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Three Surprising Health Reasons You May Need a Cosmetic Dentist

Cosmetic dentists can evaluate many oral issues—sleep apnea, teeth grinding, and gum disease—that are directly linked to systemic health.
When most people think of cosmetic dentistry, aesthetic treatments, such as veneers and laser teeth whitening, come to mind. These are popular procedures that keep cosmetic dentists busy, no doubt, but cosmetic dentists also specialize in treatments that can improve their patients’ overall health, as many oral issues—sleep apnea, teeth grinding, and gum disease—are directly linked to systemic health.  “The oral cavity acts as a window to the rest of your health,” says Dr. Mark Sowell, a cosmetic dentist with Sensational Smiles in Plano. “I have a unique opportunity to screen my patients for potential health problems and pick up on underlying things they can follow up on with their doctor, or possibly address at my office, simply by looking inside their mouth.”

Sleep Apnea and Snoring

When patients come to Dr. Sowell and express how tired they are in the daytime or that they catch themselves gasping for breath at night, he evaluates them for sleep apnea, a common disorder affects millions of people. It occurs when the oxygen level in the blood gets too low and breathing stops during sleep for at least 10 seconds in adults, We are starting to find that it is even more common in younger adults having upper airway resistance.  Obstructive sleep apnea is common and is caused by the physical blockage of the airway at night by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing to block the airway. This keeps oxygen from getting to the lungs, as the muscles and tissue relax in the throat as you sleep. Combined with the force of gravity, the tongue falls back and blocks the airway. “During sleep, your body repairs itself,” Dr. Sowell says. “If you’re not getting into deep, or REM, sleep because of a compromised airway, your body suffers. Your brain and body aren’t being repaired and rejuvenated each night. I always look for airway resistance because there is a link between it and periodontal disease, TMJ, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.” Relief from sleep apnea can be achieved by fitting patients with a sleep apnea appliance or snore guard that prevents the throat from closing. Oral appliances are often used as first-line therapy in patients for treating mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Sowell uses mandibular advancement devices, snoring appliances, and stop-snoring mouthpieces to treat sleep apnea and snoring issues. It’s important to choose an experienced cosmetic dentist with experience in the treatment of temporomandibular joint and dental occlusion when seeking relief via oral appliances. To determine if you are a candidate for sleep apnea therapy, take this simple quiz.

TMJ Therapy

The tendency to clench or grind the teeth, called bruxism, can be a harmful habit that wears down biting surfaces, misaligns the bite, and leads to serious dental problems. Dr. Sowell says warning signs of bruxism may include unexplained sensitivity in teeth and gums, jaw pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, popping of the jaw, tense muscles, and headaches. Teeth show the effects of grinding with excessive wear and flatness, worn enamel, and tooth and gum sensitivity. There is no specific cause for teeth grinding, but stress is among the most common. Also, sleep arousals associated with sleep apnea and GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease) cause clenching and grinding. Research shows that people clench and grind at night and during day, but the nighttime frequency is greater as sensory receptors that detect the motion or position of your body are reduced during sleep. Because most people clench and grind their teeth to some degree, bite appliances are typically prescribed to minimize the long-term effects on the teeth and supporting tissues. “Clenching, grinding, and periodontal disease are our greatest obstacles to keeping our teeth for a lifetime,” Dr. Sowell says. To address this, Dr. Sowell make creates comfortable thermoplastic appliances that form-fit to his patients’ teeth. When worn at night, these appliances are designed in such a way that the muscle activity from clenching and grinding is reduced by at least 40 percent. “This protects the teeth and reduces stress on the jaw muscles and joint., he says. “The device interrupts the involuntary tug-of-war between the jaw’s side and temporal muscles, reducing clenching intensity. It also causes the muscles to relax in a stable position so that both you–and those hyperactive malfunctioning muscles–can rest.”

Gum Reshaping

While most people see the teeth as the star of the show when it comes to a healthy smile, Dr. Sowell always reminds his patients that the gums play an important role, too. Receding gums are often caused by periodontal gum disease or tooth loss.

“I have a unique opportunity to screen my patients for potential health problems and pick up on underlying things they can follow up on with their doctor, or possibly address at my office, simply by looking inside their mouth.”

Dr. Mark Sowell

“Gummy smiles or gum asymmetry, often from mis-aligned teeth, can detract from your smile and affect your overall health,” he says. “Gum disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. The plaque in your mouth is the same plaque that can clog your arteries. The bacteria from the gums enters into your bloodstream and can impact your health in a variety of ways.” Dr. Sowell uses the WaterLase Iplus laser to treat unhealthy gum recession and to eliminate a “gummy smile.” Receding gums become a concern when they start to expose the tooth root and leave the tooth at risk for decay or infection. Dr. Sowell can treat the periodontal disease without any incisions with the WaterLase as it eliminates bacteria and infected tissue with extreme accuracy. He also uses his artistic eye and surgical expertise to address the shape and symmetry of his patients’ gums with the Waterlase Iplus. He can correct gum asymmetry—too much gum tissue, small teeth, and a short upper lip—with the laser. The treatment is faster and less painful than older methods of gum contouring. “Laser dentistry is fast, safe, convenient, routinely allows patients to go back to work the next day without pain or medications,” he says. “Whether you have a receding or advancing gumline or an unattractive gummy smile, laser gum treatment will maximize the beauty of your smile.”

For more than 35 years, Dr. Mark Sowell has served the community by providing state-of-the-art dental care. He is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of cosmetic dentistry, implant dentistry, and restorative dentistry. Because of his relentless commitment to excellence in all aspects of dental care, Dr. Sowell is often asked to lecture to other dentists and attends over 100 hours of rigorous postdoctoral training each year. Dr. Sowell is a member of an elite group of dentists who have achieved both Master status with the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) and Accredited Membership with the prestigious American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). Fewer than 40 dentists nationwide have earned both professional distinctions. While these recognitions illustrate Dr. Sowell’s dedication to providing the best that dentistry has to offer, he has achieved numerous other merits in the field of dentistry. Visiting faculty at Spear Education in Scottsdale where he helps teach dentist post-graduate course in treatment planning and bite correction and treatment.