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J. Peter St. Clair, DMD Blog

THE LINK – PART 1

December 11, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 1:38 pm

The connection between oral health and systemic health is well-established and ever-evolving. One thing we know for certain, we are living longer but with more chronic diseases and medication than ever before.

The latest statistics are alarming. Forty-seven percent of US adults who are age 30 or older – an estimated 64.7 million Americans – have either mild gum disease (8.7%), moderate gum disease (30%) or severe gum disease (8.5%). As the population ages, the prevalence rises with 70% of individuals over the age of 65 exhibiting some level of gum disease. And, since we are on statistics, by 2030, it is estimated that the number of people over 70 years of age will have doubled from 35 million to 71 million.

So, as we age, our risk of developing disease increases. Interestingly, there is also a direct correlation between the regions of the US with the greatest concentration of gum disease and those that have a high incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Although a direct cause-and-effect link is still in the works of being established between gum disease (periodontitis) and other systemic diseases, inflammation is often a common denominator. And, it is always important to remember that the mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body.

We used to think that if people didn’t brush their teeth well or didn’t visit a dentist often they would automatically get gum disease. However, there are patients who have poor home care who never develop gum disease, and there are also patients who have great home care and visit a dentist regularly and continue to experience breakdown from gum disease – albeit at a slower rate than they would if they had poor habits.

We now know that managing gum disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and arthritis are more patient specific based on an individual’s “inflammatory mediators”. These are molecules released by immune cells and are largely responsible for individual responses to disease susceptibility and progression. This is why probiotics are likely to play a significant role in treatment of chronic inflammation in the future.

As we wait for research development of different ways to combat chronic inflammation, it is without dispute that people should do all they can to minimize inflammation in the mouth. The mouth is very accessible and with proper training, coaching and monitoring, a healthy mouth is better for your whole body.

Although some may say that the associations between gum and systemic diseases are statistical by nature, not causal, the data is fairly strong that there is a link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease – such as heart infarction and stroke. This supports diagnosing and treating oral infections, including lifelong professional maintenance and good home care.

Remember – just because it doesn’t hurt doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. More next week.

DEADLY DENTISTS

December 7, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 6:53 pm

One of my dental hygienists recently informed me of a new series on the Investigation Discovery cable channel called “Deadly Dentists”. Apparently there are enough stories out there about dentists to make a series.

I looked the series up online and despite my pre-conceived notion about what the content would be, the first episode is about a dentist who is killed by his wife’s boyfriend. I’ll probably stick to watching the Bruins and hope I am never in an episode.

However, the title of the series did remind me about stories of people dying in the dental office and how important it is to be ready for medical emergencies. A couple years ago I remember a dentist who was charged in the death of a patient in Connecticut after 20 extractions and implants placed in the same visit. The patient was sedated by a method many dentists (general and specialists) use called conscious sedation. It is a very safe method of sedation that usually combines a couple of different oral medications. Since respiration can be affected with conscious sedation, it is vital to measure oxygen saturation and have the proper equipment and plan in place in case of an emergency.

It took a year for the charges to be filed against the dentist. Apparently, the Connecticut State Dental Commission initially found that the dentist was practicing within the standard of care and didn’t immediately revoke his license. The allegations now are that the dentist ignored warning signs of the patient and also ignored warnings from staff members to continue on with treatment.

Most people cannot fathom having 20 teeth pulled and implants placed all at one visit. However, it is a relatively common procedure and the service is growing. So, in case you were wondering whether the dentist was doing too much at one time, the answer is that it depends who you are doing it on.

“The commission also found that [the dentist] should not have attempted to perform so many procedures on [the patient] in one office visit given that her medical history included a heart attack six months before the visit, two strokes within the last two years and medication that could have affected her response to the sedation.”

Do we assume the dentist knew about all these circumstances that made this patient a high risk to treat? Let’s assume the patient divulged all necessary medical information. It is up to the dentist to decide whether to treat or refer to a specialist that can provide more options for sedation and monitoring of vitals. It is essential for the provider and the patient to go over medical history and concerns in detail. The best interest of the patient should be the forefront of that discussion.

This same dentist also allegedly violated care standards a year before when another patient under conscious sedation to have teeth extracted inhaled a piece of gauze that was intended to prevent things from going down the throat. The patient was rushed to the hospital and recovered.

