Monthly Archives: February 2017

How to Deal With a Dental Emergency

Like cavities and gum disease, many dental problems develop gradually after months (or years!) of dental-health neglect. But sometimes, pain or sensitivity in your teeth can come on suddenly, and you may need immediate dental care, either at the emergency room or from your dentist.

It’s not always easy to know whether a tooth, gum, or mouth problem requires emergency care — or what to do about it. In fact, most Americans are unprepared to handle a dental health emergency, according to a survey of 1,000 participants.

Think your mouth issue is a dental health 911? Here’s a handy guide to situations that are generally considered dental emergencies:

  • Lip or tongue bite with excessive bleeding. If you accidentally bite your lip, tongue, or other soft tissue in your mouth, clean the area and apply a cold compress to decrease swelling. If the bleeding is severe, or will not stop, go to the emergency room.
  • Broken or cracked tooth. In the case of a broken or cracked tooth, call your dentist immediately. Until you can get to your dentist’s office, rinse your mouth with warm water and apply a cold compress outside the affected area.
  • Damaged braces. If your braces become damaged, call your orthodontist right away. Some instances of damaged braces need to be fixed immediately; others can wait until your next appointment.
  • Injury to your jaw. If you suspect you may have broken your jaw, apply a cold compress to the area and immediately go to your dentist’s office or to the emergency room.
  • Loose tooth. If one of your teeth is partially dislodged, see your dentist right away — they may be able to save the tooth. Until you can get to your dentist’s office, take an over-the-counter pain reliever and apply a cold compress to the affected area to relieve pain.
  • Tooth that has been knocked out. Grasp your lost tooth by the crown and rinse its root if it is dirty, avoiding scrubbing the tooth or removing pieces of tissue that may be attached. You can attempt to reinsert the tooth into its socket in your mouth, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to see your dentist quickly. The American Dental Association recommends placing the tooth in milk, which acts as a preservative until you can get to a professional.
  • Lost filling or crown. When one of your fillings or crowns falls out, put the filling or crown in a safe place and call your dentist to make an appointment. Applying clove oil to the sensitive areas in your mouth and dental cement from the drug store on your tooth’s surface can help decrease sensitivity, but check with your dentist before doing these things.
  • Object lodged between your teeth. If something gets stuck between your teeth, try to gently remove it with dental floss. If the object still won’t come out, call your dentist. Depending on the situation, he or she may want to see you quickly.
  • Painful swelling. Call your dentist to schedule an appointment if you have painful swelling in your mouth, as you may have an abscess, an infected pocket of pus that can lead to a serious systemic infection. Until you can see your dentist, try rinsing your mouth with saltwater to relieve the pain and pressure.
  • Pericoronitis. This is an infection that occurs when your wisdom teeth don’t come into your mouth properly. If you experience symptoms of pericoronitis, which may include swollen and irritated gums, a bad taste in your mouth, or bad breath, or you are not able to fully open your mouth, see you dentist as soon as you can.
  • Sudden or severe toothache. If your tooth is aching, rinse out your mouth with warm water and gently floss around the tooth to make sure there is nothing lodged between your teeth. Call your dentist if your toothache does not go away.

Some dental emergencies can lead to life-threatening infections or permanent damage if not treated rapidly, so if you’re in doubt, always call your dentist. The earlier you seek treatment for a dental problem, the better your chances are for a full recovery and continued dental health.

What You Need to Know About Dental X-rays

Depending on your oral health history and your dentist’s preferences, you will probably need to have dental X-rays taken from time to time. Dental X-rays allow your dentist to more closely monitor the health of your teeth and gums, so that changes and problems can be detected early, when treatment is most effective.

What Are Dental X-rays?

Dental X-rays are special images that allow your dentist to get a closer look at some of the structures inside your mouth, including your teeth, the roots of your teeth, your bite, and your facial bones.

The process involves placing an X-ray film in a piece of cardboard or plastic, which your dentist will ask you to bite down on to hold the film against the area he or she wants the X-ray to capture. Depending on how many angles or areas of your mouth your dentist wants to see on X-ray, this may be repeated several times. While the X-ray pictures are being captured, you will wear a protective apron to shield your body from the X-ray machine’s radiation.

Your dentist may use dental X-rays to look for:

  • Tooth decay, also called cavities or caries, between your teeth or under your fillings
  • Infections in the bones of your mouth
  • Symptoms of gum (periodontal) disease
  • An abscess, cyst, or tumor in your mouth
  • Changes in your teeth or bones
  • Problems with the ligaments that hold your teeth in place
  • Dental developmental problems (in children)
  • The location of an impacted or unerupted tooth (a tooth stuck in your gum tissue or bone)

Who Should Get Dental X-rays?

