Chicken pox is a common viral infection that usually occurs during childhood. Although the disease symptoms only last a short time, the virus that caused it may remain, lying dormant for years within the body's nervous system. Decades later it may reappear with a vengeance in a form known as herpes zoster, what most people know as shingles.
A shingles outbreak can be quite painful and uncomfortable—and it's also not a condition to take lightly. Occurring mainly in people over fifty, it often begins with an itching or burning sensation in the skin. This is often followed by a red rash breaking out in a belt-like pattern over various parts of the body, which may later develop into crusty sores. Symptoms may vary from person to person, but people commonly experience severe pain, fever and fatigue.
Besides the general discomfort it creates, shingles can also pose major health problems for certain people. Individuals with other health issues like pregnancy, cancer or a compromised immune system may experience serious complications related to a shingles outbreak.
In its early stages, shingles is contagious, spreading through direct contact with shingles sores or lesions or through breathing in the secretions from an infected person. This characteristic of shingles could affect your dental care: because the virus could potentially pass to staff and other patients, dentists usually postpone cleanings or other dental treatments for patients with shingles, particularly if they have a facial rash.
If you're diagnosed with shingles, most physicians recommend you begin antiviral treatment as soon as possible. You should also let your dentist know if you have shingles, which may put off any scheduled treatments until your doctor determines you're no longer contagious.
There's one other thing you can do, especially if you're over 60: obtain a shingles vaccine, available from most physicians or clinics. The vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease, and could help you avoid this most unpleasant health experience.
Via a recent Instagram post, pop diva Ariana Grande became the latest young celebrity to publicly acknowledge a dental milestone: having her wisdom teeth removed. The singer of hits such as “Break Free” and “Problem” posted an after-surgery picture of herself (wearing her signature cat-eye eyeliner), with a caption addressed to her teeth: “Peace out, final three wisdom teeth. It’s been real.”
With the post, Grande joined several other celebs (including Lily Allen, Paris Hilton and Emile Hirsch) who have shared their dental surgery experience with fans. Will "wisdom teeth removal" become a new trending topic on social media? We aren’t sure — but we can explain a bit about the procedure, and why many younger adults may need it.
Technically called the “third molars,” wisdom teeth usually begin to emerge from the gums between the ages of 17 and 25 — presumably, around the same time that a certain amount of wisdom emerges. Most people have four of these big molars, which are located all the way in the back of the mouth, on the left and right sides of the upper and lower jaws.
But when wisdom teeth begin to appear, there’s often a problem: Many people don’t have enough space in their jaws to accommodate them. When these molars lack sufficient space to fully erupt (emerge), they are said to be “impacted.” Impacted teeth can cause a number of serious problems: These may include pain, an increased potential for bacterial infections, periodontal disease, and even the formation of cysts (pockets of infection below the gum line), which can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
In most cases, the best treatment for impacted wisdom teeth is extraction (removal) of the problem teeth. Wisdom tooth extraction is a routine, in-office procedure that is usually performed under local anesthesia or “conscious sedation,” a type of anesthesia where the patient remains conscious (able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli), but is free from any pain or distress. Anti-anxiety medications may also be given, especially for those who are apprehensive about dental procedures.
So if you find you need your wisdom teeth extracted, don’t be afraid to “Break Free” like Ariana Grande did; whether you post the results on social media is entirely up to you. If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Sometimes it's the little things that can be most annoying. Those occasional small sores that pop up on the inside of your mouth are a case in point. Although in most instances they won't last long and aren't anything to be alarmed about, they can still cause you some discomfort.
These small sores are called aphthous ulcers or more commonly “canker sores.” They are breaks in the skin or mucosa, the inner lining of the mouth, and occur most often on the inside cheeks, lips, tongue and occasionally on the soft palate at the back of the throat. They usually appear round with a yellow-gray center and an intensely red outer ring or "halo."
Canker sores often appear during periods of high stress or because of minor trauma, and usually last for a week or two. They often have a tingling pain that can be aggravated when you eat and drink acidic or spicy foods and beverages. About 20 to 25% of people have a form known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (mouth inflammation) that occurs regularly with multiple sores and heightened pain.
