Posts for: April, 2018
Today, many people are taking positive steps to reduce the risks posed by major health problems like cancer, cardiopulmonary diseases, hypertension, and diabetes. But there’s one disease that makes the top-ten list of worldwide health conditions, and yet isn’t thought about as much as many of the others. That malady is severe periodontal (gum) disease — and according to a new study, it’s the sixth-most prevalent health condition in the world.
The study, released by the International and American Associations for Dental Research, reveals that some 743 million people around the world — about 11 percent of the global population — suffer from severe periodontal disease; that percentage hasn’t changed significantly since 1990. The study also shows that while an individual’s chance of developing this condition rises gradually with age, there is a steep increase in people between 30 and 40 years old, with a peak at age 38.
If severe periodontal disease is such a major concern, why isn’t it “on the radar”? A 2010 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, titled “Oral Health: The Silent Epidemic,” gives some clues. For one thing, diseases related to oral health don’t always produce dramatic symptoms: Even tooth loss, for example, is sometimes (wrongly) regarded as an inevitable consequence of aging, when it’s more often the result of disease or injury. For another, these conditions disproportionately affect people whose voices aren’t always heard: children, the elderly, and the disadvantaged.
Severe periodontal disease is clearly a challenge to the public health. But what can you do as an individual? Plenty! The good news about periodontal disease is that it is largely preventable, and very treatable. Prevention is chiefly a matter of maintaining good oral hygiene.
Have you flossed lately? Is your brushing technique up to snuff? Do you avoid sugary snacks and beverages (especially between meals), and visit your dentist for regular checkups? If so, you’ve taken some major steps toward preventing periodontal disease. But despite their best efforts, it is difficult for some people to control periodontal disease without extra assistance. That’s where a periodontist can help.
Periodontists are concerned with treating problems of the gums. We use a number of methods to combat periodontal disease — including removing plaque bacteria, restoring healthy tissue, and educating people about how to maintain better oral hygiene at home. Your general dentist may refer you to a periodontist if warning signs are noticed, but you don’t need a referral to come in for an exam. If you notice the symptoms of periodontal disease — redness or inflammation of the gums, a bad taste or odor in your mouth, or any amount of bleeding when you brush — then it may be time to have your gums checked.
We all know how much better we feel after a good night’s sleep: refreshed, energized and ready to handle — even excel at — our day-to-day responsibilities. Yet millions of people, young and old, are robbed of a good night’s rest by sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, in which the soft tissues in the back of the throat block the airway during sleep. This temporarily disrupts airflow, causing numerous “micro-arousals” (sleep interruptions) that we may not even be aware of. A lack of sleep can make us drowsy, irritable and unfocused. In children, these typical symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to mistaken diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The relationship between sleep apnea and behavioral problems has been highlighted in several recent scientific journal articles, including a major study published several years ago in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The lead author, Dr. Karen Bonuck, said at the time: “We found that children with sleep-disordered breathing were from 40 to 100 percent more likely to develop neurobehavioral problems by age 7, compared with children without breathing problems. The biggest increase was in hyperactivity, but we saw significant increases across [other] behavioral measures.” Therefore, an accurate diagnosis of a child’s behavioral problems — leading to the right treatment — is crucial. While sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a physician, treatment for the condition is often provided by a dentist.
What can be done for children suffering from sleep apnea? The most common treatment is surgical removal of the tonsils or adenoids. This treatment can sometimes be performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, a dentist who has received several years of post-graduate surgical training. There are several other procedures oral surgeons can perform to open the airway, depending on what anatomical structures are blocking it.
Sometimes a child with sleep apnea can benefit from a procedure to expand the palate (roof of the mouth) to enlarge the airway. This is not a surgical treatment but rather an orthodontic one. An orthodontist (a dentist who specializes in moving teeth) will fit the child with a palatal expander, a butterfly-shaped device that gradually separates the two bones that form the upper jaw and roof of the mouth. This is often done to prevent crowding of teeth and other bite problems, but has been shown in some cases to improve airflow.
There is another dental approach used to treat adults and older children, whose jaw growth is complete. It’s called oral appliance therapy, and it involves wearing a custom-made device during sleep that resembles a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. An oral appliance can maintain an opened, unobstructed, upper airway during sleep in various ways, including: repositioning the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula; stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue; increasing the muscle tone of the tongue.
If your child has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, we can help you find the best treatment approach. For more information, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Snoring & Sleep Apnea.”