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.
Periodontal (gum) disease can weaken gum attachment and cause bone deterioration that eventually leads to tooth loss. But its detrimental effects can also extend beyond the mouth and worsen other health problems like heart disease or diabetes.
While the relationship between gum disease and other health conditions isn't fully understood, there does seem to be a common denominator: chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism the body uses to isolate damaged or diseased tissues from healthier ones. But if the infection and inflammation become locked in constant battle, often the case with gum disease, then the now chronic inflammation can actually damage tissue.
Inflammation is also a key factor in conditions like heart disease and diabetes, as well as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. Inflammation contributes to plaque buildup in blood vessels that impedes circulation and endangers the heart. Diabetes-related inflammation can contribute to slower wound healing and blindness.
Advanced gum disease can stimulate the body's overall inflammatory response. Furthermore, the breakdown of gum tissues makes it easier for bacteria and other toxins from the mouth to enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body to trigger further inflammation. These reactions could make it more difficult to control any inflammatory condition like diabetes or heart disease, or increase your risk for developing one.
To minimize this outcome, you should see a dentist as soon as possible if you notice reddened, swollen or bleeding gums. The sooner you begin treatment, the less impact it may have on your overall health. And because gum disease can be hard to notice in its early stages, be sure you visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
The most important thing you can do, though, is to try to prevent gum disease from occurring in the first place. You can do this by brushing twice and flossing once every day to keep dental plaque, the main trigger for gum disease, from accumulating on tooth surfaces.
Guarding against gum disease will certainly help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. But it could also help protect you from—or lessen the severity of—other serious health conditions.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
The month of March brings the first day of spring, when nature seems to wake up after a restful winter slumber. It also brings Sleep Awareness Week, which leads us to ask: How's your sleep? For around one of every three people, the answer seems to be: Not so good! In fact, it's estimated that some 50-70 million people in the U.S. alone have sleep problems, including sleep-related breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
People who suffer from this condition seem to sleep fitfully and snore loudly—and they may actually wake up dozens of times every night without even knowing it. These "micro-arousals" make it impossible to get restful sleep, which can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, and behavioral issues. Children with sleep disorders like OSA are sometimes diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders because the symptoms are very similar.
If you suspect that you (or someone you care about) may have a serious sleep disorder, it's a good idea to get an examination from a medical professional who specializes in this area. If the diagnosis is OSA, there are a number of treatments that can be effective—one of which is an oral appliance that's available from the dental office.
Dentists are quite familiar with the anatomical structure of the mouth, which is sometimes the root cause of OSA. In many individuals, the soft tissue structures in the back of the oral cavity (including the tonsils, tongue and soft palate) can shift position when muscles relax during sleep and block the flow of air through the windpipe. The lack of sufficient air may cause a person to awaken briefly, gasp for breath, and then relax their muscles—over and over again, all night long.
After a complete exam, we can have an appliance custom-made for you that has proven successful in managing mild to moderate cases of OSA. Shaped a little like a retainer, it is worn in your mouth at night and taken out in the daytime. The appliance helps maintain an open airway by re-positioning the jaw and/or keeping the tongue out of the way.
Oral appliance therapy is one of the most conservative options available for treating OSA: It requires no major equipment or irreversible medical procedures. However, there are a number of other options, including machines that supply pressurized air through a face mask and even oral surgery. It's important to consult with a specialist in sleep disorders when you're facing this issue. If the diagnosis is OSA or a similar sleep problem, remember that help may be available here at the dental office.
If you have questions about sleep-related breathing disorders, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Oral Appliances For Sleep Apnea” and “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
What does spring mean to you? The season officially starts on March 20th, but depending where you live you might start seeing the signs earlier or later. We often think of spring as a time of new beginnings—when the first green buds appear and the earth wakes up from its winter sleep. Spring is also a great time to break out of those old winter routines and make positive changes in your life; for example, learning to manage stress, improving sleep habits and getting more exercise. To those worthy aims, we'd like to add one more suggestion: This spring, make it a goal to improve your oral hygiene!
Maintaining good oral hygiene often results in fewer cavities, reduced gum disease and better checkups at the dental office. But for some people it can mean a lot more. A growing body of research points to a connection between oral health and overall health—especially when it comes to systemic (whole-body) diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and others. In many instances, improving oral health can lead to better management of these diseases.
So how do you start improving your oral hygiene? Glad you asked! Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, AND floss once a day—every day! Use a soft-bristled toothbrush for gentle, effective cleaning.
- Limit between-meal snacks to give your mouth a chance to neutralize the acids that can cause tooth decay.
- Stay away from sweetened and acidic drinks like soda (even diet), so-called "sports" and "energy" drinks, and other foods and beverages with a high sugar content.
- Drink plenty of water to increase production of healthful saliva and keep your whole body properly hydrated.
- Visit the dental office regularly for checkups and professional cleanings. This is essential for good oral hygiene. A professional cleaning can remove hardened plaque deposits that can't be cleaned effectively at home. A thorough dental exam can find and resolve small problems before they become big headaches (or toothaches)—and even help prevent them from happening!
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best way to keep your smile healthy for your whole life. And having a bright, healthy smile is a great way to greet the new season!
If you have questions about oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall,” and “10 Tips For Daily Oral Care at Home.”
If you're over 30 your chances for developing periodontal (gum) disease are better than half. And it's not a minor matter—untreated gum disease can lead not only to tooth loss, but to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory conditions.
Fortunately, we have effective ways to treat gum disease, even in advanced stages. But the best approach by far in avoiding a devastating outcome for your teeth is to prevent gum disease from developing in the first place.
It helps first to know how gum disease begins. The most common cause is dental plaque, a thin biofilm of food particles on tooth surfaces that harbors the bacteria that triggers the disease. If you keep your teeth clean of built-up plaque and tartar (calcified plaque) with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings, you'll minimize the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
If you don't practice effective oral hygiene, however, within a few days you could develop an initial infection called gingivitis. This form affects the outermost layers of the gums and triggers a defensive response from the body known as inflammation. Ordinarily, inflammation helps protect surrounding tissues from infection spread, but it can damage your gums if it becomes chronic. Your weakened gums may begin to detach from the teeth, forming voids filled with inflammation known as periodontal pockets. Eventually, the infection can spread to the supporting bone and lead to tooth loss.
In addition to a dedicated oral hygiene and dental care program, you should also be on the lookout for early signs of gingivitis. Infected gums can become red, swollen and tender to the touch. You may notice they bleed easily while brushing and flossing, or a foul taste or breath that won't go away even after brushing. And if some of your teeth feel loose or don't seem to bite together as they used to, this is a sign of advanced gum disease that deserves your dentist's immediate attention.
Practicing preventive hygiene is the best way to stop gum disease before it starts. But if gum disease does happen, catching it early can be a game-changer, both for your teeth and your smile.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”