Dental visit anxiety is a serious problem: Half of all Americans admit to some level of dental fear, while 15% avoid dental care altogether due to acute anxiety. The harm this can cause to dental health is incalculable.
But dentists have a number of sedation techniques that can relax anxious patients and allow them to receive the care they need. Although often used together, sedation is slightly different from anesthesia, which aims to deaden pain sensation. The aim of sedation is to calm the emotions and state of mind.
Sedation isn't a new approach: Physicians have used substances like root herbs or alcohol to relieve anxiety since ancient times. Modern dentistry also has a long history with sedation, dating from the early 1800s with the first use of nitrous oxide gas.
Modern dental sedation has expanded into an array of drugs and techniques to match varying levels of anxiety intensity. At the milder end of the scale are oral sedatives, taken an hour or so before a dental appointment to produce a calmer state. This may be enough for some patients, or it can be used in conjunction with nitrous oxide.
For those with more intense anxiety, dentists can turn to intravenous (IV) sedation. In this case, the sedative is delivered directly into the bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted in a vein. This causes a quicker and deeper reaction than oral sedatives.
Although similar to general anesthesia, IV sedation does differ in significant ways. Rather than unconsciousness, IV sedation places a patient in a “semi-awake” state that may still allow them respond to verbal commands. And although the patient's vital signs (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) must be monitored, the patient doesn't need breathing assistance as with anesthesia.
There's one other benefit: The drugs used often have an amnesic effect, meaning the patient won't remember the treatment experience after recovery. This can be helpful in creating more pleasant memories of their dental experience, which could have its own sedative effect in the future.
Whether oral, gas or IV, sedatives are a safe and effective way to calm dental fears during treatment. That could help someone with anxiety maintain their oral health.
If you would like more information on reducing dental anxiety, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
Oral cancer is one of the more dangerous malignancies people face. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of this deadly disease through changes in lifestyle habits and behaviors.
Two of the better known behaviors for increased oral cancer risk are immoderate consumption of alcohol and the use of tobacco, particularly chewing tobacco and snuff. Eliminating these, especially the latter, can vastly improve your odds of avoiding cancer. Another factor is a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) that's transmitted sexually, which you can avoid through safe sex practices.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, there's one more you should make to lower your oral cancer risk: adjustments to your diet. Research over the last half century has provided ample evidence of a link between the foods we eat and our risk of all types of cancers, including oral.
The biggest concern is over certain elements in some foods that can damage DNA, the molecular “operating instructions” that regulate the formation and function of our bodies' cells. These elements are collectively known as carcinogens because of their role in cancer formation.
An example of a carcinogen is a group of chemicals called nitrosamines. These form during preservation processes using nitrites in meats like bacon or ham. They're also found in beer or certain preserved fish. To limit your consumption of nitrosamines, you should reduce these and other processed products and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables, or organic meats and dairy products.
Our DNA can also be damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals that arise during normal cellular function. But there are also substances known as antioxidants that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Many plant-based foods contain nutrients like vitamins C and E that have antioxidant properties, so including them in your diet could help reduce your oral cancer risk.
Several clinical studies over the years have been consistent in their findings that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of oral or throat cancers, as well as other forms of cancer. Making changes to your diet in that direction, plus other lifestyle changes, could help you avoid this devastating oral disease.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
If you have a less than attractive smile due to some moderate imperfections, dental veneers may be the answer. This relatively inexpensive dental restoration may be the key to transforming your smile.
If you're thinking of veneers as a “thin covering,” you're on the right track. Just like construction veneers used to cover wall surfaces, dental veneers are thin wafers of material (usually porcelain) that cover the front of tooth surfaces. Made uniquely for the individual patient, veneers provide a life-like covering that can mask a variety of dental imperfections.
Veneers are mildly invasive, meaning some of the enamel layer of the teeth to which they're bonded will need to be removed. If this alteration occurs, it's permanent, so the teeth will require a veneer or other restoration from then on. It's usually necessary, though, so that the veneer doesn't appear too bulky. Even so, veneers are still less invasive than other restorations.
The list of appearance problems veneers can address is quite varied. One of their more common uses is to correct certain structural flaws in teeth: chips, abnormal tooth shape from wear or teeth that are congenitally smaller than normal.
They're also a remedy for heavy staining. While teeth whitening can temporarily brighten a dull, dingy smile, veneers provide a permanent solution for the problem of staining. They're also a practical option for internal tooth staining, which can't be addressed by either home or professional external teeth whitening procedures.
Finally, veneers may be used to close small gaps and other mild forms of dental misalignment. And although they may not be able to correct larger gaps by themselves, they're sometimes used in conjunction with orthodontic treatment.
Veneers can address many dental flaws, but not all. To see if your dental situation could benefit from a veneer application, you'll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If it seems veneers aren't a good fit for you, your dentist will discuss other types of cosmetic treatments to improve your smile.
If, on the other hand, veneers do appear to be a viable option for you, you're just a few visits away from a completely new look. Veneers can change your smile—and your life!
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
A root canal treatment is a commonly known but often misunderstood procedure. Contrary to popular belief, these treatments aren't painful — in fact, they often stop a toothache. More importantly, a “root canal” can give a tooth on the verge of loss another lease on life.
Still, if you've never experienced a root canal treatment before, you probably have questions. Here are the answers to a few of the most common.
Why do they call it a “root canal”? This is the popular shorthand term for a procedure that removes diseased tissue from a decay-infected pulp, the innermost part of a tooth and the actual root canals themselves. Root canals are the narrow, hollow channels that run from the tip of the root to the pulp and are also involved in the procedure.
Why do I need one? Once infected, the pulp's bundles of blood vessels, nerves and other tissues become diseased. This often results in a painful toothache that can also suddenly disappear once the nerves within the pulp die. But there's still a problem: If we don't clean out the diseased and dead pulp tissue, the infection could spread through the root canals to the bone and endanger the tooth's survival.
What happens during the procedure? After deadening the tooth and surrounding gums with local anesthesia, we enter the pulp through an access hole we create. Using special instruments we remove the diseased tissue and shape the root canals to seal them with a filling material called gutta percha. Sealing the access hole is then necessary to prevent re-infection. Later we'll cap the tooth with a porcelain crown to restore its appearance and add further protection against fracture or cracking of the tooth.
Who can perform a root canal treatment? In many cases a general dentist can perform the procedure. There are some complex situations, however, that require a root canal specialist with additional training, expertise and equipment to handle these more difficult cases. If your tooth is just such a case it's more than likely your general dentist will refer you to an endodontist to make sure you get the right kind of care to save it.
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 “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
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