Both of these situations are unfortunate. Many people were affected and one life was lost. While it is impossible to determine a definitive decision based on the information available, it will be important for the dentist to show proper planning and reaction to incidents.

Medical histories are very important. Make sure to report all information, including any medications and supplements. And, if you are a medically compromised person and need significant dental surgery, consider a specialist.

COMING SOON?

November 27, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 3:39 pm

Patients often ask about whether there are any new technologies on the horizon, or currently in use, to help with different dental problems. There are many concepts being developed that could revolutionize the way care is delivered. My favorites are those that help prevent things, such as root canals.

Many people have felt the jolting sensation of a sharp pain in a tooth after drinking cold beverages. A tooth is made up of tubules, microscopic channels that extend from the inner layer of tooth called dentin, all the way to the center of the tooth containing the nerve. The sensation comes from the temperature travelling through open tubules, either from damaged dentin caused by decay or exposed dentin from recession of the gums.

If the sensation goes away in a split second the diagnosis is called reversible pulpitis (inflammation in the nerve of the tooth). If the pain lingers for more than a few seconds the diagnosis may be irreversible pulpitis and the treatment sometimes requires a root canal procedure to remove the damaged nerve.

Research being conducted at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry could provide dentists with a much less invasive treatment for pulpitis. Researchers are developing a new, patent-pending technique to deliver medication directly to the center of a tooth. The technique uses strong magnetic fields to move microscopic particles through the tooth’s dentin and into the pulp.

The research uses the tubules of the tooth as a vehicle to deliver medication that could reduce inflammation or treat infection. The technique would attach medication to nanoparticles. By creating the nanoparticles out of a magnetic substance, such as iron, the researchers can use a magnetic field to push those particles, and the attached medication, through the tubules and into the pulp.

Delivering steroid medication using these magnetic nanoparticles could treat inflammation in the pulp. An antibiotic could also be delivered to reduce the infection, or a local anesthetic could be used to anesthetize a tooth.

The research has shown that, even though the nanoparticles are tiny, they are able to deliver a large enough dose for medications to be effective. Studies are currently being conducted on extracted human teeth to determine the optimal size for the nanoparticles and the most effective biocompatible coating. By covering the particles with a biocompatible substance, starch for example, the body’s immune system won’t attack the nanoparticles.

Dentists have been treating inflammation of the pulp the same way for a long time, which is to remove the pulp of the tooth. When the pulp of the tooth is removed, the space the nerve occupied has to be filled with a material to prevent bacterial growth. Although effective, this devitalizes the tooth and comes with its own set of potential problems over time. These problems include a weakened tooth with a higher potential for fracture, as well as a much higher risk for recurrent infection.

This new research is a possible contemporary solution to an age-old problem. By delivering medication directly to the area of the tooth that gives the tooth its vitality, it could prevent the need for many root canals.

A PREGNANCY BARRIER

November 20, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 9:03 pm

There are a lot of things that happen to the body during pregnancy. The oral cavity, the gateway to the rest of the body, is part of that. In a recent survey conducted by an insurance company, it was found that more than 75% of pregnant women and new mothers experience an oral health problem. The survey also found that almost half of the surveyed women did not visit the dentist during pregnancy despite having dental problems.

The researchers cited cost as one of the main reasons why pregnant women do not go to the dentist, and they found that women without dental benefits were twice as likely as those with benefits to not visit the dentist during pregnancy. However, their conclusion was that healthcare professionals may be able to increase the amount of women who prioritize oral health by simply talking to women about the importance of visiting the dentist.

It is important for pregnant women to visit the dentist because all infections, including ones in the oral cavity, may impact the health of their baby. In addition, according to the study, hormonal changes throughout pregnancy can increase the risk for periodontal disease.

I remember when I decided to go to dental school, my grandmother told me that she had all of her teeth at 82, except for the four she lost – one for each of her pregnancies. Now, I’m not sure what her frequency was back in those days of visiting a dentist, but the mere fact that she could correlate tooth loss with pregnancy always stuck in my head.

She, and the medical community, did not know back then that the risk for gum disease increased during pregnancy. We also did not know what effects this increase in inflammation did to the rest of the body, including the developing baby. We know more now.

For pregnant women, any infection, including tooth decay and gum disease, has the added possibility of affecting the baby’s health. Healthcare providers need to spend more time explaining the connection between oral health and overall wellness before, during, and after pregnancy.

