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.
After your son or daughter's dental exam, you expect to hear about cavities, poor bites or other dental problems. But your dentist might suggest a different kind of problem you didn't expect—an eating disorder.
It's not a fluke occurrence—a dental exam is a common way bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa come to light. That's because the teeth are often damaged by the behaviors of a patient with an eating disorder.
Most of this damage occurs because of purging, the practice of induced vomiting after eating. During vomiting stomach acid can enter the mouth and "wash" against the back of the teeth. After repeated episodes, the acid dissolves the mineral content of tooth enamel and causes it to erode. There's also a tell-tale pattern with eating disorders: because the tongue partially shields the back of the lower teeth while purging, the lower teeth may show less enamel erosion than the upper.
Hygiene practices, both negligent and too aggressive, can accelerate erosion. Anorexics often neglect basic grooming and hygiene like brushing and flossing, which increases the likelihood of dental disease. Bulimia patients, on the other hand, can be fastidious about their hygiene. They're more likely to brush immediately after purging, which can cause tiny bits of the enamel immediately softened by the acid wash to slough off.
In dealing with a family member's eating disorder, you should consider both a short and long-term approach to protect their dental health. In the sort-term the goal is to treat the current damage and minimize the extent of any future harm. In that regard, encourage them to rinse with water (mixed optionally with baking soda to help neutralize acid) after purging, and wait an hour before brushing. This will give saliva in the mouth a chance to fully neutralize any remaining acid. Your dentist may also recommend a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen their tooth enamel.
For the long-term, your goal should be to help your loved one overcome this potentially life-threatening condition through counseling and therapy. To find out more about treatment resources near you, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website at nationaleatingdisorders.org. Taking steps to treat an eating disorder could save not only your loved one's dental health, but also their life.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and dental health, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
If your sleeping partner snores, it could be more than an annoyance: it could be a sign of sleep apnea. This occurs when air flow into the lungs becomes obstructed in the throat for a few seconds during sleep. The obstruction can take many forms, but a common one arises from the tongue relaxing against the back of the throat, producing snoring sounds as air attempts to pass through this restricted area.
Sleep apnea can cause severe problems: lower daily energy levels and mood from poor sleep; lower oxygen saturation that could affect brain function; and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. So, if you’re awakened by your partner’s snoring (or they’re complaining about yours!), it’s important to have it checked and treated.
This begins with a visit to us for a complete oral examination. Like many dentists, we’re well trained in the anatomy and structures of the mouth, as well as the causes and treatment of sleep apnea. We’ll examine your mouth, take into account any possible symptoms you’re experiencing and, if your suspicions are correct, refer you to a sleep physician to diagnose if you have sleep apnea.
Treatment will depend on its cause and severity. An oral appliance worn during sleep is the recommended first treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea that involves the tongue as an obstruction. We develop a custom appliance that helps move your tongue away from the back of the throat, reducing both apnea and snoring sounds. For more advanced sleep apnea you could benefit from a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. This device generates continuous air pressure through a mask worn while sleeping that helps keep the airway open.
Of course, there are other causes for obstruction, some of which may require surgical intervention to relieve the problem. Abnormally large tonsils, adenoids or excessive soft tissue can all restrict air flow. Surgically removing or altering these structures could help reduce airway restriction.
Whatever type or degree of sleep apnea you or your partner may have, there are solutions. The right treatment will not only improve overall health, it will help both of you get a better night’s sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea and how to treat it, 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 “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”
The next time you visit your dentist you might see an item quite different from the other dental instruments and equipment in the office: a blood pressure cuff. Checking blood pressure is becoming a more common occurrence in dental offices across the country.
Abnormal blood pressure and some of the medications used to treat it are often a factor in some dental procedures, particularly if anesthesia is involved. But your dentist may also check your blood pressure for another reason: dental visits represent another avenue to screen for this condition that increases the risk of serious health problems.
Undiagnosed high blood pressure is a prevalent but often “silent” problem because the early stages of the condition may not display any symptoms. Many people first become aware they have an issue only after a blood pressure check at their family doctor, pharmacy or a health fair, for example. Otherwise, they could go months, even years without this vital knowledge about their health.
But while people may only visit their doctor once a year (or less) many see their dentist much more often, even twice a year, for routine cleanings and checkups. Including blood pressure screenings as a routine part of dental treatment could alert patients to a potential issue much earlier than their next doctor’s visit.
In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association looked at a group of dental patients with no reported heart disease risk and who had not seen a doctor in the twelve months before their dental visit. During their visit their blood pressure was checked. Of those then referred to a physician for an abnormal reading, 17% learned for the first time they had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s estimated about 80 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease and many don’t even know it. Diagnosing and controlling high blood pressure is a key factor in treating these life-threatening conditions. And many dentists are joining the fight by making this simple screening method a part of their dental care services.
If you would like more information on blood pressure screening, 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure: What you don't know can hurt you.”
A couple of years ago the Associated Press published an article claiming the health benefits of flossing remained unproven. The article cited a number of studies that seemed to conclude the evidence for the effectiveness of flossing in helping to prevent dental disease as “weak.”
As you can imagine, dental providers were a bit chagrined while flossers everywhere threw away their dental floss and happily declared their independence from their least favorite hygiene task. It would have seemed the Age of Flossing had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
But, the demise of flossing may have been greatly exaggerated. A new study from the University of North Carolina seems to contradict the findings cited in the AP article. This more recent study looked at dental patients in two groups—those who flossed and those who didn’t—during two periods of five and ten years respectively. The new study found conclusively that the flosser group on average had a lower risk of tooth loss than the non-flossers.
While this is an important finding, it may not completely put the issue to rest. But assuming it does, let’s get to the real issue with flossing: a lot of people don’t like it, for various reasons. It can be time-consuming; it can be messy; and, depending on a person’s physical dexterity, difficult to perform.
On the latter, there are some things you can do to make it a less difficult task. You can use a floss threader, a device that makes it easier to thread the floss through the teeth. You can also switch to an oral irrigator or “water flosser,” a pump device that sprays a fine, pressurized stream of water to break up plaque between teeth and flush most of it away. We can also give you tips and training for flossing with just your fingers and thread.
But whatever you do, don’t give up the habit. It may not be your most favorite hygiene task but most dentists agree it can help keep your teeth healthy for the long-term.