My Blog

By Courtney Camp Highsmith, DMD
January 05, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   mouthguards  
HockeySeasonIsUponUs-IsYourStarAthleteReadyWithMouthProtection

The New Year: Time to put away those holiday decorations, collect tax records and—if you're a pro hockey player—get chummy with your dentist. That's right! After a disrupted 2020 season due to COVID-19, the NHL is on track to start again sometime in January. Before you know it, players will be hitting the biscuit (puck), while trying to avoid getting their chicklets (teeth) knocked out.

It's true that hockey has a roughhousing kind of reputation, which tends to lead to, among other things, chipped, fractured or knocked-out teeth. But to be fair, hockey isn't the only sport with a risk for orofacial injuries. It's not even top on the list: Of all contact sports, basketball has the highest incidence of mouth and facial trauma.

With over a half-million amateur and professional players, hockey still has its share of teeth, gum and jaw injuries. Fortunately, there's an effective way to reduce sports-related oral trauma—an athletic mouthguard.

Although there are different styles, most mouthguards are made of a soft plastic that helps cushion teeth against hard contact. You can sort most mouthguards into two categories: “boil and bite” and custom.

You can buy mouthguards in the first category online or in retail sporting goods stores, and they're relatively inexpensive. They're called “boil and bite” because they're first immersed in hot or boiling water to soften them. While the guard is still soft, the wearer places it in their mouth and bites down to create somewhat of an individual fit. On the downside, though, “boil and bite” mouthguards tend to be bulky with a fit that isn't as exact as it could be. This can make for uncomfortable wearing, which could tempt players not to wear them as often as they should. Also, because the materials are softer, they move with jaw movement and your teeth can move with them. Over time, teeth could loosen.

A custom-made mouthguard, on the other hand, is created by a dentist. We begin the process with a detailed mouth impression, which we then use to fashion the mouthguard. Custom mouthguards are more streamlined and fit better than their “boil and bite” counterparts. Because of this better fit, players may be more apt to wear them. They are more expensive, but compared to the cost of dental injury treatment, a custom mouthguard is a wise investment. For the best and most comfortable teeth, gum and mouth protection, you can't go wrong getting a custom mouthguard for the hockey players (as well as football and basketball players) in your family.

If you would like more information about athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Athletic Mouthguards: One of the Most Important Parts of Any Uniform.”

By Courtney Camp Highsmith, DMD
December 26, 2020
Category: Dental Procedures
Tags: dental implant   bridgework  
CouldaDentalBridgeBeaBetterChoiceThanImplants

What a difference forty years can make: Dental bridges once occupied the top spot for choices to replace missing teeth until the arrival of dental implants in the 1980s. Today, dental implants are the gold standard for dental restoration.

But although bridgework may have lost “first chair” in the orchestra of restorations, it's still a viable option. In fact, it can be the best option in certain situations.

Bridges consist of a series of porcelain crowns fused together like fence pickets. The center crowns, known as the pontics, “bridge” the gap left by a missing tooth or teeth. The crowns on each end, the abutment teeth, crown the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge.

Bridges are effective and durable, but with a major downside: To accommodate the abutment crowns, we must reduce the size of the natural teeth to which they'll be attached. This alteration can weaken those teeth's structure and require them from then on to have some form of restoration. They're also at higher risk for tooth decay.

Implants, on the other hand, don't require this alteration, and may also be more durable than bridges. Why then consider a bridge?

Price can be a factor: Implants may be more expensive, especially involving multiple teeth. Keep in mind, though, that this only compares the initial cost: Because implants have a 95% or more ten-year success rate, with further evidence they could potentially last for decades, they may actually cost less in the long-run than bridge restorations that have a higher chance of being replaced sooner.

But the prime reason is that some dental situations aren't suitable for dental implants. For instance, implants require a certain amount of bone for proper placement, so people with extensive bone loss may not be able to acquire them. Health conditions like uncontrolled diabetes or a compromised immune system can also complicate implant installation. A bridge in these cases may represent a better alternative.

With the help of your dentist, you'll need to consider your individual situation, dental and financial, in deciding between an implant or a bridge. And, if a dental bridge is your best option, it will be a solid choice for restoring your missing teeth and your smile.

If you would like more information on various dental restoration methods, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”

WhatYouCanDoAboutBadBreathUnlessYoureaFamousActressPrankingYourCo-Star

Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence is a highly paid actress, Oscar winner, successful producer and…merry prankster. She's the latter, at least with co-star Liam Hemsworth: It seems Lawrence deliberately ate tuna fish, garlic or other malodorous foods right before their kissing scenes while filming The Hunger Games.

It was all in good fun, of course—and her punked co-star seemed to take it in good humor. In most situations, though, our mouth breath isn't something we take lightly. It can definitely be an unpleasant experience being on the receiving end of halitosis (bad breath). And when we're worried about our own breath, it can cause us to be timid and self-conscious around others.

So, here's what you can do if you're concerned about bad breath (unless you're trying to prank your co-star!).

Brush and floss daily. Bad breath often stems from leftover food particles that form a film on teeth called dental plaque. Add in bacteria, which thrive in plaque, and you have the makings for smelly breath. Thorough brushing and flossing can clear away plaque and the potential breath smell. You should also clean your dentures daily if you wear them to avoid similar breath issues.

