It seems with each new election cycle another U.S. state legalizes marijuana use. It remains a flashpoint issue that intersects politics, law and morality, but there's another aspect that should also be considered—the health ramifications of using marijuana.
From an oral health perspective, it doesn't look good. According to one study published in the Journal of Periodontology a few years ago, there may be a troubling connection between marijuana use and periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a common bacterial infection triggered by dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. As the infection advances, the gum tissues become more inflamed and lose their attachment to teeth. This often results in widening gaps or "pockets" between the teeth and gums filled with infection. The deeper a periodontal pocket, the greater the concern for a tooth's health and survivability.
According to the study, researchers with Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine reviewed data collected from nearly 2,000 adults, a quarter of which used marijuana at least once a month. They found the marijuana users had about 30 individual pocket sites on average around their teeth with a depth of at least 4 millimeters. Non-users, by contrast, only averaged about 22 sites.
The users also had higher incidences of even deeper pockets in contrast to non-users. The former group averaged nearly 25 sites greater than 6 millimeters in depth; non-users, just over 19. Across the data, marijuana users appeared to fare worse with the effects of gum disease than those who didn't use.
As concerning as these findings appear, we can't say that marijuana use singlehandedly causes gum disease. The condition has several contributing risk factors: diet, genetics, and, most important of all, how well a person manages daily plaque removal, the main driver for gum disease, through brushing and flossing.
Still, the data so far seems to indicate using marijuana can make gum disease worse. Further studies will be needed to fully test this hypothesis. In the meantime, anyone using marijuana should consider the possible consequences to their oral health.
If you're a fan of former NFL player and current host of Good Morning America Michael Strahan, then you're well aware of his unique smile feature—a noticeable gap between his front teeth. So far, Strahan has nixed any dental work to correct the gap, often saying it was part of "who I am."
But if you follow him on Twitter, you may have been shocked by a video he posted on March 30th of him sitting in a dentist's chair. Calling it a "moment fifty years in the making," Strahan said, "Let's do it." After some brief video shots of a dental procedure, Strahan revealed a new gapless smile.
But some of his Twitter fans weren't buying it—given the timing, they sniffed an elaborate April Fool's Day ruse. It turns out their spider senses were on target: Strahan appeared once again after the video with his signature gap still intact, grinning over the reaction to his successful prank.
The uproar from his practical joke is all the more hilarious because Strahan has let it be known he's truly comfortable with his smile "imperfection." But it also took him awhile to reach that point of acceptance, a well-known struggle for many people. On the one hand, they want to fix their dental flaws and improve their smile. But then again, they're hesitant to part with the little "imperfections" that make them unique.
If that's you, here are some tips to help you better navigate what best to do about improving your smile.
See a cosmetic dentist. A cosmetic dentist is singularly focused on smile enhancement, and particularly in helping patients decide what changes they want or need. If you're looking for such a dentist, seek recommendations from friends and family who've changed their smiles in ways you find appealing.
Get a "smile analysis." Before considering specific cosmetic measures, it's best to first get the bigger picture through an examination called a "smile analysis." Besides identifying the defects in your smile, a cosmetic dentist will use the analysis to gauge the effect any proposed improvements may have on your overall facial appearance.
Embrace reality. A skilled cosmetic dentist will also evaluate your overall oral health and assess how any cosmetic procedures might impact it. This might change your expectations if it whittles down the list of enhancement possibilities, but it may help determine what you can do to get the best improved smile possible.
A great cosmetic dentist will work diligently with you to achieve a new smile that's uniquely you. Even if, like Michael Strahan, you decide to keep a trademark "imperfection," there may still be room for other enhancements that will change your appearance for the better.
Wearing braces can ultimately give you a healthier and more attractive smile. In the short-term, though, your gums in particular may be in for a rough ride.
While we're all susceptible to gum disease, braces wearers are more likely to encounter it. This stems from two related factors: the difficulty braces pose to oral hygiene; and the potential irritation of soft tissues by the braces themselves.
The main cause for any form of gum disease is dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque through brushing and flossing greatly reduces the risk of any dental disease. But braces wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss—as a result, some plaque deposits may escape cleaning, which makes a gum infection more likely.
To exacerbate this, braces hardware can irritate the gums and cause swelling and tissue overgrowth, also known as hyperplasia. The one-two punch of ineffective hygiene with hyperplasia are why braces wearers have a higher incidence of gum problems compared to the general population.
