patient, and person, as well.

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A Prescription for Stronger Toothpaste

You’ve just left our office with a prescription for toothpaste. Does that seem a bit odd to you? Isn’t an over-the-counter toothpaste good enough? The truth is there are certain circumstances in which a high-fluoride prescription toothpaste will do the job a regular toothpaste cannot.

Prescription toothpastes have up to four times the amount of fluoride as over-the-counter brands. That’s enough to make them unsafe for children to use. High-fluoride toothpastes can damage the teeth of children younger than 10 years old, causing their teeth to become permanently mottled or discolored. That’s why adults must obtain proper authorization to purchase these toothpastes.

Now that the warnings are out of the way, here are some of the benefits of prescription toothpastes. They contain tricalcium phosphate that helps teeth to better absorb fluoride. They also

  • promote remineralization of damaged teeth due to decay or cavities
  • prevent “white spot” lesions left behind when braces are removed
  • help resist bacteria that cause cavities
  • reduce acidity in the mouth
  • inhibit tartar buildup

As with any prescription treatment, it is important to follow the directions. Some prescription toothpastes are intended for once-a-day usage. That doesn’t mean you should brush your teeth only once a day; it means that you should brush once with the prescription toothpaste and once with an over-the-counter toothpaste. It also doesn’t absolve you from proper brushing technique. Brush for at least two minutes, and be sure to brush your gums, too.

Should you have any questions about prescription toothpaste or what toothbrush to use, ask them at your next regularly scheduled checkup. As always, our mission is to give you a radiant, cavity-free smile.

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Dealing with Dental Anxiety

We don’t take it personally when one of our patients—or potential patients—says he or she would rather do practically anything else than visit the dentist. We are well aware that dental anxiety is common. (The more extreme version, dental phobia, isn’t all that rare, either.) Fearing a trip to the dentist has varied roots, depending on the person. It can stem from one or more of the following:

  • Prior negative experiences. It’s understandable that a previous upsetting encounter at a dentist’s office—even if it occurred decades ago—can affect one’s actions and feelings today.
  • A true fear of pain. Please understand that our practice has up-to-date procedures and equipment to keep pain as minimal as possible.
  • Embarrassment about having “waited too long.” No matter what conditions we discover, we won’t pass judgment. We will design a thorough treatment plan to get your oral health where it needs to be.
  • The lack of personal space. While we do have to come close to you to properly treat you, alerting us to this sensitivity will help us make you more comfortable.
  • The feeling of a loss of control. We know that, for some people, having to stay still and not being able to communicate verbally causes distress. We can set up a system of hand signals so you will be able to express yourself throughout the visit.

The initial presence of anxiety, however, does not necessarily indicate how your visit will go. Aim to de-escalate its influence with these suggestions:

  • Bring moral support. Have a friend or family member who has no dental anxiety accompany you.
  • Breathe. Learn some breathing exercises for relaxation prior to your visit to regain your sense of control.
  • Find a distraction. It’s fine to bring a device preprogrammed with relaxing music or podcasts. Listening through headphones may help you put yourself, mentally, in another place.
  • Take medication. If deemed appropriate, a sedative administered by us, such as local anesthetic, oral sedatives or nitrous oxide (laughing gas), may help.

Just as important as any of these tactics is to be frank with us about your anxiety. We will prepare you for every step of the visit and do what we can to help your nervousness subside.

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