It's possible to manage the discomfort of minor, occasional bouts with a number of over-the-counter products that cover the sore to protect it and boost healing, with some providing a numbing agent for temporary pain relief. For more serious outbreaks we can also prescribe topical steroids in gels or rinses, injections or other medications.
While canker sores don't represent a health danger, there are instances where you should take outbreaks more seriously: if a sore hasn't healed after two weeks; if you've noticed an increase in pain, frequency or duration of outbreaks; or if you're never without a sore. In these cases we may need to biopsy some of the tissue (and possibly run some blood tests) to ensure they're not pre-cancerous or cancerous.
In any event, we can work with you to reduce your symptoms and help the sores heal quickly. This particular “little thing” in life doesn't have to stress you out.
If you would like more information on mouth 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: Understanding and treating canker sores.”
As your mother used to say, “A moist mouth is a healthy mouth.” Well, maybe she didn't — but it's still true. Without the constant flow of saliva, your teeth and gums would be less healthy.
That's because among its many functions, saliva helps keep the mouth from becoming too acidic. Just after eating, your mouth's neutral pH level tips to the acidic side of the scale. Acid is enamel's number one enemy, and it takes little time for it to begin dissolving mineral content. But in thirty minutes to an hour, saliva neutralizes the acid; it also helps restore some of the enamel's minerals.
Without adequate saliva flow, acid quickly gets the upper hand. In time, this can greatly increase your risk for dental disease. And for many people, inadequate saliva — dry mouth — is a chronic problem.
There are a number of reasons why. Salivary glands may not produce as much in our later years. In addition, as we age, we may begin taking more medications, some of which can cause dry mouth. Treatments for certain kinds of systemic diseases, particularly cancer, can also inhibit saliva or even damage salivary glands.
If you feel your mouth is continuously dry, make an appointment to find out the cause, which will determine the best course of action to alleviate it. If it's related to your medication, we'll see if there's an alternative. If not, you may need to drink more water when you take your medication and more throughout the day.
There are other things you can do as well. Reduce your intake of acidic foods or caffeinated beverages. Run a cool-air humidifier at night to keep your mouth and nose membranes moist. And you can also try saliva stimulants available by prescription or even over the counter. Chewing gum with xylitol (an alcohol-based sugar) has also been shown to stimulate saliva flow.
Above all, be diligent about daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Keeping a watchful eye will help ensure dental disease doesn't take advantage of your dry mouth.
If you would like more information on managing dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
You're not just a patient to your dentist—you're also a partner for achieving your best oral health possible. And it takes what both of you do to achieve it.
No doubt your dentist always strives to bring their "A Game" when providing you care. You should carry the same attitude into your personal oral hygiene—to truly master the skill of brushing.
Like its equally important counterpart flossing, brushing isn't mechanically complicated—you need only a minimum of dexterity to perform it. But there are nuances to brushing that could mean the difference between just adequate and super effective.
The goal of both brushing and flossing is to clean the teeth of dental plaque, a built-up film of bacteria and food particles most responsible for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing removes plaque from the broad front and back surfaces of teeth, while flossing removes it from between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach.
While a lot of cleaning tasks require bearing down with a little "elbow grease," that's unnecessary with brushing—in fact, you may increase your risk of gum recession if you brush too vigorously or too often. All you need is to apply a gentle, circular motion along all tooth surfaces from the gum line to the top of the tooth—a thorough brushing usually takes about two minutes, once or twice a day.
Your equipment is also important. Be sure your toothbrush is soft-bristled, multi-tufted and with a head small enough to maneuver comfortably inside your mouth. Because the bristles wear and eventually lose their effectiveness, change your brush about every three months. And be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride to help strengthen your enamel.
One last tip: while it may sound counterintuitive, don't brush immediately after a meal. Eating increases the mouth's acidity, which can temporarily soften the minerals in tooth enamel. If you brush right away you might slough off tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait an hour before brushing to give your saliva time to neutralize the acid and help re-mineralize your enamel.
Unlike your dentist partner, your role in caring for your teeth doesn't require years of training. But a little extra effort to improve your brushing proficiency could increase your chances for a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on best practices for personal oral hygiene, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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