Proponents of legalized marijuana have won phenomenal gains over the last decade. Despite the federal government's continuing criminalization of the drug, several states including California, Colorado and Massachusetts, have voted to legalize its recreational use.
Most people are aware of the social and political controversies the marijuana legalization movement stirs. But there's another side to this roiling issue: the health effects of marijuana, particularly for your teeth and gums. What may be lost beneath the more exciting headlines about ballot initiatives is the growing evidence that habitual marijuana use may increase the risk and severity of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. The spreading infection triggers inflammation, a normal bodily response to disease that's ordinarily beneficial. But if the inflammation becomes chronic it weakens the gums' attachment to the teeth. This can create voids or periodontal pockets of infection around the teeth. The disease can eventually damage the underlying bone, which could accelerate tooth loss.
Poor oral hygiene is the biggest factor for an increased risk of gum disease; thinner gum tissue (an inherited condition or related to poor tooth position) is another factor, as well as lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption. Add marijuana to the list: there's now some evidence that its use increases the risk for more severe periodontal pockets if the disease occurs.
In a recent study, researchers with the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine reviewed statistics on the care for nearly 2,000 adult patients; a quarter of those in the study were frequent marijuana users. The marijuana users proportionately had deeper periodontal pocket occurrences than the rest of the patients in the study that didn't use the drug.
The study doesn't say that marijuana causes periodontal (gum) disease. But it does suggest that marijuana use might increase its severity. As with other substances and practices in our society, marijuana use comes with a caveat: it may be legal where you live, but it may not necessarily be good for your health.
If you would like more information on the effects of marijuana use on your 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 “As More States Legalize Marijuana, Link to Gum Disease is a Concern.”
The classic movie Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, still brings back sweet memories of childhood to people everywhere. Recently, the news broke that a remake of the beloved 1971 film is in now development in Hollywood. But at a reunion of the original cast members a few years ago, child star Denise Nickerson revealed that her role as gum-chewing Violet Beauregard caused a problem: she ended up with 13 cavities as a result of having to chew gum constantly during the filming!
It should come as no surprise that indulging in sugary treats can lead to cavities: The sugar in your diet feeds harmful bacteria that can cause tooth decay and other dental problems. Yet lots of kids (not to mention the child inside many adults) still crave the satisfaction that gum, candy and other sweets can bring. Is there any way to enjoy sweet treats and minimize the consequences to your oral health?
First, let’s point out that there are lots of healthy alternatives to sugary snacks. Fresh vegetables, fruits and cheeses are delicious options that are far healthier for you and your kids. Presenting a variety of appealing choices—like colorful cut-up carrots, bite-sized cheese bits and luscious-looking fruits and berries can make it easier (and more fun) to eat healthy foods. And getting kids off the sugar habit is a great way to help them avoid many health problems in the future.
For those who enjoy chewing gum, sugarless gum is a good option. In fact, chewing sugarless gum increases the flow of healthful saliva in the mouth, which can help neutralize the bacteria-produced acids that cause cavities. Gums that have the ADA (American Dental Association) Seal of Acceptance have passed clinical tests for safety and effectiveness.
But if you do allow sugary snacks, there are still a few ways to minimize the potential damage. Restrict the consumption of sweets to around mealtimes, so the mouth isn’t constantly inundated with sugar. Drink plenty of water to encourage saliva flow, and avoid sugary and acidic beverages like soda (even diet soda) and “sports” or “energy” drinks. Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day. And don’t forget to visit our office regularly for routine checkups and cleanings. It’s the best way to get a “golden ticket” to good oral health.
If you would like more information about sugar, cavities and oral health, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
What makes a beautiful smile? The teeth, of course: bright, evenly shaped and precisely aligned with each other. But your teeth can be as perfect as can be and your smile will still appear unattractive.
The reason? Your gums show more than they should when you smile.
What's considered a gummy smile is largely a matter of perception that can vary from person to person. As a rule of thumb, though, we consider a smile “gummy” if four millimeters (mm) or more of the gums show.
Fortunately, we can minimize the gums' prominence and make your smile more attractive. But what methods we use will depend on why your gums stand out. And it's not always because of the gums themselves.
