During this year's National Public Health Week in April, health issues like vaping and the opioid crisis are taking a back seat to what is front and center on everyone's mind: the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This highly contagious viral infection is upending business as usual for most of the world in a way unlike anything we've experienced. Nothing is “normal” right now, including dental care.
As with other aspects of daily life, you can expect disruptions in dental care because of COVID-19, especially involving routine visits. But with that said, we're working hard to ensure your teeth and gums aren't overlooked during this global crisis. We are here for you, so please call us for any questions you may have, and especially if you are experiencing dental pain.
If you do need to visit the dentist for treatment, you might be concerned about potentially exposing yourself or others to COVID-19. Like every business that interacts with the public and especially all healthcare providers, dental offices are implementing extra precautions during this time to protect both patients and staff against infection.
This isn't something new: The dental profession as a whole has strict protocols for preventing infection that have been in place for several years. Infection control is a top priority for dentists at all times, not just during outbreaks like COVID-19. Here are some of the things we do—and are expanding because of the novel coronavirus—to keep you safe during dental appointments.
Barrier protection. Dental providers routinely use disposable items like gloves, face masks or eyewear to prevent disease spread during procedures that involve close contact with patients. For extra precautions with COVID-19, we're adding more of this type of barrier protection.
Sterilization and waste disposal. Instruments and equipment that we use repeatedly are thoroughly sterilized to remove all microorganisms, including coronavirus, from their surfaces. For disposable items used during treatment, we keep these separate from common waste and dispose of them according to strict protocols for handling bio-medical waste.
Disinfection. Even though the main pathway for spreading COVID-19 is through respiratory droplets in the air, we're continually disinfecting office and treatment surfaces that the virus might potentially contaminate. In doing so, we're using substances recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). By the way, you can find a list of such products at //www.americanchemistry.com/Novel-Coronavirus-Fighting-Products-List.pdf.
These are uncertain times for all of us. But while we're cooperating with social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, we're still here partnering with you to keep your family's teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information about special dental precautions during this time, don't hesitate to contact us. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
If your child has a toothache, there’s good news — and not so good news. The good news is the pain rarely indicates an emergency. On the downside, though, it may definitely be something that needs our attention.
Here, then, are 4 things you should do as a parent when your child tells you their tooth hurts.
Try to find out exactly where the pain is and how long it has hurt. Ask your child which tooth or part of the mouth hurts. You should also find out, as best you can, when the pain started and if it’s constant or intermittent. Anything you learn will be useful information if you bring them to the office for an examination. And, any tooth pain that keeps your child up at night or lasts more than a day should be examined.
Look for signs of recent injury. Your child may have suffered a blow to the mouth that has damaged the teeth and gums. Besides asking if they remember getting hurt in the mouth, be sure to look for chipped teeth, cracks or other signs of trauma. Even if there aren’t any outward signs of injury, the tooth’s interior pulp may have been damaged and should be checked out.
Look for signs of dental disease. Take a close look at the tooth your child’s complaining about: do you see brown spots or obvious cavities? You should also look for swollen gums or sores on the inside of the mouth. If there’s been no apparent injury, these could be signs of infection related to tooth decay.
Try to relieve pain symptoms. If you don’t see anything unusual, there may be a piece of candy or other hard food debris between the teeth causing the pain — gently floss around the tooth to dislodge it. If the pain persists give appropriate doses of ibuprofen or acetaminophen (not aspirin). If there’s swelling, you can also apply an icepack on the outside of the jaw. In any case, you should definitely schedule a visit with us for an examination.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “A Child’s Toothache.”
In the early 1900s, a Colorado dentist noticed his patients had fewer cavities than the norm. He soon found the cause: naturally occurring fluoride in their drinking water. That discovery led to what is now heralded as one of the most important public health measures of the last century — the use of fluoride to prevent tooth decay.
While you're most likely familiar with fluoride toothpaste and other fluoridated hygiene products, there are other sources of this chemical you should know about — especially if you're trying to manage your family's fluoride intake. Here are 3 of these common sources for fluoride.
Fluoridated drinking water. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. water utilities add fluoride to their drinking water supply under regulations governed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal government currently recommends 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water as the optimum balance of maximum protection from tooth decay and minimal risk of a type of tooth staining called dental fluorosis. You can contact your local water service to find out if they add fluoride and how much.
Processed and natural foods. Many processed food manufacturers use fluoridated water in their processes. Although not always indicated on the packaging, there are often traces of fluoride in cereals, canned soups, fruit juices or soda. Many varieties of seafood naturally contain high levels of fluoride and infant formula reconstituted with fluoridated water can exceed the level of fluoride in breast or cow's milk. Beer and wine drinkers may also consume significant levels of fluoride with their favorite adult beverage, particularly Zinfandel, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Clinical prevention measures. As part of a child's regular dental treatment, dentists may apply topical fluoride to developing teeth, especially for children deemed at high risk for tooth decay. This additional fluoride can be applied in various forms including rinses, gels or varnishes. The additional fluoride helps strengthen a child's developing enamel and tooth roots.
How much fluoride your family ingests depends on a number of factors like your drinking water, food purchases and dental hygiene products and procedures. If you have any concerns about how much fluoride you're encountering in your daily life, please be sure and discuss them with your dentist.
If you would like more information on fluoride's benefits for dental health, 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 & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
X-rays are an important diagnostic tool in dentistry because of their ability to penetrate and pass through body tissues. Because they penetrate at different speeds depending on tissue density (shorter and thus darker on exposed film for soft tissues, longer and lighter for hard tissues like bone or teeth), we’re able to detect decay which appear as dark areas on x-ray film.
Without x-rays, the early detection and diagnosis of dental problems would be quite difficult. But despite its obvious benefits, it’s still a form of released energy that exposes patients to a certain amount of radiation. Since the potential health risk from radiation depends on the amount released (the dosage) and for how long and often a person is exposed, we must determine if the dosage and frequency from dental x-rays is a cause for concern.
It’s a common misconception to view any radiation exposure as dangerous. The truth is, however, we’re all exposed daily to radiation from the natural environment — about 2 to 4.5 millisieverts (the dosage measurement for radiation exposure) a year, or about 10 microsieverts (one-thousandth of a millisievert) every day.
In comparison, radiation exposure from routine dental x-rays is a fraction of this if measured over time. A set of four bitewing images of the back teeth produces 4 microsieverts of radiation, less than half the average daily exposure. One of the most comprehensive x-ray sets, a full mouth series of 18-20 images using “D” speed film, results in an exposure of 85 microsieverts, equaling about a week of normal radiation exposure.
These thoroughly researched rates help demonstrate that regular dental x-rays are relatively safe. What’s more, x-ray technology has continued to advance since first used in the mid-20th Century. With innovations in film and digital processing, today’s equipment produces only 80% of the radiation exposure of earlier machines. In effect, we’ve increased our capabilities to more accurately detect and diagnose issues through x-rays, while lowering the amount of radiation exposure.
Of course, a person’s annual exposure rate may differ from others. If you have concerns for yourself or your family about x-ray radiation exposure, please feel free to discuss this with us. Our primary goal is to improve your oral health without undue risk to your health in general.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and safety, 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 “X-Ray Frequency and Safety.”
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