Proponents of legalized marijuana have won phenomenal gains over the last decade. Despite the federal government's continuing criminalization of the drug, several states including California, Colorado and Massachusetts, have voted to legalize its recreational use.
Most people are aware of the social and political controversies the marijuana legalization movement stirs. But there's another side to this roiling issue: the health effects of marijuana, particularly for your teeth and gums. What may be lost beneath the more exciting headlines about ballot initiatives is the growing evidence that habitual marijuana use may increase the risk and severity of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. The spreading infection triggers inflammation, a normal bodily response to disease that's ordinarily beneficial. But if the inflammation becomes chronic it weakens the gums' attachment to the teeth. This can create voids or periodontal pockets of infection around the teeth. The disease can eventually damage the underlying bone, which could accelerate tooth loss.
Poor oral hygiene is the biggest factor for an increased risk of gum disease; thinner gum tissue (an inherited condition or related to poor tooth position) is another factor, as well as lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption. Add marijuana to the list: there's now some evidence that its use increases the risk for more severe periodontal pockets if the disease occurs.
In a recent study, researchers with the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine reviewed statistics on the care for nearly 2,000 adult patients; a quarter of those in the study were frequent marijuana users. The marijuana users proportionately had deeper periodontal pocket occurrences than the rest of the patients in the study that didn't use the drug.
The study doesn't say that marijuana causes periodontal (gum) disease. But it does suggest that marijuana use might increase its severity. As with other substances and practices in our society, marijuana use comes with a caveat: it may be legal where you live, but it may not necessarily be good for your health.
If you would like more information on the effects of marijuana use on your oral 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 “As More States Legalize Marijuana, Link to Gum Disease is a Concern.”
Question: What oral health issue do teenagers who wear orthodontic retainers and older folks who wear dentures have in common?
Answer: Both need to pay particular attention to cleaning their oral appliances.
The same goes for anyone who wears a nightguard to control tooth grinding, a mouthguard to protect teeth while playing sports, or a clear aligner for orthodontic treatment. Yet many people aren’t sure how to properly clean their appliances — so here are a few handy tips:
- Use toothpaste on your appliance — the ingredients in toothpaste, which are designed to polish the hard enamel of your teeth, are too abrasive for the soft plastic of oral appliances, and will cause scratches.
- Boil your appliance, or use bleach to clean it — both will end up breaking down and destroying the appliance. Don’t even use very hot water, as it can deform the plastic and make the appliance useless.
- Leave your appliance out on the nightstand, or anywhere else — pets and small children have been known to find (and destroy) oral appliances left lying around. Instead, store it properly in its special case.
- Use liquid dish detergent or hand soap to clean your appliance. A little mild soap plus warm water will do a great cleaning job. While you’re at it, get a brush just for the appliance — because, while it’s fine for plastic, you don’t want to brush your teeth with soap!
- Put a towel in the sink basin when you clean your appliance. Soapy appliances (especially dentures) can be slippery, and can be damaged by dropping — and that’s an expensive mishap.
- Consider investing in an ultrasonic cleaner. These inexpensive countertop devices are an excellent way to get the tiny ridges and crevices of your appliance really clean.
Whether you rely on dentures for everyday use, or just need to wear a retainer for a period of time, your oral appliance serves an important function. It may also represent a significant investment. That’s why it’s worthwhile to spend a few minutes each day giving these important items the care they need.
When the multi-platinum recording artist, songwriter and TV personality Jason Derulo was recently asked about his ideal woman, his answer covered a remarkably broad spectrum. "There’s no specific thing," he said, "so I think it’s unfair to say what my ‘type’ is." But it turns out that there is one thing the So You Think You Can Dance judge considers essential: A beautiful smile.
"I’m not into messy teeth," Derulo said. "If the grill has spaces and different colors, it’s not my vibe."
As it turns out, he may be on to something: A number of surveys have indicated that a bright, healthy smile is often the first thing people notice when meeting someone new. Yet many are reluctant to open up that big grin because they aren’t satisfied with the way their teeth look. If you’re one of them, consider this: Modern cosmetic dentistry offers a variety of ways to improve your smile — and it may be easier and more affordable than you think.
For example, if your smile isn’t as bright as you would like it to be, teeth whitening is an effective and economical way to lighten it up. If you opt for in-office treatments, you can expect a lightening effect of up to 10 shades in a single one-hour treatment! Or, you can achieve the same effect in a week or two with a take-home kit we can custom-make for you. Either way, you’ll be safe and comfortable being treated under the supervision of a dental professional — and the results can be expected to last for up to two years, or perhaps more.