Scrape your tongue. Some people can build up a bacterial coating on the back surface of the tongue. This coating may then emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give breath that distinct rotten egg smell. You can remove this coating by brushing the tongue surface with your toothbrush or using a tongue scraper (we can show you how).

See your dentist. Some cases of chronic bad breath could be related to oral problems like tooth decay, gum disease or broken dental work. Treating these could help curb your bad breath, as can removing the third molars (wisdom teeth) that are prone to trapped food debris. It's also possible for bad breath to be a symptom of a systemic condition like diabetes that may require medical treatment.

Quit smoking. Tobacco can leave your breath smelly all on its own. But a smoking habit could also dry your mouth, creating the optimum conditions for bacteria to multiply. Besides increasing your disease risk, this can also contribute to chronic bad breath. Better breath is just one of the many benefits of quitting the habit.

We didn't mention mouthrinses, mints or other popular ways to freshen breath. While these can help out in a pinch, they may cover up the real causes of halitosis. Following the above suggestions, especially dental visits to uncover and treat dental problems, could solve your breath problem for good.

If you would like more information about ways to treat bad breath, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”

By Courtney Camp Highsmith, DMD
December 05, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene  
AnOralIrrigatorCouldMakeFlossingEasierforYou

If we were playing word association with the term “oral hygiene,” you'd probably answer “brushing.” And you would be right—brushing cleans tooth surfaces of accumulated bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease.

But brushing is only half of the oral hygiene equation: You also need to remove dental plaque between teeth where brushing can't reach. And, that requires that other practice—flossing.

Unfortunately, brushing is more popular than its hygienic sibling because many people find traditional thread flossing more difficult and messier than brushing. That can make it tempting to skip flossing—but then you're only getting half the benefit of oral hygiene for reducing the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.

There is, however, a way to floss that doesn't involve a roll of thread: oral irrigation. This form of flossing uses a countertop device that directs a pressurized spray of water between teeth through a handheld wand. The directed spray loosens and then flushes away accumulated plaque.

Oral irrigators (also known as water flossers) have been an important tool for decades in dental offices, and have been available for home use since the 1960s. In the last few years, though, the devices have become more compact and easier to use. More importantly, studies have shown they're as effective in removing between-teeth plaque as regular flossing.

These irrigation devices are especially useful for people wearing braces. The attached brackets and wires make it extremely difficult to maneuver flossing thread between teeth. Because of this (as well as similar difficulties in brushing), patients are more susceptible to dental disease while undergoing orthodontic treatment.

But a 2008 study showed that oral irrigators are quite effective for braces wearers in removing between-teeth plaque. It found those who used an irrigator after brushing removed five times the amount of plaque than those that only brushed.

Even if you're not wearing braces, you may still find an oral irrigator to be a useful flossing alternative. Speak with your dentist for recommendations on what to look for in an oral irrigator and tips on how to use it. It could make a positive difference in your dental health.

If you would like more information on how best to keep your teeth and gums clean, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”

By Courtney Camp Highsmith, DMD
November 25, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
DontLetAcidRefluxDiseaseRobYouofYourTeeth

Heartburn is a big problem: Each year we Americans spend around $10 billion on antacid products, twice as much as for over-the-counter pain relievers. It's an even bigger problem because many indigestion sufferers actually have acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic disease that can cause physical harm—including to teeth.

That's why we've joined with other healthcare providers for GERD Awareness Week, November 17-23, to call attention to the causes and consequences of this disease. In addition to the harm it poses to the esophagus (the “tube” leading from the mouth to the stomach through which food passes), GERD could also damage your teeth to the point of losing them.

GERD is usually caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, a ringed muscle located at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It acts as a “one-way valve” allowing food into the stomach, but not back into the esophagus. If it weakens, powerful stomach acid can come back into the esophagus and possibly even the mouth. The latter scenario poses a danger to teeth's protective layer of enamel.

Although tough and durable, enamel softens after prolonged contact with acid. Oral acid isn't all that unusual—acid levels typically rise right after eating, causing a temporary softening of enamel. Our saliva, however, goes to work to bring down those acid levels and stabilize enamel.

But if stomach acid enters the mouth because of GERD, the increased acidity can overwhelm saliva's ability to neutralize it. This can lead to enamel erosion, tooth decay and ultimately tooth loss. The enamel damage can be so pronounced that dentists are often the first to suspect GERD.

If you're diagnosed with GERD, here's what you can do to protect your teeth.

  • Manage your GERD symptoms through medication, avoidance of spicy/acidic foods, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products, and maintaining an optimum weight;
  • Stimulate saliva by drinking more water, using saliva boosters, or (with your doctor's consent) changing from medications that may be restricting saliva flow;
  • Speak with your dentist about strengthening your enamel with special toothpastes or mouthrinses containing extra fluoride or amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP).

You should also brush and floss daily to lower your risk of dental disease, but with one caveat: Don't brush your teeth during or immediately after a reflux episode, as you might remove microscopic bits of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water mixed with a half-teaspoon of baking soda (an acid neutralizer) and wait about an hour to brush. The extra time also gives saliva time to further neutralize any remaining acid.

GERD can be unpleasant at best and highly destructive at worst. Don't let it ruin your teeth or your smile.

If you would like more information about GERD and dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Dry Mouth.”





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