Posts for category: Oral Health
A shingles outbreak can be painful and embarrassing. It could also interfere with many areas of your life—including your dental care.
Known medically as herpes zoster, shingles is a viral form of chicken pox. The virus can lie dormant for many years or decades in people that had chicken pox as a child, breaking out later in life (sometimes repeatedly). It's estimated about a quarter of people who had chicken pox as a child, about 90% of adults, will experience a shingles outbreak.
In the beginning, a person with shingles may notice an itching or burning skin irritation, as well as numbness or sensitivity to touch. In time, a red, crusty rash can develop, usually forming a belted or striped pattern on the torso, head or facial areas. The patterning is caused by the virus's disruption of nerves that serve those parts of the body.
Shingles could impact your dental care because it can be contagious early in an outbreak. As such, it can be transmitted to other people via contact with the rash or through airborne respiratory particles. Dental staff members or other patients who are pregnant, undergoing cancer treatment or with other conditions that compromise their immune systems can develop serious health problems if they contract the virus.
If you have an upcoming appointment, it's best then to let your dentist know you've been diagnosed with shingles. If your treatment involves physical contact that could spread the virus, they may wish to reschedule you until the outbreak clears up.
There are ways to hasten the healing process with antiviral treatments like acyclovir or famciclovir. For best results, these treatments should begin within 3 days of a shingles outbreak. There is also a shingles vaccine that can help you avoid an outbreak altogether. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend it for adults over 60.
Having shingles can be painful and stressful, and pose a major interruption of your daily life and routine. With proper management, though, it can be contained so you can get on with your life—and your dental care.
If you would like more information on managing 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.”
While periodontal (gum) disease could ruin your dental health, it doesn’t have to. Dentists and periodontists (specialists in gums and other supporting tooth structures) have effective methods for stopping it, especially if the infection is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages. With effective treatment, those swollen, reddened and bleeding gums can return to a healthy shade of pink.
But even if we stop the infection, you’re not out of danger. If you’ve had at least one bout with gum disease, you’re at higher risk for another infection. We will need to maintain ongoing vigilance to prevent another infection.
If you’ve recently undergone treatment for gum disease, here are 3 things you should do to keep your now healthy gums continually healthy.
Practice daily oral hygiene. Gum disease arises most often from dental plaque, a thin biofilm of disease-causing bacteria that builds up on tooth surfaces. It’s important for everyone to remove this buildup with daily brushing and flossing, but it’s even more so if you’ve already experienced gum disease. Practicing effective oral hygiene every day will reduce the presence of bacteria that could ignite a new infection.
See the dentist more frequently. The general rule for routine dental cleanings and checkups is twice a year. But you may need more frequent visits, post-gum disease. Depending on the severity of your disease, we may recommend you make return visits at two- to three-month intervals of time. These visits may also include heightened screenings to ensure another infection hasn’t taken hold, as well as procedures to make it easier to clean certain tooth areas prone to plaque buildup.
Manage other health conditions. Gum disease’s severity is often caused by the inflammatory response your body initiates to fight the infection, which then becomes chronic. This is similar to other conditions like diabetes, heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis: There’s evidence inflammation elsewhere in the body could worsen a gum infection, and vice-versa. Managing other health conditions through medical care, medication and lifestyle changes could minimize the occurrence and severity of a future gum infection.
If you would like more information on remaining infection-free after gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
Looking in the mirror, you probably focus on your teeth and gums—i.e., your smile. Your dentist, though, will take the time to look deeper into your mouth, searching for anything out of the ordinary. That could be a type of mouth sore known as lichen planus.
Lichen planus are lesions that can appear on skin or mucus membranes, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their resemblance to lichens, a fungus found on trees or rocks (although the sore itself isn't fungi). As such, they often have a lacy pattern of lines emanating from purplish bumps.
Again, the first indication you have such a condition may come from your dentist. Sometimes, though, you may notice greater sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods and, if the gums are affected, irritation when you eat or brush.
If you find out you have lichen planus, don't be alarmed—it usually doesn't pose harm to your health and it's not contagious. Its appearance, though, could be mimicked by more harmful medical conditions, so your dentist will want to confirm the lesion observed is truly lichen planus.