It could be your teeth didn't erupt normally during dental development. Mature crown (the visible part of the tooth) length is normally about 10 mm with a width about 75-85% of that. But an abnormal eruption could result in teeth that appear too short, which can make the gums stand out more. We can correct this with a surgical procedure called crown lengthening in which we remove excess gum tissue and, if necessary, reshape the underlying bone to expose more of the tooth crown.
Another potential cause is how far your upper lip rises when you smile. Normally the lip rises only enough to reveal about 4 mm of teeth. In some cases, though, it may rise too high and show more of the gums. We can modify lip movement in a number of ways, including Botox injections to temporarily paralyze the lip. A more permanent solution is a lip stabilization procedure. It sounds bad, but it's a fairly simple procedure to surgically reposition the muscle attachments to restrict movement.
Your gummy smile may also result from an upper jaw too long for your facial structure. We can correct this with orthognathic (“ortho” – straighten, “gnathos” – jaw) surgery. During the procedure the surgeon permanently positions the jaw further up in the skull; this will reduce the amount of teeth and gums displayed when you smile.
Discovering the true cause of your gummy smile will determine how we treat it. After a complete oral examination, we can then discuss your options to transform your smile into a more attractive one.
If you would like more information on treating gummy smiles and other cosmetic problems, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
Sometimes dental conditions point to health problems beyond the teeth and gums. An astute dentist may even be able to discern that a person’s oral problems actually arise from issues with their emotional well-being.Â In fact, a visit to the dentist could uncover the presence of two of the most prominent eating disorders, bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
Here are 3 signs dentists look for that may indicate an eating disorder.
Dental Erosion. Ninety percent of patients with bulimia and twenty percent with anorexia have some form of enamel erosion. This occurs because stomach acid — which can soften and erode enamel — enters the mouth during self-induced vomiting (purging), a prominent behavior with bulimics and somewhat with anorexics. This erosion looks different from other causes because the tongue rests against the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, shielding them from much of the stomach acid. As a result, erosion is usually more severe on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Enlarged Salivary Glands. A person induces vomiting during purging by using their fingers or other objects. This irritates soft tissues in the back of the throat like the salivary glands and causes them to swell. A dentist or hygienist may notice redness on the inside of the throat or puffiness on the outside of the face just below the ears.
Over-Aggressive Brushing. Bulimics are acutely aware of their appearance and often practice diligent hygiene habits. This includes brushing the teeth, especially after a purging episode. In doing so they may become too aggressive and, coupled with brushing right after purging when the minerals in enamel are softened, cause even greater erosion.
Uncovering a family member’s eating disorder can be stressful for all involved. In the long run, it’s best to seek out professional help and guidance — a good place to start is the National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org). While you’re seeking help, you can also minimize dental damage by encouraging the person to rinse with water (or a little baking soda) after purging to neutralize any acid in the mouth, as well as avoid brushing for an hour.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
Tooth decay doesn’t suddenly appear out of the blue. Cavities and other damage are the result of a long process that begins with bacteria living in a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces known as plaque. These bacteria thrive on sugars from leftover food in your mouth and then produce acid as a waste product. Chronic high levels of acid cause your enamel, the protective layer of your teeth, to soften and erode.
While there are treatment options at each stage of decay — including crowning or even tooth replacement — the best approach is to try to prevent plaque buildup that supports disease-causing bacteria. Here are 3 of the best ways you can do that.
Brush and floss daily. It usually takes 12-24 hours for enough plaque buildup to support bacteria. By brushing and flossing at least once a day, you can remove most of this buildup, with twice a year dental cleanings to remove hard to reach plaque you may have missed. Be sure to use fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen enamel against high acid. And wait a half hour to an hour after eating before brushing to give saliva time to reduce the acid level in your mouth.
Cut back on sweets. You’re not the only one who loves sugary snack foods — so do oral bacteria. The more sugar and other carbohydrates they feast on, the more they produce acid. The best approach is to cut out sugar-rich snacks altogether and instead snack on fresh fruits, raw vegetables or dairy products. Limit sweet treats to meal times.
Use decay-fighting supplements. Your mouth and hygiene efforts may need a little assistance, especially if you have low saliva flow. You can boost this with an artificial saliva supplement as well as with products containing xylitol, an alcohol-based sugar. Xylitol also has an added benefit in the fight against decay because it inhibits bacterial growth. And be sure to talk with us first before taking any dental supplement.
If you would like more information on dental hygiene and care, 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 “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”