Although there are several potential problems people could encounter involving their teeth, gums or mouth, most fall into three basic categories. That's the finding of a recent survey conducted by the American Dental Association of more than 15,000 U.S. adults.
These categories are a triad of symptoms, each of which could arise from a variety of causes. If you're encountering any one of these, you should see your dentist as soon as possible.
Tooth pain. A toothache—or any form of pain from the mouth—could be sign of a number of possible issues. It could mean you have a decayed tooth, especially if the pain is sharp and localized. It could also indicate a gum abscess (accompanied by red and puffy gums), a sinus or ear infection, or inflammation of the jaw joints. The intensity, duration and location of the pain are all clues to its actual cause and what treatments it might require.
Biting difficulties. Does it hurt when you bite down? Among other things, you could have a loose tooth or one that's deeply decayed. The former could be the sign of advanced gum disease, which itself must be treated and the tooth stabilized (splinted) to other teeth. If the problem is advanced decay, you may need a root canal to remove diseased tissue from within the interior of the tooth, which is then filled and crowned to prevent re-infection.
Dry mouth. We're not talking about that "cotton mouth" feeling we all get now and then. This is a chronic condition known as xerostomia in which the mouth feels dry all the time. Xerostomia has several causes including smoking or treatments for cancer or other serious diseases. It might also be a medication you're taking, which has reduced your mouth's saliva production. Because dry mouth could lead to dental disease, you should take steps to relieve it.
Even if you're not having symptoms like these, there may still be something going on in your mouth that needs attention. That's why you should see your dentist on a regular basis, besides when you notice a problem, to keep your oral health in tip-top shape.
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.”
More than 1 in 10 Americans has some form of diabetes. This metabolic condition disrupts the body's regulation of glucose in the bloodstream, giving rise to health problems like slow wound healing, frequent infections and blindness—and it's the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. It can affect every aspect of your health including your teeth and gums.
Fortunately, people with diabetes can manage it through medication, diet and exercise. Even so, the disease could still have a profound effect on physical health. The mouth in particular becomes more susceptible to a number of oral conditions with diabetes.
In recognition of American Diabetes Month in November, here's how diabetes could put your oral health at risk for other diseases and what you can do about it.
Gum disease. Diabetics are at high risk for severe periodontal (gum) disease because of a characteristic shared by both conditions: inflammation. What is normally a healing response of the body to infection or trauma becomes destructive if it becomes chronic. Studies show that, due to their inflammation connection, diabetes can worsen gum disease, and gum disease can make it harder to bring diabetes under control.
Dry mouth. Chronic dry mouth is another possible consequence of diabetes that harms oral health. It's the result of the body not producing enough saliva. Because saliva supplies antigens to fight infection and neutralizes oral acid, which erodes tooth enamel, inadequate saliva increases the risk of both tooth decay and gum disease.
Thrush. Also known as oral candidiasis, thrush occurs when the fungus Candida albicans spreads along the inside surface of the mouth. This fungal infection can produce painful white lesions that make it difficult to eat or swallow. Complications from diabetes, including dry mouth and raised glucose levels in saliva, increase a diabetic's chances of developing thrush.
Implant complications. An implant's stability depends on the healing period after implant surgery when bone cells grow and adhere to its titanium surface. But because diabetics can experience slow wound healing, the bone may not fully develop around the implant and eventually causing it to fail. Fortunately, this is less of a problem if the patient has their diabetes under control.
So, what can you or someone you love with diabetes do to avoid these oral health pitfalls? For one, practicing daily brushing and flossing—and seeing your dentist on a regular basis—is paramount for reducing the risk of any dental disease. Additionally for diabetics, consistently keeping your condition under control will likewise lessen the impact it may have on your teeth and gums.
Even though coronavirus lockdowns have prevented TV hosts from taping live shows, they're still giving us something to watch via virtual interviews. In the process, we're given occasional glimpses into their home life. During a Tonight Show interview with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, R & B performer Ciara, Jimmy Fallon's daughter Winnie interrupted with breaking news: She had just lost a tooth.
It was an exciting and endearing moment, as well as good television. But with 70 million American kids under 18, each with about 20 primary teeth to lose, it's not an uncommon experience. Nevertheless, it's still good to be prepared if your six-year-old is on the verge of losing that first tooth.
Primary teeth may be smaller than their successors, but they're not inconsequential. Besides providing young children with the means to chew solid food and develop speech skills, primary teeth also serve as placeholders for the corresponding permanent teeth as they develop deep in the gums. That's why it's optimal for baby teeth to remain intact until they're ready to come out.
When that time comes, the tooth's roots will begin to dissolve and the tooth will gradually loosen in the socket. Looseness, though, doesn't automatically signal a baby tooth's imminent end. But come out it will, so be patient.
Then again, if your child, dreaming of a few coins from the tooth fairy, is antsy to move things along, you might feel tempted to use some old folk method for dispatching the tooth—like attaching the tooth to a door handle with string and slamming the door, or maybe using a pair of pliers (yikes!). One young fellow in an online video tied his tooth to a football with a string and let it fly with a forward pass.
Here's some advice from your dentist: Don't. Trying to pull a tooth whose root hasn't sufficiently dissolved could damage your child's gum tissues and increase the risk of infection. It could also cause needless pain.
Left alone, the tooth will normally fall out on its own. If you think, though, that it's truly on the verge (meaning it moves quite freely in the socket), you can pinch the tooth between your thumb and middle finger with a clean tissue and give it a gentle tug. If it's ready, it should pop out. If it doesn't, leave it be for another day or two before trying again.
Your child losing a tooth is an exciting moment, even if it isn't being broadcast on national television. It will be more enjoyable for everyone if you let that moment come naturally.
If you would like more information on the importance and care of primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Are your stained teeth bumming you out? There's good news—you can transform that dull and dingy smile yourself with a tooth whitening product.
There are dozens of over-the-counter whitening kits that allow you to brighten your own smile. Although not as controlled and long-lasting as a dentist's professional whitening, these DIY kits can still give you effective results.
But since these products involve chemical solutions that bleach tooth enamel, there's a common concern about their safety. Could you be harming your teeth by using a home whitening kit?
The answer is no—as long as you follow the manufacturer's directions for using the product. These kits have been formulated with a lower percentage of bleaching agent (usually 10% carbamide peroxide) than whitening solutions used by dentists. They've also been subjected to several clinical studies gauging both their effectiveness and safety.
That said, though, exceeding a product's recommended directions and frequency of use could cause you problems. If not used properly, a bleaching solution can erode tooth enamel—and this protective tooth layer doesn't grow back! As long as you whiten "within the lines," so to speak, you shouldn't encounter this kind of situation.
With that said, though, there are good reasons to consult your dentist before using a whitening product, or have them perform the whitening for you.
For one thing, an over-the-counter whitening product won't work if the staining originates from inside a tooth. It's wise, then, to have a dental examination first before using a whitening product to uncover this or any other underlying dental problems that should be addressed first.
You may also find a professional whitening will give you a more desirable result. A stronger professional bleaching solution under a dentist's expert control can produce a brighter, longer lasting smile than a home use product. A dentist may also be able to control the level of brightness better to help you achieve the smile effect you desire, from subtle white to ultra-bright.
Whichever way you go, your dentist can advise you on your options and make sure your teeth are in good shape for whitening. The end result can be a brighter smile—and a brighter mood.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 Whitening Safety Tips.”
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