Oral and Dental Health

What can I do about my dry mouth?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My mouth and throat are always very dry. As a result, I am constantly sipping water. It's annoying and uncomfortable. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do?

DEAR READER: Dry mouth is not as common as dry eyes (something I have), but it's not uncommon. The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia (pronounced ZE-ro-STOME-ee-uh), but I'll avoid doctor-speak and call it dry mouth. Usually, dry mouth is mild enough to be an annoyance, as it is with you. However, severe cases can cause complications. Dry mouth can rob you of your sense of taste and can make chewing slow and swallowing difficult. Also, since saliva is important for dental health, dry mouth can contribute to tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Do I really need regular dental checkups?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I take good care of my teeth, brushing and flossing regularly. Do I still need to have regular dental checkups?

DEAR READER: Even if you brush your teeth three times a day and floss daily, regular checkups with a dental professional are a must. For most people, two checkups per year are enough. That's what I have. Routine visits usually include a professional cleaning, an exam and possibly X-rays.

What’s the health impact of gum disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Why is it important to keep my gums healthy? What are the consequences of gum disease?

DEAR READER: Gum disease can harm more than just your mouth; it can affect your overall health. Before describing why, I need to explain what gum disease is. Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is the primary culprit in adult tooth loss. It occurs when plaque -- the sticky, bacteria-laden film that collects on your teeth -- grows out of control. Gum disease begins when plaque forms in a shallow trough where the gum meets the tooth.

How can I prevent my bad morning breath?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My breath is OK during the day, but when I wake up in the morning, it's terrible. What causes bad morning breath? And what can I do to prevent it?

DEAR READER: Bad breath, or halitosis, is a common problem -- especially "morning breath." (Some people call it "dragon breath.") Certain foods can cause bad breath. Garlic and onions are classic examples. Reflux of stomach contents can do the same. So can serious diseases of the liver or kidneys. Infections of the tonsils, sinuses or respiratory tract can also be responsible for bad breath.

Why have I lost my sense of taste?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've lost my sense of taste within the past few months. I take medicine for high blood pressure -- could that be the reason?

DEAR READER: It could be, but there are other possibilities. What we call "taste" is actually a combination of the sensations from the taste buds on our tongue and the smell centers in our nose. Taste also involves nerves in the tongue that sense the texture of food we are eating.

What’s causing the burning sensation in my mouth?

DEAR DOCTOR K: For months, my mouth has been painfully burning and tingling. What could be causing my symptoms? Are there any treatments for it? DEAR READER: Several conditions can cause a burning sensation in the mouth. Some nutritional deficiencies — particularly of B vitamins, iron and zinc — can cause it. These problems can […]

What happens during a root canal?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have to have a root canal. Why do I need it? And what will happen during the procedure?

DEAR READER: If you've never had a root canal, and if you've heard someone say, "I'd rather have a root canal than have ..." you probably think it's very painful. I've had several root canals. They're no fun, that's for sure. But you get an anesthetic before the procedure that greatly reduces or eliminates the pain.

What causes a dulled sense of taste?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've recently noticed a dulling of my sense of taste. What's worse, my ability to taste sweetness (my favorite taste!) seems to be the most affected. Is it possible that I've damaged the part of my tongue that detects sweetness?

DEAR READER: We don't give much thought to our sense of taste until it isn't there. I'm sure your recent taste troubles have made you realize how much you rely on this sense.