If you’re seeing a particular dentist for the first time, there’s a good chance that he or she will want to take a set of dental X-rays, unless you can provide the dentist with copies of recent X-rays. Your dentist will use these initial X-rays to evaluate your oral health, look for gum disease, and have a basis for future comparisons.

Your dentist will then determine how often you need follow-up X-rays to monitor for changes in the health of your gums and teeth. The interval at which you receive follow-up dental X-rays will depend on your age, overall oral health, and risk of having dental problems in the future.

Risks of Dental X-rays

X-rays are one of the most commonly used tools for medical screening and diagnosis, but they are not without risks. The most worrisome issue associated with dental X-rays, as well as other types of X-rays, is a small increase in the risk of developing cancer, which is associated with exposure to radiation. The more X-rays you get throughout your lifetime and the younger you are when you have the X-rays, the higher your risk of developing cancer. There is also evidence that women are more susceptible to developing cancer caused by X-ray radiation exposure than men.

Still, in most cases, the benefits of having X-rays done outweigh the potential risks. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended that people take steps to reduce their exposure to radiation from X-rays. Here are some tips to help reduce your exposure:

  • Bring a copy of previous X-rays to your new dentist to avoid having unnecessary, repeat X-rays.
  • Ask that a lead apron or other protective shield be used when you are getting an X-ray.
  • Inquire about E- or F-speed film for X-rays, which are faster than conventional D-speed film, and will reduce the radiation dose.

You should also avoid having dental X-rays if you’re pregnant, since there may be a risk to your unborn baby. In cases where a dental X-ray is recommended even though your dentist knows you are pregnant, keep in mind that the radiation exposure from dental X-rays is very low, and that your oral health is important for the health of your baby as well.

Many Americans Don’t Receive Preventive Dental Care

Too many Americans lack access to preventive dental care, a new study reports, and large differences exist among racial and ethnic groups.

For the study, researchers analyzed telephone survey data collected from nearly 650,000 middle-aged and older adults between 1999 and 2008. The investigators found that the number who received preventive dental care increased during that time.

However, 23 percent to 43 percent of Americans did not receive preventive dental care in 2008, depending on race or ethnicity. Rates of preventive care were 77 percent for Asian Americans, 76 percent for whites, 62 percent for Hispanics and Native Americans, and 57 percent for blacks, the results showed.

The study was published online Dec. 17 in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

Factors such as income, education and having health insurance explained the differences in access to preventive dental care among whites and other racial groups except blacks, according to a journal news release.

The lower rate of preventive dental care among blacks may be due to a lack of awareness about dental health and dental care services, and to an inadequate number of culturally competent dental care professionals, suggested Bei Wu, a professor and director for international research at Duke University’s School of Nursing, and colleagues.

Many Native Americans who live on reservations don’t receive proper dental care, partly because too few dental care professionals choose to work for the Indian Health Services, the researchers pointed out in the news release.

The investigators also found that people with health insurance were 138 percent more likely to receive preventive dental care than those without insurance. Women were one-third more likely to get preventive dental care than men.

Smokers were also less likely to receive preventive dental care, which is of particular concern because tobacco use is a threat to oral health, the researchers noted.

The findings demonstrate the need to develop public dental health programs that target middle-aged and older Americans, improve access to dental care, and create a dental workforce that is culturally competent, the study authors said.

Dental Care Safe for Pregnant Women

Dental cleanings and X-rays are safe for pregnant women, a U.S. obstetrician/gynecologist group says.

The group also advised ob-gyns to perform routine dental health assessments at women’s first prenatal visit and to encourage their patients to see a dentist during pregnancy.

“These new recommendations address the questions and concerns that many ob-gyns, dentists and our patients have about whether it is safe to have dental work during pregnancy,” Dr. Diana Cheng, vice chairwoman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women, said in a college news release.

Dental health problems are associated with other diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and respiratory infections.

“We want ob-gyns to routinely counsel all of their patients, including pregnant women, about the importance of oral health to their overall health,” Cheng said.

The college noted that 35 percent of all women say they haven’t seen a dentist in the past year and about 40 percent of pregnant women in the United States have cavities or gum disease. Physical changes caused by pregnancy can cause changes in teeth and gums. Dental problems during pregnancy are most common among black women, smokers and women on public assistance.

“We can all reassure our patients that routine teeth cleanings, dental X-rays and local anesthesia are safe during pregnancy,” Cheng said. “Pregnancy is not a reason to delay root canals or filling cavities if they are needed because putting off treatment may lead to further complications.”

Among the potential benefits of good dental health during pregnancy is that it may decrease the transmission of cavity-causing bacteria from mother to baby, which can help reduce the child’s future risk of cavities.