There's ample evidence tobacco smoking increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But the same may be true for electronic cigarettes (E-cigs): Although millions have turned to “vaping” believing it's a safer alternative to smoking, there are growing signs it might also be harmful to oral health.
An E-cig is a device with a chamber that holds a liquid solution. An attached heater turns the liquid into a vapor the user inhales, containing nicotine, flavorings and other substances. Because it doesn't contain tar and other toxic substances found in tobacco, many see vaping as a safer way to get a nicotine hit.
But a number of recent research studies seem to show vaping isn't without harmful oral effects. A study from Ohio State University produced evidence that E-cig vapor interferes with the mouth's bacterial environment, or oral microbiome, by disrupting the balance between harmful and beneficial bacteria in favor of the former. Such a disruption can increase the risk for gum disease.
Other studies from the University of Rochester, New York and Universit? Laval in Quebec, Canada also found evidence for vaping's negative effects on oral cells. The Rochester study found astringent flavorings and other substances in vaping solutions can damage cells. The Quebec study found a staggering increase in the normal oral cell death rate from 2% to 53% in three days after exposure to E-cig vapor.
Nicotine, E-cig's common link with tobacco, is itself problematic for oral health. This addictive chemical constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the mouth's tissues. This not only impedes the delivery of nutrients to individual cells, but also reduces available antibodies necessary to fight bacterial infections. Regardless of how nicotine enters the body—whether through smoking or vaping—it can increase the risk of gum disease.
These are the first studies of their kind, with many more needed to fully understand the effects of vaping on the mouth. But the preliminary evidence they do show should cause anyone using or considering E-cigs as an alternative to smoking to think twice. Your oral health may be hanging in the balance.
COVID-19 containment restrictions could put a kink in many of our vacation plans this summer. With leisure air travel discouraged and popular attractions like Disney closed, this may be the year for a “staycation.” But however your summer plans turn out, be sure you keep up with the essentials—like taking care of your teeth and gums.
Vacations, whether a road trip or a camping getaway in your own backyard, are times to recharge the “mental batteries” by temporarily leaving everyday life behind. But not everything—you still need to take care of life's necessities, including daily dental care. Not to sound like a schoolmarm, but there is no vacation from brushing and flossing.
Actually, it's not that onerous: Just five short minutes a day is all you need to effectively perform these two essential hygiene tasks before you head out for your vacation activities (or non-activities, as the case may be). During those five minutes, though, you'll be removing built-up dental plaque, a bacterial film that's the top cause for tooth decay and gum disease.
You should also keep an eye on your vacation diet. For many people, seasonal getaways often come with an increase in sweet treats like pastries, ice cream or, the perennial campfire favorite, s'mores. But increased sugar may also raise your risk for dental disease. So, limit those sweet treats, consider alternative snacks without sugar, and brush after eating to keep tooth decay or gum disease from getting a foothold.
An equally important measure for maintaining healthy teeth and gums is a regular dental visit at least twice a year. During these visits we'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque or tartar (hardened plaque) and check for any signs of dental disease. Our goal is to keep you in the best oral health for the long haul.
Everyone needs a break from the routine now and then, even if it's a creative alternative to the traditional summer trip. Just be sure you have your dental care covered before your vacation.
If you would like more information about daily and regular dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
Looking in the mirror, you probably focus on your teeth and gums—i.e., your smile. Your dentist, though, will take the time to look deeper into your mouth, searching for anything out of the ordinary. That could be a type of mouth sore known as lichen planus.
Lichen planus are lesions that can appear on skin or mucus membranes, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their resemblance to lichens, a fungus found on trees or rocks (although the sore itself isn't fungi). As such, they often have a lacy pattern of lines emanating from purplish bumps.
Again, the first indication you have such a condition may come from your dentist. Sometimes, though, you may notice greater sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods and, if the gums are affected, irritation when you eat or brush.
If you find out you have lichen planus, don't be alarmed—it usually doesn't pose harm to your health and it's not contagious. Its appearance, though, could be mimicked by more harmful medical conditions, so your dentist will want to confirm the lesion observed is truly lichen planus.
It's routine, then, for your dentist to excise a small sample of the sore's tissue and send it to a pathology lab for biopsy. Although results will more than likely confirm lichen planus or some other benign lesion, it's better to err on the side of caution and ensure you're not dealing with something more serious.
If you are diagnosed with lichen planus, you may need to take steps to manage symptoms. In most people, the sore will go away on its own, although there's no guarantee it won't reappear sometime later. In the event it lingers, your dentist may prescribe a topical steroid to help ease any discomfort.
You can also minimize a future outbreak by practicing effective daily oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial populations that may contribute to the condition. And when you're symptomatic, try avoiding spicy or acidic foods like citrus, peppers or caffeinated beverages.
Lichen planus is more bothersome than harmful. Taking the above steps can help you avoid it or deal with it more effectively when it occurs.
If you would like more information on lichen planus, 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 “Lichen Planus: Mouth Lesions That are Usually benign.”
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.”
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