Daily fatigue or complaints of your snoring from family have led you to see your doctor about the problem. After an exam and a test session in a sleep lab, your problem now has a name — obstructive sleep apnea.
This common sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat over-relax during sleep. The relaxed tissues obstruct air flow to the trachea (windpipe) and cause “apnea,” where you cease to breathe. The lack of oxygen causes you to wake, even for a micro-second, to begin breathing again. This may occur multiple times throughout the night, diminishing the quality of your sleep and leading not only to drowsiness and daily fatigue but also contribute to cardiovascular disease or other systemic conditions.
The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine while you sleep. The machine delivers pressurized air to a face mask you wear while you sleep; the additional pressure keeps the airway open. However, a CPAP machine does have a few disadvantages, including discomfort while attached to the machine, nasal congestion and dryness, or claustrophobia. These effects can be so pronounced for some patients, they’re unable to adjust themselves to the machine.
If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, there may be an alternative — a custom-fitted oral appliance we manufacture for you to wear in your mouth while you sleep. The appliance pulls the lower jaw forward resulting in a wider opening of the airway. In addition to being less cumbersome than a CPAP mask, an oral appliance is easier to wear, compact in size for easy travel and doesn’t require electricity.
While an oral appliance is an effective alternative to a CPAP machine for many patients, it does have a few disadvantages including problems with saliva flow (too much or too little), muscle or teeth soreness and minor tooth or jaw movement. Still, an oral appliance might be the right solution to relieve your sleep apnea over the long-term.
If you would like more information on treatments for sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Sleep Apnea FAQs.”
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.”
“The Freshman 15” is a popular way of referring to the phenomenon of new college students gaining weight during their freshman year (although the average is less than fifteen pounds). According to research, college students gain weight mainly due to an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
If you're experiencing this as a college student, you should also know poor diet and lifestyle choices harm your teeth and gums as well. If you don't want to encounter major dental problems, then you need to make some changes beginning with the same cause for your weight gain: what you eat and drink.
Like the rest of your body, your teeth and gums have the best chance for being healthy when you're eating a balanced, nutritional diet low in added sugar. And it's not just mealtime: constant snacking on sweets not only loads on the calories, it also feeds disease-causing oral bacteria. Sipping on acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks also increases the levels of acid that can erode tooth enamel.
Some lifestyle habits can also affect oral health. Using tobacco (smoked or smokeless) inhibits your mouth's natural healing properties and makes you more susceptible to dental disease. While it may be cool to get piercings in your lips, cheeks or tongue, the hardware can cause gum recession, chipped teeth and soft tissue cuts susceptible to infection. And unsafe sexual practices increase your risk for contracting the human papilloma virus (HPV16) that's been linked with oral cancer, among other serious health problems.
Last but not least, how you regularly care for your teeth and gums can make the biggest difference of all. You should brush and floss your teeth ideally twice a day to clean away plaque, a thin film of disease-causing bacteria and food particles. And twice-a-year dental cleanings and checkups will round out your prevention efforts against tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Making your own choices is a rite of passage into adulthood. Making good choices for your teeth and gums will help ensure they remain healthy for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on maintaining dental health during the college years, 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life, but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables.
That’s just one reason why it’s important to replace missing teeth as soon as possible. There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures.
Removable dentures are the classic “false teeth” that you put in during the day and take out at night. Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look as replacement teeth, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining).
Overdentures are removable dentures that hook onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. But overdentures, too, are not meant to be worn all of the time.
Fixed dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally a period of a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
Like many people, you might be caring for an elderly parent or family member. That care should include a focus on their teeth and gums — a healthy mouth is vitally important to their overall health, nutrition and well-being. Because of the aging process, this can be challenging.
Here are 4 areas where you should focus your attention to assure the senior adult in your life has the healthiest mouth possible.
Make adjustments for hygiene. As we grow older, arthritis and similar conditions make brushing and flossing difficult to perform. You can help your senior adult keep up these vital tasks by switching to a powered toothbrush or refitting their brush with a bike handle or tennis ball to make gripping easier. Pre-loaded floss holders or water irrigators are effective alternatives to manual flossing if it becomes too difficult.
Have dentures or other appliances checked regularly. Many older people wear full or partial dentures. Due to the nature of these appliances, the risk of bone loss over time is greater, which can eventually affect their fit. Their dentist should check them regularly and reline or repair them if possible. Eventually, they may need a new appliance to match any changing contours in the mouth.
Be aware of age-related dental issues. Age-related conditions of both the mouth and the body (like osteoporosis, which can affect bone density) can impact dental health. For example, an older person can develop lower saliva flow, often due to medications they’re taking. This, as well as gastric reflux common in older people, increases acidity and a higher risk of tooth decay. Past dental work like fillings, crowns or bridges may also make hygiene and additional treatment more difficult.
Keep up regular dental visits. In light of all this, it’s crucial to keep up with regular dental visits for continuing teeth and gum health. Besides cleanings, these visits are also important for monitoring signs of tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease and oral cancer. It’s also a good opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of their hygiene efforts and suggest adjustments.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
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