While it is important to acknowledge the frequent reasons for avoiding the dentist and offer insight into overcoming potential barriers — such as providing details about what services are covered under a preventive visit and upfront communications about treatment costs for restorative services — educating about the potential consequences of failure to control dental problems should be first and foremost.

The takeaway is to “bring oral health into the conversation about overall health during preventive checkups,” the survey authors concluded. “Educating patients regarding the importance of regular dental exams, home care, and the potential impact of oral health on overall health as often as possible will have an incremental positive effect on the patient.”

It is clear from this study that cost is an issue for pregnant women (it is for the general population too) when it comes to getting dental care. If finances are the barrier, talk to your dental office to see how they can make it work for you. Don’t let lack of “insurance” be a barrier. Be an advocate for yourself. I’ll have more on this in future columns.

THE SILENT EPIDEMIC

November 13, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 4:59 pm

Last week I talked about a sometimes not so silent epidemic – sleep apnea. This week’s epidemic is much quieter but shares the general idea of decreasing the quality of life.

With more than 24 million diabetics and 57 million pre-diabetics in the United States, there are a lot of people affected by diabetes. That’s nearly a quarter of the nation’s population. The most up to date research shows the connection between dental health and diabetes has never been more critical.

As an indication of our general health, the rapidly rising rate of diabetes should be ringing alarm bells everywhere. The litany of health implications from diabetes is a long and grisly list. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. That is probably vastly understated because as many as 65% of deaths from diabetes are attributed to heart attack and stroke. People with diabetes have about twice the overall risk of death as those who don’t have the disease.

Complications from diabetes cut years off productive lives and interfere with the quality of those lives through a host of debilitating health effects. Heart disease and stroke rates are as much as four times higher among diabetics. Nearly three-quarters of diabetics have high blood pressure. Each year, diabetes causes blindness in as many as 24,000 Americans. It is the leading cause of kidney failure, nervous system disease, amputations – the list goes on.

The facts about the connections between oral health and diabetes are even more alarming than those about diabetes alone. Here are just a few:
Diabetics are twice as likely to develop gum disease. This is especially true if your diabetes is not under control. The gum disease then worsens your diabetes through an automatic response that your body uses to fight the infection.

People with gum disease are 270% more likely to suffer a heart attack than those with healthy gums.

People who have diabetes and severe gum disease have a premature death rate nearly eight times higher than those who do not have periodontal disease.

Those who have gum disease and diabetes together are more than three times more likely to die of combined heart and kidney failure.
In people who have type 2 diabetes, gum disease is a predictor of end-stage kidney disease.

In people who have pre-diabetes – blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not in the diabetic range – gum disease makes it more likely that they will become diabetic.

Once established in a person who has diabetes, the chronic infection that causes gum disease makes it more difficult to control diabetes, and increases damage and complications in blood vessel disease.

These are simply the facts and, yes, they are sobering. If you have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, make sure you are doing all you can to control these diseases. These two diseases can twist each other into a tight downward spiral of amplifying negative health effects. Unless they are halted by your physician and your dentist working in tandem as a health care team, together with your commitment to hold up your end of the bargain, these effects can continue to compound.

Your Local Dentist Debates Electric vs. Manual Toothbrushes

November 12, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 10:18 pm

dentist visit dental checkup Your dentist is here to address the greatest debate of our time: manual vs. electric toothbrushes. The choice between old school and new school dental care is in your hands, but do you know which is best for you? Learn more about your toothbrush options here!

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SLEEP BETTER

November 7, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 8:47 pm

In March I completed a “mini-residency” program at Tufts in dental sleep medicine. In a nutshell, dental sleep medicine is the dentist’s participation in the treatment of sleep breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea. Although the concept seemed relatively simple to me at the beginning of my journey, there is always more to the story.

About 7 years ago, I took a one-day class in dental sleep medicine. I found it intriguing how many signs and symptoms dentists see on a daily basis which could be relative to possible sleep breathing issues. For most of us, when we are “asleep”, we are unconscious and have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. However, a lot can be learned by observation and some simple questions.

The more I learned, the more I had trouble ignoring the many red flags I was seeing in patients. Wanting to delve deeper, I signed up for the program at Tufts. The program consisted of a rather intense literature review of the subject and many hours of lectures by both dentists, who have been in the field of dental sleep medicine since its start about 30 years ago, as well as sleep medicine physicians. Many sleep medicine physicians are ENTs or pulmonologists. Since the program at Tufts, I have also joined a national dental sleep medicine mentoring group to continue to learn more.