It's routine, then, for your dentist to excise a small sample of the sore's tissue and send it to a pathology lab for biopsy. Although results will more than likely confirm lichen planus or some other benign lesion, it's better to err on the side of caution and ensure you're not dealing with something more serious.
If you are diagnosed with lichen planus, you may need to take steps to manage symptoms. In most people, the sore will go away on its own, although there's no guarantee it won't reappear sometime later. In the event it lingers, your dentist may prescribe a topical steroid to help ease any discomfort.
You can also minimize a future outbreak by practicing effective daily oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial populations that may contribute to the condition. And when you're symptomatic, try avoiding spicy or acidic foods like citrus, peppers or caffeinated beverages.
Lichen planus is more bothersome than harmful. Taking the above steps can help you avoid it or deal with it more effectively when it occurs.
If you would like more information on lichen planus, 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 “Lichen Planus: Mouth Lesions That are Usually benign.”
Dental visit anxiety is a serious problem: Half of all Americans admit to some level of dental fear, while 15% avoid dental care altogether due to acute anxiety. The harm this can cause to dental health is incalculable.
But dentists have a number of sedation techniques that can relax anxious patients and allow them to receive the care they need. Although often used together, sedation is slightly different from anesthesia, which aims to deaden pain sensation. The aim of sedation is to calm the emotions and state of mind.
Sedation isn't a new approach: Physicians have used substances like root herbs or alcohol to relieve anxiety since ancient times. Modern dentistry also has a long history with sedation, dating from the early 1800s with the first use of nitrous oxide gas.
Modern dental sedation has expanded into an array of drugs and techniques to match varying levels of anxiety intensity. At the milder end of the scale are oral sedatives, taken an hour or so before a dental appointment to produce a calmer state. This may be enough for some patients, or it can be used in conjunction with nitrous oxide.
For those with more intense anxiety, dentists can turn to intravenous (IV) sedation. In this case, the sedative is delivered directly into the bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted in a vein. This causes a quicker and deeper reaction than oral sedatives.
Although similar to general anesthesia, IV sedation does differ in significant ways. Rather than unconsciousness, IV sedation places a patient in a “semi-awake” state that may still allow them respond to verbal commands. And although the patient's vital signs (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) must be monitored, the patient doesn't need breathing assistance as with anesthesia.
There's one other benefit: The drugs used often have an amnesic effect, meaning the patient won't remember the treatment experience after recovery. This can be helpful in creating more pleasant memories of their dental experience, which could have its own sedative effect in the future.
Whether oral, gas or IV, sedatives are a safe and effective way to calm dental fears during treatment. That could help someone with anxiety maintain their oral health.
If you would like more information on reducing dental anxiety, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
Cardiovascular disease and periodontal (gum) disease are two different conditions with their own set of symptoms and outcomes. But they do share one common element: inflammation. In fact, this otherwise normal defensive response of the body might actually create a link between them.
When tissues become damaged from disease or injury, the body triggers inflammation to isolate them from the rest of the body. This allows these tissues to heal without affecting other tissues. If inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can damage rather than protect the body.
This happens with both cardiovascular disease and gum disease. In the former, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) in animal fat leave behind remnants that can build up within arteries. This stimulates inflammation of the vessel’s inner linings, which accelerates hardening and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
With gum disease, bacteria living in a thin, built-up film of food particles on the teeth called plaque infect the gum tissues, which in turn trigger inflammation. A struggle ensures between the infection and inflammation, causing the gum tissues to weaken and detach from the teeth. Coupled with erosion of the supporting bone, the risk of tooth loss dramatically increases.
Recent research now seems to indicate the inflammatory responses from these two diseases may not occur in isolation. There is evidence that gum inflammation could aggravate inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and vice-versa. The research, though, points to some possible good news: treating inflammation in either disease could have a positive effect on the other.
Making heart-friendly lifestyle changes like losing extra weight (especially around the waist), improving nutrition, and exercising regularly can help reduce LDL and lower the risk of arterial inflammation. Likewise for your gums, daily oral hygiene and visiting the dentist at least twice a year reduces the risk for gum disease. And at the first sign of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—seeking immediate treatment will stop it and reduce any occurring inflammation.
Taking steps to prevent or reduce inflammation brought on by both of these diseases could improve your health and save your life.
If you would like more information on how your oral health affects your whole body, 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 “The Link between Heart & Gum Disease.”