If your teeth have minor spacing irregularities, small chips or cracks, it may be possible to repair them in a single office visit via cosmetic bonding. In this process, a liquid composite resin is applied to the teeth and cured (hardened) with a special light. This high-tech material, which comes in colors to match your teeth, can be built up in layers and shaped with dental instruments to create a pleasing, natural effect.
If your smile needs more than just a touch-up, dental veneers may be the answer. These wafer-thin coverings, placed right on top of your natural teeth, can be made in a variety of shapes and colors — from a natural pearly luster to a brilliant "Hollywood white." Custom-made veneers typically involve the removal of a few millimeters of tooth enamel, making them a permanent — and irreversible — treatment. However, by making teeth look more even, closing up spaces and providing dazzling whiteness, veneers just might give you the smile you’ve always wanted.
If you would like more information about cosmetic dental treatments, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cosmetic Dentistry — A Time for Change.”
With the major changes in healthcare over the last few years, much of what we understand about insurance has been turned on its head. The term “Insurance” now often means something much different than how it’s traditionally understood.
Dental insurance is a prime example. Rather than a means to protect the insured from unforeseen costs, most dental policies work more like discount coupons. The vast majority are paid by employers as a salary benefit to reduce but rarely eliminate an employee’s treatment costs.
In fact, paying dental insurance premiums yourself may not be cost-effective. The average person spends $200 a year on basic care, while a typical policy costs $500 or more annually. Even if the plan fully paid for basic items like cleanings and checkups, the total cost with insurance can still be greater than paying out of pocket. Most plans also have deductibles — the fee portion the patient is responsible to pay — and annual maximum benefit limits of typically $1,200 or $1,500. With rising dental costs, these deductibles and limits may not be adequate.
There are also different types of plans, such as direct reimbursement or managed care. Under the former your employer is actually paying the claims from company funds — the insurance company acts as an administrator. The latter type packages services with select providers: the out-of-pocket costs are lower but your choices of provider are usually limited to those in their network — which on a new plan may not be the family dentist you’ve seen for years.
If you have a private plan, you should look carefully at your total costs, including premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, and compare those with projected costs without it. If you’re on an employer-paid plan, then be sure you understand it fully, especially any limits or restrictions. Also, speak with your dentist’s business staff to see how you can get the most out of the plan — dental offices work every day with insurance companies and know how to maximize your benefits.
Remember too that regular office visits for cleanings and checkups — as well as your own daily hygiene practices — are the best way to reduce long-term dental costs. Taking care of your teeth with preventive care will help ensure you’re not dipping into your own wallet — with or without insurance — more than you should.
If you would like more information on managing dental costs, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Insurance 101.”
There are a lot of ways to improve the appearance of your teeth. Some methods can be quite involved like crowns or bridgework, which require extensive alteration of teeth to accommodate them.
Other methods, though, can achieve stunning results with less tooth reduction or alteration to your teeth. Porcelain veneers are one such alternative that literally puts a new face on your teeth. A dental veneer is a thin layer of restorative material (usually porcelain) that is bonded to the outside of a tooth to cover blemishes. They’re an excellent choice for dealing with otherwise healthy teeth with mild to moderate chipping, wearing, staining or slight misalignment.
Veneers can be fashioned to match the shape and texture of the prepared tooth, as well as coloring that blends with neighboring teeth. They’re created by skilled dental lab technicians who use porcelain powder mixed with water to create layers of pliable porcelain laminated together to achieve the appropriate thickness and shape. The veneer is then oven-fired to produce a strong, durable product.
Their use in various dental situations does require some tooth preparation, though normally not as much as other restorative measures — usually no more than 0.5 mm of surface enamel. Removing this small amount will ensure the veneer doesn’t look too thick and bulky once bonded to the tooth.
There are some situations, though, where veneers aren’t the best choice: because they’re mainly a cosmetic solution, they can’t remedy problems like poor tooth position and bite or large discrepancies in root position. And teeth that are heavily decayed may require more extensive dental work to repair and preserve them.
In the right situation, though, veneers can make a huge difference to your smile and last for years, as long as you practice effective oral hygiene and don’t subject them to abnormal biting force (no cracking hard shell nuts with them — they can shatter). In skilled hands, veneers can transform your teeth from embarrassing to dazzling.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Smile Design Enhanced with Porcelain Veneers.”
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