You may have been surprised by a new addition to your regular dental appointment routine—we took your blood pressure at the start. While you might expect this at a medical clinic, it seems unusual at the dentist’s office.
But not anymore: blood pressure checks at dental offices are quickly becoming routine, including during regular cleanings and checkups. Here are 3 reasons why checking your blood pressure is now part of your dental visit experience.
Your blood pressure could be an issue during dental work. While we do everything possible to make you comfortable, undergoing dental work can create stressful feelings. Blood pressure normally increases when stress occurs, including before dental procedures. If you already have issues with hypertension (high blood pressure), any circumstance that might increase it could lead to health problems or even an emergency like a stroke. If your blood pressure is high, we may forgo any planned procedures and refer you to a physician for further examination.
Local anesthesia can affect blood pressure. Local anesthesia is an important part of dental work—without it we couldn’t provide maximum comfort during procedures. But many anesthetics include epinephrine, which helps prolong the numbing effect. Epinephrine also constricts blood vessels, which in turn can elevate blood pressure. We may need to adjust the anesthesia drugs and dosages we use in your case if you have high blood pressure.
It could save your health—and your life. The symptoms for hypertension can be subtle and often go unnoticed. A blood pressure screening check is often the first indication of a problem. That’s why blood pressure screenings in a variety of healthcare settings are so important. A routine blood pressure check at your dentist (who hopefully sees you at least every six months) is one more opportunity to find out. Discovering you may have high blood pressure is the first step to controlling it and hopefully avoiding more serious conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
If you would like more information on monitoring vital signs during dental visits, 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is a bacterial infection, which if left untreated could cause gum recession, bone loss and eventually tooth loss. Caused mainly by plaque left on tooth surfaces from poor hygiene practices, the deeper the infection spreads below the gum line, the more difficult it is to treat.
One possible scenario involves parts of a tooth’s root structure known as furcations. These are branching forks formed during the early development of teeth with multiple roots where they take different paths from the base of the crown. As gum disease spreads around the root it may cause different degrees of bone loss at the point of the branch.
It’s imperative when treating gum disease to uncover and remove any bacterial plaque or calculus (hardened plaque deposits) found, including below the gum line. To address bacterial plaque at the root level, it’s important to first determine if bone loss has involved the furcations (where the roots separate, also referred to as a “furcation invasion”) and to what degree.
We usually classify this degree of involvement in three classes: Class I, the invasion has created a groove in the furcation, but minimal significant bone loss; Class II, the bone loss has extended into the furcation by at least two millimeters; or Class III, the bone loss extends completely from one end of the furcation to the other (or “through and through”).
Depending on the class, cleaning plaque and calculus from furcations and then maintaining them thereafter can be quite challenging. We may need to use specially shaped hand instruments known as scalers or curettes to reach and clean root surfaces, or ultrasonic scalers that use high-frequency vibrations and streaming water to loosen and flush away plaque debris. It may also prove helpful, though limited, to apply antimicrobials or antibiotics to the area to help limit the levels of bacteria.
Disease damage around furcations may also require surgical treatment to encourage new tissue and bone growth in the area. Surgery can also help make the area more accessible to future cleaning and maintenance, both for you and us. Renewed hygiene practices on your part and regular cleaning and checkups with us will help ensure that the situation involving your tooth roots can be kept under control and your tooth preserved for many years to come.
Treating advanced periodontal (gum) disease takes time. If you have this destructive disease, it wouldn’t be uncommon for you to undergo several cleaning sessions to remove plaque from tooth and gum surfaces. This built-up film of bacteria and food particles is primarily responsible for triggering and fueling gum disease.
These cleaning sessions, which might also involve surgery and other advanced techniques to access deep pockets of infection, are necessary not only to heal your gums but to preserve the teeth they support. With these intense efforts, however, we can help rescue your teeth and return your reddened and swollen gums to a healthy, pink hue.
But what then — is your gum disease a thing of the past?
The hard reality is that once you’ve experienced gum disease your risk of another occurrence remains. From now on, you must remain vigilant and disciplined with your oral hygiene regimen to minimize the chances of another infection. You can’t afford to slack in this area.
Besides daily brushing and flossing as often as your dentist directs, you should also visit your dentist for periodontal maintenance (PM) on a regular basis. For people who’ve experienced gum disease, PM visits are more than a routine teeth cleaning. For one, your dentist may recommend more than the typical two visits a year: depending on the severity of your disease or your genetic vulnerability, you may need to increase the frequency of maintenance appointments by visiting the dentist every two to three months.
Besides plaque and calculus (tartar) removal, these visits could include applications of topical antibiotics or other anti-bacterial substances to curb the growth of disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. You may also need to undergo surgical procedures to make particular areas prone to plaque buildup easier to clean.
The main point, though, is that although you’ve won your battle with gum disease, the war isn’t over. But with your own daily hygiene maintenance coupled with your dentist’s professional attention, you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding a future infection.
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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
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.”
Archeologists can tell us quite a bit about our primitive ancestors. For example, because of their coarse, abrasive diet and a primitive understanding of oral hygiene, their teeth had a rough go of it. They simply wore out faster — a contributing factor, no doubt, to their short life spans of thirty or forty years.
But thanks to improvements in lifestyle, healthcare and diet, people live much longer today. And so do their teeth, thanks to advances in dental care and disease prevention. While teeth still wear to some degree as we age, if we care for them properly with daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, we can keep that wear to a minimum. Teeth truly can last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, it's still all too common for people to lose their teeth prematurely. The main reason: the two most prevalent dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Tooth decay arises from high concentrations of mouth acid that erode enamel, teeth's irreplaceable protective shell. Gum disease is an infection that damages the bone supporting tissues as it infiltrates deep below the visible gum line.
While they occur by different mechanisms, the two diseases have some commonalities. They both, of course, can lead to tooth loss. And, they're both triggered by oral bacteria found in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles built up on tooth and gum surfaces. Multiplying bacteria feed on plaque and produce acid as a by-product. And certain bacterial strains infect gum tissues.
Both of these diseases can be treated successfully, especially if detected early. But the better approach is to prevent them in the first place. This introduces another commonality — they share the same prevention strategy of daily, comprehensive brushing and flossing for plaque removal, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and a sharp eye for any signs of disease like bleeding gums or tooth pain.
With diligent dental care and close attention to your oral health, you increase your chances of avoiding the full threat of these diseases.Â And with healthy teeth, you have a better chance of living a long and healthy life.
If you would like more information on minimizing tooth wear, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
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