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Westminster, MD 21157
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Posts for category: Oral Health

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
November 10, 2016
Category: Oral Health
ActorDavidRamseyDiscussesBabyBottleToothDecay

Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.

“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavi­ties. How did this happen?

Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.

While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods.  Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.

This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”

Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:

  • Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
  • Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
  • Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.

Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.

“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”

If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
October 26, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: mouth sores  
WecanMinimizeDiscomfortfromCankerSoreswithafewBasicTreatments

They seemingly pop up out of the blue inside your mouth: tiny sores that are sometimes painful — and always annoying. Then, in about a week to ten days these small, irritating lesions are gone.

They're known as canker sores: the most common break out in the linings of the mouth, including the cheeks, lips, under the tongue or even the back of the throat. Medically known as aphthous ulcers, you'll recognize these round lesions by their yellow-gray center surrounded by a red “halo.”

You might feel a tingling sensation a couple of days before an outbreak. Once they appear they usually last a week to ten days; during that time they can cause discomfort especially while eating or drinking.

We don't know fully what causes canker sores, but it's believed they're related to abnormalities in the immune system, the processes in the body that fight infection and disease. High stress or anxiety and certain acidic or spicy foods like citrus fruit or tomato sauce also seem to trigger them.

Most people experience canker sores that range in intensity from slight discomfort to sometimes severe pain. But about 20-25% of people, mostly women, have an acute form known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS). Thought to be hereditary, RAS produces clusters of ulcers that are almost always painful, and which come and go on a regular basis.

Our main treatment goal with canker sores is to decrease discomfort while the outbreak runs its course and promote rapid healing. There are over-the-counter ointments that often prove effective. For more resistant symptoms we can also prescribe topical or injectable steroids or other medications.

Canker sores are rarely concerning as a significant health issue. You should, however, take an outbreak seriously if it hasn't healed within two weeks, if the outbreaks seem to be increasing in frequency or severity, or you're never without a sore in your mouth. In these cases, we may need to take a tissue sample of the lesion to biopsy for signs of cancer, pre-cancer or some other skin disease.

More than likely, though, the canker sore will be benign albeit annoying. With effective treatment, though, you can get through the outbreak with only a minimal amount of discomfort.

If you would like more information on treating canker sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Mouth Sores.”

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
October 11, 2016
Category: Oral Health
LifeIsSometimesaGrindforBrookeShields

Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.

In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.

Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.

What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.

A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
September 18, 2016
Category: Oral Health
NancyODellonMakingOralHygieneFunforKids

When Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell set out to teach her young daughter Ashby how to brush her teeth, she knew the surest path to success would be to make it fun for the toddler.

“The best thing with kids is you have to make everything a game,” Nancy recently said in an interview with Dear Doctor TV. She bought Ashby a timer in the shape of a tooth that ticks for two minutes — the recommended amount of time that should be spent on brushing — and the little girl loved it. “She thought that was super fun, that she would turn the timer on and she would brush her teeth for that long,” Nancy said.

Ashby was also treated to a shopping trip for oral-hygiene supplies with Mom. “She got to go with me and choose the toothpaste that she wanted,” Nancy recalled. “They had some SpongeBob toothpaste that she really liked, so we made it into a fun activity.”

Seems like this savvy mom is on to something! Just because good oral hygiene is a must for your child’s health and dental development, that doesn’t mean it has to feel like a chore. Equally important to making oral-hygiene instruction fun is that it start as early as possible. It’s best to begin cleaning your child’s teeth as soon as they start to appear in infancy. Use a small, soft-bristled, child-sized brush or a clean, damp washcloth and just a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.

Once your child is old enough to hold the toothbrush and understand what the goal is, you can let him or her have a turn at brushing; but make sure you also take your turn, so that every tooth gets brushed — front, back and all chewing surfaces. After your child turns 3 and is capable of spitting out the toothpaste, you can increase the toothpaste amount to the size of a pea. Kids can usually take over the task of brushing by themselves around age 6, but may still need help with flossing.

Another great way to teach your children the best oral-hygiene practices is to model them yourself. If you brush and floss every day, and have regular cleanings and exams at the dental office, your child will come to understand what a normal, healthy and important routine this is. Ashby will certainly get this message from her mom.

“I’m very adamant about seeing the dentist regularly,” Nancy O’Dell said in her Dear Doctor interview. “I make sure that I go when I’m supposed to go.”

It’s no wonder that Nancy has such a beautiful, healthy-looking smile. And from the looks of things, her daughter is on track to have one, too. We would like to see every child get off to an equally good start!

If you have questions about your child’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”

By Dr. Patrick Gallagher, D.D.S.
September 03, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tmj disorders   jaw pain  
HowweTreatyourJawPainDependsontheCause

Chronic jaw pain can make eating, speaking or even smiling difficult. What's more, finding the right treatment approach can be just as difficult.

This is because TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder: named for the joints on either side of the lower jaw) actually describes a wide range of possible problems with the joints and connecting muscles. Any of them can result in impaired jaw function, radiating pain or even headaches.

We'll need to conduct a full dental and facial exam to accurately diagnose your jaw pain's cause. Even then, the way may still not be clear: there's considerable debate among dentists about the best treatment approach. Two basic schools of thought prevail, one conservative and non-invasive and the other more aggressive and interventional.

The conservative approach seeks to alleviate symptoms in a variety of ways, including recommending softer foods to give muscles and joints time to relax, applying cold and heat to ease soreness, massage of the jaw joint muscles, gentle stretching and jaw exercises. We may also prescribe medications like ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and swelling relief, and sometimes muscle relaxers to reduce spasms. If your pain stems from clenching or grinding habits, we could fit you with a custom bite guard you wear while you sleep to reduce the forces on your teeth.

The more aggressive approach is much more invasive. These methods include altering the bite or teeth position with orthodontics or dental work or surgically altering the joints themselves or the shape of the jaw. If you're recommended one of these more aggressive treatments, you should know they're not commonly used to treat TMD and they're irreversible. There's also no guarantee you'll gain relief from your symptoms, so by all means get a second opinion before undergoing any procedures.

For most people the best course of treatment is to start with the least invasive techniques, which are usually very successful. If they don't relieve your pain and limited function, we may then consider escalating treatment to more irreversible procedures to help you find relief from this unwelcome condition.

If you would like more information on jaw joint pain and how to treat it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Seeking Relief from TMD.”