How Pregnancy Can Affect Your Oral Health

pregnant woman with healthy teethAmong the many changes that women experience in their bodies when they become pregnant, changes to their oral health may be among the most surprising and perplexing. Pregnancy can put women at higher risk of certain oral conditions, such as gingivitis and cavities, so it’s good to know what signs to look out for and how to prevent problems.

There’s an old saying that “You’ll lose a tooth for every baby.” It was once believed that pregnancy caused tooth decay so severe that a woman should expect at least one of her teeth to decay beyond repair or fall out each time she got pregnant. Thankfully, with our modern understanding of dental health and dental technologies, this ominous adage is now far from true.

One of the most common signs of pregnancy-related oral changes is bleeding gums. Women may notice blood when they brush or floss. In addition, the gums may be swollen and tender. This inflammation is caused by hormonal changes and is known as pregnancy gingivitis. While pregnancy gingivitis is fairly common, it can progress into irreversible periodontitis (gum disease) if good oral health habits aren’t followed. This is particularly serious because studies have linked periodontitis to complications such as low birth weight, premature birth, and preeclampsia.

Pregnant women are also more prone to cavities and tooth decay. Scientific studies have found that this is due to hormonal changes that cause saliva to become more acidic. This acidity makes teeth more vulnerable to decay, which is caused by the acid excreted by bacteria. While there isn’t a way to prevent this chemical change, pregnant women can reduce their risk of problems by avoiding sugary foods and being especially vigilant about keeping their teeth clean through regular brushing and flossing.

With all of these pregnancy-related changes, it is particularly important that your dentist knows you’re pregnant as soon as possible. Even if you just suspect you’re pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, you should tell your dentist as soon as possible, especially if you’re already at risk for periodontitis. Your dentist will offer you advice on your oral care during pregnancy and may choose to delay certain planned treatments or procedures until after your baby has arrived.

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The Role of the Dental Assistant in Your Health

dental assistant at the dental practiceDental assistants are often described as the dentist’s right hand. They are vital members of the dental team who ensure that you are cared for in a timely, efficient manner in a super clean, germ-free practice. While the exact duties of a dental assistant vary from state to state, province to province, and country to country, in all places their role is to help with any tasks that don’t require a dentist or a dental hygienist’s certification and training.

Many dental assistants (called dental nurses in the United Kingdom and Ireland) have both clinical and administrative skills and responsibilities. This means they help the dental practice run smoothly and efficiently and they are also directly involved with certain parts of your oral health care.

The most common interaction most patients have with a dental assistant is taking x-rays. Dental assistants have specialized training and certification to take dental x-rays and will often help out the rest of the dental team by taking care of this task.

Most dental assistants are also in charge of infection control at the dental practice. This means keeping the dental operatory and all the tools the dentists and dental hygienists use perfectly clean and germ-free. For example, metal hand tools are sterilized using a system called an autoclave that uses high-powered, super-hot steam to eliminate any microbes that could cause illness. The dental assistant also gets the dental chair ready for you before your visit.

Expanded duties or expanded function dental assistants (EDDA or EFDA) have specialized training and certification that allows them to perform certain dental procedures on a patient under the direct or indirect supervision of a dentist. For example, in some states, an EFDA can help the dentist by applying dental fillings.

Whatever a specific dental assistant’s job duties may be, his or her mission is to make sure every patient is comfortable, safe and welcome. Be sure to appreciate your dental assistant next time you visit our office!

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Not Everyone Loses All Their Baby Teeth (Milk Teeth)!

children who lost their milk teeth baby teethWhile most people finish losing their primary teeth (also called baby teeth or milk teeth) by age 12, there are some adults who still have at least one baby tooth! Still having a baby tooth is actually not that uncommon, and depending on a patient’s individual situation, there are a number of options for what to do about it.

The usual cause of a retained baby tooth (i.e. a baby tooth that didn’t fall out on its own) is the absence of an adult tooth to replace it. Kids start losing teeth when their adult teeth (permanent teeth) grow in behind them and start pushing the baby tooth out. However, sometimes the adult tooth never develops, leaving the baby tooth in place while other adult teeth grow in around it. While it isn’t exactly known why permanent teeth sometimes fail to develop, it probably has something to do with genetics, as retention of baby teeth tends to run in families and is slightly more common in women (source).

For patients, the most common concern regarding a retained baby tooth is aesthetics. That is to say, having a baby tooth among your adult teeth can look pretty strange because baby teeth are so much smaller. This is especially true if the tooth is one of your front teeth that shows when you smile.

For your dentist, the concern about your baby tooth may be more clinical in nature. These baby teeth can still fall out even after you reach adulthood because they sometimes have shallow roots and therefore aren’t very secure in your mouth. Without an adult tooth to take its place, this lost baby tooth leaves a gap that can cause problems with the function of your bite and the alignment of your other teeth. Your adult teeth will tend to shift toward the gap, causing them to become crooked.

If it looks like your retained baby tooth doesn’t have a strong and deep root structure, your dentist may recommend removing it. After the tooth is removed, there are a few options. The best option is a dental implant, which is a prosthetic tooth with a metal tooth root. Dental implants function just like natural teeth. However, if there has been bone loss where the baby tooth used to be, there might not be enough bone to anchor an implant into. In these cases, the dentist may recommend a permanent bridge or partial denture to fill the gap.

For many adults with a retained baby tooth, that tooth is just as healthy and secure as their adult teeth. The only difference is its size and shape. The most common aesthetic solution to make your baby tooth match the others is dental bonding. This is when the dentist uses a tooth-colored material (a composite resin) to build-up the tooth so it is the appropriate size and shape. This material is permanently bonded to the baby tooth, allowing it to look natural and function normally.

There are a lot of considerations that go into deciding what should happen for an adult with a baby tooth. Your dentist will do a full evaluation of your situation, including diagnostic x-rays, and help you decide on the best course of action.

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