Posts for category: Oral Health
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
As a saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is no more appropriate than when you have something caught between your teeth. And humans, as inventive and creative as we are, have used a weird assortment of items—usually within arms' reach—to dislodge a pesky bit of food.
According to a recent survey, more than three-fourths of Americans admit to using a number of “tools” to clean between teeth including twigs, nails (the finger and toe variety), business cards or (shudder!) screwdrivers. And it's one thing to do this alone, but among dinner companions and other folk it's a definite faux pas.
Usually, it's smarter and more economical if you can use a particular tool for many different applications. But when it comes to your teeth, you should definitely go with a “unitasker” designed specifically for the job: dental floss. It's not only the safest item you can use to clean your teeth, it's specifically designed for that purpose, especially to remove disease-causing plaque from between teeth.
Of course, the reason many of us use alternate items for cleaning between teeth is that they're the closest ones at hand. You can remedy this by keeping a small spool (or a short length) of dental floss or floss picks handy for those moments you encounter a wedged piece of food. In a pinch, you can use a rounded toothpick (better for your gums than the flat variety).
At home if you find flossing difficult, consider using a water flosser. This handheld device emits a pulsating stream of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque and bits of food remnant. It's ideal for people who have a hard time maneuvering floss or who wear braces, which can block regular floss thread from accessing between teeth as fully as possible.
In any case, use the other “tools” at hand for whatever they're intended. When it comes to what's best for your teeth, use floss to keep the in-between clear and clean.
It's normal for people to breathe through their nose. And for good reason: Nasal breathing filters contaminants, warms and humidifies incoming air, and helps generate beneficial nitric oxide. Chronic mouth breathing, on the other hand, can trigger a number of harmful effects, especially for the teeth and gums.
Because our survival depends on continuous respiration, our bodies automatically seek out the air flow path of least resistance, normally through the nose. But if our nasal passages become obstructed, as with enlarged adenoids or sinus congestion, we may involuntarily breathe through the mouth.
This can lead to oral problems like chronic dry mouth, which not only creates an unpleasant mouth feel, it also produces the ideal environment for dental disease. And, it could cause an even more serious problem for children during jaw and teeth development.
This is because the tongue rests along the roof of the mouth (palate) while breathing through the nose. In this position, the tongue serves as a mold for the upper jaw and teeth while they're growing during childhood. During mouth breathing, however, the tongue moves away from the palate, depriving the jaw and teeth of this molding effect, and possibly resulting in a poor bite.
You can prevent these and other oral problems by seeing a healthcare professional as soon as you notice your child regularly breathing through their mouth. The best professional for this is an ENT, a medical specialist for conditions involving the ears, nose and throat. ENTs provide treatment for diagnosed obstructions involving the tonsils, adenoids and sinuses.
Even so, persistent mouth breathing may already have affected your child's bite. It may be prudent, then, to also have their bite evaluated by an orthodontist. There are interventional measures that can help get jaw development back on track and minimize future orthodontic treatment.
Finally, a child who has undergone treatment to remove nasal breathing obstructions usually reverts to nasal breathing automatically. But sometimes not: To “relearn” normal breathing, a child may need to undergo orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) with a certified therapist to retrain their facial muscles and tendons to breathe through the nose.
Your child's tendency to mouth breathing may not seem like a major problem. But prompt attention and treatment could prevent it from interrupting their dental development.
If you would like more information on correcting mouth breathing, 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 Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) jolted our collective consciousness in the 1980s. The deadly disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had no known cure and, at the time, no effective treatment.
HIV is a retrovirus, a virus with a genetic makeup and reproduction system differing from other kinds. After taking up permanent residency in the body, HIV begins “hijacking” the replication process of cells in the body's immune system and replacing it with a copy of its own. This destroys the cells' ability to protect the body from hostile organisms. As the virus affects more and more cells, the patient's condition ultimately develops into AIDS.
An estimated 35 million people worldwide (1.2 million in the U.S.) are currently infected with the virus. Thanks to new antiretroviral drugs, though, HIV can be kept from accelerating into AIDS. While their condition remains serious, many HIV positive patients can now live long and relatively normal lives. Even so, having the virus requires them to pay close attention to their health, including their mouth.
Even while stalled from becoming AIDS, HIV can still cause oral problems for 30 to 80% of patients. The fungal infection candidiasis (also known as thrush) is the most common of these problems, which appears as lesions, cracking skin or creamy white patches on the tongue or palate that easily bleed. Patients also have higher risks for dry mouth, oral cancer and periodontal (gum) disease.
HIV positive patients must practice diligent daily oral care and see their dentist for checkups regularly. Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment can keep gum disease and other damaging conditions under control. Monitoring oral health is also important because certain mouth conditions could be an early sign the infection is entering a new advanced stage in the body that requires additional attention.
Keeping vigilant in all aspects of health is a way of life for someone with HIV. Such vigilance, though, can help them maintain a healthy mouth and even prolong their life.