Posts for category: Oral Health
Most childhood sicknesses are highly treatable and quickly fade from memory afterward. But there's one viral infection that can reappear years later, albeit in a different form and this time it might not be as forgettable. It could even impact your dental care.
Varicella, more commonly known as chicken pox, is a viral infection that mainly affects children. Fortunately, the itchy blisters and other symptoms associated with it usually clear up on their own. But the virus itself, varicella zoster virus (VZV), can remain behind and become dormant.
Fast-forward a few decades, and the child once with chicken pox is now an adult, usually over 50. In 20-30% of former chicken pox patients, the virus reactivates as a new infection known commonly as shingles.
Shingles often begins with an itching, burning or numbing sensation on the skin that develops into a severe rash. Because of its effect on surface nerves, the rash often takes on a striped or belt-like pattern on the skin. A shingles outbreak can also cause fever, fatigue and pain, the latter of which in rare cases can be quite severe.
Shingles in its early stages is also highly contagious, transmitted easily through either physical contact with the skin lesions or through airborne secretions. This is especially troubling for certain groups: pregnant women, patients undergoing cancer or other serious disease treatment, or those with compromised immune systems. For them, shingles can pose a significant risk for complications.
Because of its easy transmission, and the danger it can pose to certain groups, dentists typically postpone treatment—even routine dental cleanings—for patients experiencing a shingles outbreak, especially a facial rash. Once their outbreak subsides, those procedures can be rescheduled.
If you develop what you think is shingles, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Certain prescribed antiviral medications can ease the symptoms and hasten recovery, but they're most effective if started within three days of the onset of the disease. There's also an effective vaccination for shingles recommended for people over 60 to help avoid the disease altogether.
One other thing! If you do develop shingles and have an upcoming dental appointment, let your dentist know. Better to reschedule your visit after you've recuperated than to put others' health at risk.
If you would like more information on shingles and dental care, 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 “Shingles, Herpes Zoster.”
Although we've advanced leaps and bounds over the years treating dental disease, our strategy for preventing them hasn't changed much. That's because these prevention basics are quite effective—and as the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The core of an effective dental disease prevention strategy is mind-numbingly simple—brush and floss every day. These twin cleaning tasks remove accumulated dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film on tooth surfaces that's the primary oral disease driver.
True, there have been innovations concerning the "tools of the trade," i.e., toothbrushes, toothpastes and flossing devices. But what really makes this prevention strategy work is a consistent daily habit of oral hygiene.
In a way, simply "showing up" for daily oral hygiene goes a long way. But you can go even farther if you perform these tasks with greater proficiency—becoming a hygiene "ninja," of sorts.
Here, then, are 4 tips to improve your brushing and flossing prowess.
Be thorough when you brush. Try to cover all of your tooth surfaces when you brush, being sure to work the bristles into all the nooks and crannies and around the gum lines. A thorough brushing should take about 2 minutes.
Easy does it. Hard scrubbing may work on floors, but not your teeth—aggressive brushing can damage your enamel and gums. Brush gently and let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the heavy work of plaque removal.
Don't forget to floss. Although you may not like this "other hygiene task," flossing is necessary to remove plaque between teeth that your brush can't reach. Be sure, then, that you floss at least once a day.
Take the "tongue test." Wondering how well you're doing with your oral hygiene? A quick way to find out is by swiping your tongue across your teeth: If they feel gritty rather than smooth, you may have left some plaque behind.
Be sure to also ask your dentist for additional tips on better brushing and flossing. Improving your technique can help you put even more distance between you and dental disease.
If you would like more information on daily care for teeth and gums, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene.”
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Not all toothaches are alike: Some are sharp and last only a second or two; others throb continuously. You might feel the pain in one tooth, or it could be more generalized.
Because there are as many causes as there are kinds of dental pain, you can expect a few questions on specifics when you come to us with a toothache. Understanding first what kind of pain you have will help us more accurately diagnose the cause and determine the type of treatment you need.
Here are a few examples of dental pain and what could be causing it.
Temperature sensitivity. People sometimes experience a sudden jolt of pain when they eat or drink something cold or hot. If it only lasts for a moment or two, this could mean you have a small area of tooth decay, a loose filling, or an exposed root surface due to gum recession. If the pain lingers, though, you may have internal decay or the nerve tissue within the tooth has died. If so, you may require a root canal treatment.
Sharp pain when chewing. Problems like decay, a loose filling or a cracked tooth could cause pain when you bite down. We may be able to solve the problem with a filling (or repair an older one), or you may need more extensive treatment like a root canal. In any event, if you notice this as a recurring problem, don't wait on seeing us—the condition could worsen.
Dull pain near the jaw and sinuses. Because both the jaws and sinuses share the same nerve network, it's often hard to tell where the pain or pressure originates—it could be either. You may first want to see us or an endodontist to rule out tooth decay or another dental problem. If your teeth are healthy, your next step may be a visit with a physician to examine your sinuses.
As you can see, tooth pain can be a sign of a number of problems, both big and small. That's why it's important to see us as soon as possible for an examination and diagnosis. The sooner we can treat whatever is causing the pain, the sooner your discomfort will end.
If you would like more information on treating dental pain, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of tooth decay, 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 “Root Cavities.”