Incorporating what I have learned to help patients has been slow. Dentists and physicians don’t typically have a lot of interactions together. However, the relationship between the two is very important in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical problem and needs to be diagnosed by a physician. Of the many things I have observed in my short time treating patients in this arena, one thing is clear: patients do not talk to their doctors or dentists about sleep very often. Many of the issues that people live with (snoring, fatigue, grinding/clenching, hypertension, TMJ issues, etc.) deserve a conversation in relation to sleep.

When I ask patients about snoring, for example, I often hear, “I don’t think I snore but my husband/wife snores like crazy”. Just because you and/or your spouse snores, does not mean you have sleep apnea. Benign snoring is simply fluttering of soft tissue in the back of the throat with no obstruction of the airway space. However, it still is a medical diagnosis and in most cases cannot be established unless some form of sleep monitoring is done. Both sleep apnea and benign snoring are treatable….and it should be treated because it is disrupting to others.

Witnessed apnea events, on the other hand – that is a person visually and/or audibly witnesses a bed partner pause breathing during sleep – are a significant sign that there very well may be a sleep breathing disorder. Oxygen to the body may be depleted during these events. This should be discussed with your physician.

The key takeaway this week is to have a conversation with your doctor if you don’t feel you are sleeping well. If your bed partner is consistently snoring loudly or pauses breathing during sleep, have a conversation with your bed partner and decide if this is an issue which should be addressed. If there is no one sleeping in the room with you, email me and I’ll give you an app to evaluate how much noise you are making.

Sleep breathing issues are very much underdiagnosed, can be dangerous, and are very treatable. Talk to your physician and dentist about it.

WHAT IS ORAL HEALTH?

November 2, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 1:19 pm

What is your definition of oral health? Is there even a standard definition of oral health? One thing is clear, the definition of oral health is not solely the absence of pain. Pain is also not necessarily an indication of poor oral health.

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that oral health was brought to the forefront of the surgeon general’s report as a critical component to overall health. This was an important event, but unfortunately never amounted to much in terms of being incorporated into most healthcare policies.

In 2005 at the World Congress of Preventive Dentistry, participants from 43 countries made it clear that oral health is an integral part of general health and overall well-being. They even concluded that oral health is a basic human right.

In 2011, the United Nations recognized oral disease as an integral part of other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer. This association with these other diseases was based on common social determinants such as socioeconomic status, diet, tobacco and alcohol use, and not on the basis of transmission. However, there is still no solid definition of what oral health really is.

According to a more recent column in the Journal of the American Dental Association, the American Dental Association is working on a proposed definition of oral health. The authors of the column state, “A proposed definition is necessary to achieve a common understanding of the scope of oral health, to help understand the array of complex oral and systemic health issues facing dental and medical professions now and in the future, and to provide a rationale to position oral health professionals as partners within primary health care.”

The authors go on to say that the definition of oral health needs to align with the current definition of dentistry. That definition currently states, “dentists are responsible not only for the evaluation, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions of the oral cavity, the maxillofacial area and adjacent areas but also for assessing their impact on the human body.”

As new tests and knowledge in the area of oral health increases, the days of simply recording missing and decayed teeth and poking patients with instruments to chart periodontal (gum) issues may not be enough to best serve patients. What we can learn from things such as genetic testing and salivary diagnostics will change the way we interact with our medical colleagues and greatly benefit our patients.

In conclusion, the authors state, “As the definition of oral health evolves and likely will continue to evolve well into the future, no matter how oral health is defined, the message remains: Oral health is essential to an individual’s general health and quality of life.”

There are great things on the horizon that will significantly impact the way your mouth is evaluated. These will not only benefit your teeth but will also mean an overall healthier you. However, dentists and physicians need to work together better for the benefit of the patient.
Watch for a discussion on that topic next week.

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at jpstclair@stclairdmd.com. You can view all previously written columns at www.stclairdmd.com.

DON’T WASTE BENEFITS

October 30, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 1:16 pm

October is almost gone, which means only 2 months left in 2017. Where did the time go? It’s crunch time to get everything done that we haven’t gotten done during the rest of the year. For those with dental plans, it’s also the time of year to consider utilizing unused dental benefits.

