Grand Oaks Dental Blog
In 2016, voters in three states—California, Massachusetts and Nevada—joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia in legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. These referenda moved the country closer to what may soon be a monumental political showdown between the states and the federal government, which still categorizes marijuana as a controlled substance.
But there’s another angle to this story often overshadowed by the political jousting: is increased marijuana use a good thing for your health and overall physical well-being?
When it comes to your dental health, the answer might be no. The Journal of Periodontology recently published a study that included frequent marijuana users showing increased signs of periodontal (gum) disease. This harmful bacterial infection triggered by plaque buildup can cause weakening of gum attachment to teeth and create the formation of large voids between teeth and gums called periodontal pockets. Left untreated, the disease can also cause supporting bone loss and eventually tooth loss.
The study looked at the dental treatment data of over 1,900 adults of which around one-quarter used marijuana once a month for at least a year. Marijuana users in the study on average had 24.5% of pocket sites around their teeth with depths of at least eight millimeters (an indication of advanced gum disease). In contrast, non-users averaged around 18.9% sites.
To be sure, there are several risk factors for gum disease like genetics, oral hygiene (or lack thereof), structural problems like poor tooth position or even systemic conditions elsewhere in the body. This published study only poses the possibility that marijuana use could be a risk factor for gum disease that should be taken seriously. It’s worth asking the question of whether using marijuana may not be good for your teeth and gums.
You brush and floss every day to rid your teeth and gums of disease-causing plaque. But while “showing up” is most of the battle, the effectiveness of your technique will win the war.
So, how good are you at removing plaque? One quick way to find out is the “tongue test”—simply rub your tongue along your teeth: they should feel smooth and “squeaky” clean. Surfaces that feel rough and gritty probably still contain plaque.
For a more thorough evaluation, your dental hygienist may use a product during your regular dental visit called a plaque disclosing agent. It’s a solution applied to your teeth that dyes any bacterial plaque present on tooth surfaces a certain color while leaving clean surfaces un-dyed. The disclosing agent shows you where you’re effectively removing plaque and where you’re not.
These products aren’t exclusive to the dental office—you can use something similar at home if you’d like to know how well you’re doing with your hygiene before your next visit. You can find them over-the-counter as tablets, swabs or solutions. You may even find some that have two dye colors, one that reveals older plaque deposits and the other newer plaque.
You simply follow the product’s directions by first brushing and flossing as usual, then chewing the tablet, daubing the swab on all tooth and gum surfaces, or swishing the solution in your mouth like mouthwash for about 30 seconds before spitting it out. You can then use a mirror to observe any dye staining. Pay attention to patterns: for example, dyed plaque scalloping along the gum line means you’ll need to work your brush a little more in those areas.
The dye could color your gums, lips and tongue as well as your teeth, but it only lasts a few hours. And while plaque disclosing agents are FDA-approved for oral use, you should still check the ingredients for any to which you may be allergic.
All in all, a plaque disclosing agent is a good way to occasionally check the effectiveness of your plaque removal efforts. By improving your technique you may further lower your risk of dental disease.
If you would like more information on learning how effective your oral hygiene really is, 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.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.
But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?
X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.
The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.
Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.
Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings. A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.
Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and your child, 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 Safety for Children.”
When you're first startled awake in the middle of the night by a loud, gritting sound emanating from your child's room, you may have two questions: how can such a loud racket not be harmful to their teeth? And, how can they sleep through it?
While it sounds earth-shattering, teeth grinding (medically known as bruxism) is a common habit among children. It involves an involuntary grinding, clenching or rubbing of the teeth together, either during the day or during night sleep.
While certain medications or conditions could be factors, it's believed most teeth grinding arises from the immaturity of the part of the neuromuscular system that controls chewing. It's believed to trigger a night episode as the child moves from deeper to lighter stages of sleep toward waking. Older children and adults typically handle these sudden shifts without incident, but a young child's under-developed chewing response may react with grinding.
If a child's teeth are normal and healthy, teeth-grinding typically won't create any lasting damage. But because grinding does generate pressures greater than the teeth normally encounter, it can be harmful to decayed teeth or those with enamel erosion due to high acid from consumption of sports and soda drinks. And it's also a cause for concern if the habit continues into later childhood or adolescence.
To avoid these problems, it's best to keep your child's teeth as healthy as possible by practicing daily brushing and flossing, and regularly seeing a dentist for cleanings, treatments and preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants. And be sure to limit sugar and acidic foods and drinks in their diet to protect against decay and erosion.
You can also take steps to minimize teeth grinding and its effects. Consult with your physician about any medications they're taking that might contribute to the habit. If there are psychological issues at play, seek therapy to help your child better manage their stress. Your dentist can also fashion a custom night guard worn while they sleep that will prevent their teeth from making solid contact during grinding episodes.
Most importantly, let your dentist know if your child grinds their teeth. Keeping an eye on this potentially harmful habit will help lead to appropriate actions when the time comes.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 Children Grind Their Teeth: Is the Habit of 'Bruxism' Harmful?”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.