To guard against this, patients with braces need to be extra vigilant about keeping their teeth and gums clean of plaque. It may be helpful in this regard to use specialized tools like interproximal brushes with narrower bristle heads that are easier to maneuver around braces.
And rather than using traditional flossing thread, orthodontic patients may find it easier and more effective to use pre-loaded flossing picks or an entirely different method called oral irrigation. The latter involves a handheld wand that directs a stream of pulsating water between teeth to loosen and flush away plaque.
It's also important for patients to see their dentist as soon as possible for any gum swelling, bleeding or pain. The dentist can determine if it relates to gum disease, hyperplasia or a combination of both, and recommend treatment. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces until the gums heal, so catching and treating any gum problem early is a priority.
Regardless of the risk for gum disease, orthodontic treatment is still well worth the investment in your health and appearance. Practicing effective oral hygiene and keeping a watchful eye on your gums will help further lower that risk.
If you would like more information on oral care during orthodontic 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Tooth loss is often the unfortunate conclusion to a case of untreated periodontal (gum) disease—incentive enough to try either to prevent it or aggressively treat an infection should it occur. In either case, the objective is the same: to remove all plaque from dental surfaces.
Dental plaque (and its hardened form, tartar) is a thin buildup of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. It's a ready food source for sustaining the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing it can prevent an infection or “starve” one that has already begun.
Your first line of prevention is brushing and flossing your teeth daily to remove any accumulated plaque. Next in line are dental cleanings at least twice a year: This removes plaque and tartar that may have survived your daily hygiene.
Plaque removal is also necessary to stop an infection should it occur. Think of it as a more intense dental cleaning: We use many of the same tools and techniques, including scalers (or curettes) or ultrasonic devices to loosen plaque that is then flushed away. But we must often go deeper, to find and remove plaque deposits below the gums and around tooth roots.
This can be challenging, especially if the infection has already caused damage to these areas. For example, the junctures where tooth roots separate from the main body of the tooth, called furcations, are especially vulnerable to disease.
The results of infection around furcations (known as furcation involvements or furcation invasions) can weaken the tooth's stability. These involvements can begin as a slight groove and ultimately progress to an actual hole that passes from one end to the other (“through and through”).
To stop or attempt to reverse this damage, we must access the roots, sometimes surgically. Once we reach the area, we must remove any plaque deposits and try to stimulate regrowth of gum tissue and attachments around the tooth, as well as new bone to fill in the damage caused by the furcation involvement.
Extensive and aggressive treatment when a furcation involvement occurs—and the earlier, the better—can help save an affected tooth. But the best strategy is preventing gum disease altogether with dedicated oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations?”
When it comes to helping your child avoid tooth decay, it's all hands on deck. Tooth decay can not only harm their current set of primary teeth, but the loss of even one tooth could lead to bite problems later on.
And, even if you're doing all the right things—daily brushing and flossing, limiting sugar consumption and regular dental visits—your child might still develop cavities. If so, it may be necessary to add a boost of prevention with topical fluoride applied by your dentist.
With its enamel-strengthening properties, fluoride plays an important role in dental disease prevention. For decades, manufacturers have added fluoride to toothpaste. And, many water utilities now add tiny amounts of fluoride to their drinking supply.
According to a number of studies, these fluoride applications are effective weapons against tooth decay. But direct applications of fluoride to tooth surfaces can provide even greater benefit to children with a higher susceptibility for decay.
Topical fluoride is usually applied by means of a gel, foam or varnish. In varnish form, it's brushed on the teeth, while dentists apply the foam solution within a tray fitted around the teeth. The gel application can be administered by either method.
Although these topical applications use a higher concentration of fluoride than you find in toothpaste, it poses no serious danger to a child's health. But because high doses of fluoride can lead to staining, topical applications are only administered periodically during childhood.
The only short-term health concern is if the child accidentally swallows some of the mixture during application. This can cause symptoms like an upset stomach, vomiting or headache. Dentists, however, take a number of precautions to prevent accidental ingestion in order to avoid these unpleasant side effects.
The benefits, though, appear to well outweigh this minor risk. In a review of several scientific studies involving nearly 10,000 children, there was an average 28% reduction in decayed, missing or filled teeth in those children that underwent topical fluoride treatments.
If you want to know more about topical fluoride treatments and whether they can help your child avoid tooth decay, talk to your dentist. This fluoride booster could help further protect them from this destructive dental disease.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid tooth decay, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
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