Unused dental benefits go directly back to the insurance company, which generates hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for the insurance companies each year. Dental insurance companies count on the fact that many people will not claim their $1000 or so in benefits by the end of the calendar year. Those with dental insurance should look for legitimate means to use these benefits before they are lost.

For example, maybe a crown has been recommended by your dentist but you have procrastinated about it. It would make sense to consider using those dental benefits before the end of the calendar year. This allows a whole new round of dental benefits to be used for unexpected dental needs next year and maximizes the value of the premiums paid for this year.

Remember, insurance companies are in the business to make money. They don’t want you to use your dental benefits. If the balance (co-payment) you will owe for the dental work that needs to be done is too much for you, consider financing the balance through your dental office. Most dental offices offer interest-free financing to patients for up to 12 months – some do in-house and others use third-parties. Financing your balance in this way may make more financial sense than throwing money away to fund the insurance company’s wallets.

Another thing to consider as the end of the year approaches is the use of flex spending accounts. Many employers offer pre-tax flex spending accounts for healthcare expenses. Often underutilized, these are excellent mechanisms for saving about 20 percent on needed dental care or for other healthcare related expenses. If you are paying for part or your entire dental plan premiums, you may want to take a close look at what you are paying vs. what you get. It may make sense to fund an available flex spending account with that premium money instead of, or in conjunction with it.

For example, if you are anticipating the need for $3000 in dental care, opting to place the $3000 in a flex spending account can save the income tax on those monies and can usually be used as soon as January 1st. If you have money left in a flex spending account, remember to check with your employer to determine if that money needs to be used by the end of the year. You don’t want to lose that money either.

As you begin to make financial decisions for the end of this year and for the upcoming year, consider a discussion with your dental office’s financial person. They are often an untapped wealth of information and can usually thoroughly and knowledgeably discuss your dental financial options with you.

Maximize your hard earned dollars.

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at jpstclair@stclairdmd.com. You can view all previously written columns at www.stclairdmd.com.

INTRO TO ADULT SLEEP

October 16, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 3:33 pm

Last week I discussed teenager sleep patterns and issues. This week we start a conversation about sleep for the majority of those reading this column.

My body has become accustomed to a certain amount of quality sleep. I have always had difficulty sleeping past a certain time in the morning, regardless of what time I go to bed. On the days when I stay up later than my normal bedtime, my amount of sleep hours is less and my quality of sleep tends to be lower. This has an impact on the way I feel the next day.

There are many reasons for poor quality sleep. Everything from a poor mattress, poor pillow, sleep position, medical issues, diet, alcohol consumption, work schedule, or a noisy bed partner can have an impact on the quality of sleep that we get. Although some people like myself can notice subtle changes in sleep quality, many others do not realize that some of the issues they have routinely can be caused by poor sleep quality.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout our lives. The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping.

Sleep helps your brain work properly. Studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning. Studies also show that sleep deficiency may cause you to have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change.

Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, sexual dysfunction, ADHD, obesity and depression.

Sleep issues can affect the young, the old and everyone in between. The many changes that take place in our bodies as we age can increase the risk of sleep disorders.

Sleep apnea is one of many sleep disorders. It is a serious, potentially life-threatening sleep disorder that affects approximately 18 million Americans. It comes from the Greek meaning of apnea which means “want of breath”. People with sleep apnea have episodes in which they stop breathing for 10 seconds or more during sleep.

People with sleep apnea usually do not remember waking up during the night. Some of the potential problems may include morning headaches, excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability and impaired mental or emotional functioning, excessive snoring, choking/gasping during sleep, insomnia, or awakening with a dry mouth or throat.

Have you been told that you snore? Do you often feel tired, fatigued, or sleepy during the daytime? Do you know if you stop breathing or has anyone witnessed you stop breathing while you are asleep? Do you have high blood pressure or are you on medication to control high blood pressure? Is your body mass index greater than 28? Are you a male with a neck circumference greater than 17 inches or a female greater 16 inches? (Note: anyone of any size can have sleep apnea)

If you answered yes to more than two of these questions, or if there is anything else in this column that makes you believe you may not be getting the quality of sleep you would like, please discuss these with your physician.

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at jpstclair@stclairdmd.com. You can view all previously written columns at www.stclairdmd.com.

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