Posts for: March, 2015
If you’ve noticed a small sore in your mouth, it’s possible you have a non-contagious disease known as lichen planus. Although usually benign, it’s still a good idea to have it examined and monitored.
The condition is so named because its lesions are similar in appearance to lichen, the algae and fungi organism often found on rocks and trees. It’s believed to be a type of autoimmune disease, in which the body treats some of its own cells as foreign and reacts adversely to them. Certain medications and substances may also cause a lichenoid reaction. Besides the inner cheeks, gums or tongue, lichen planus may also appear on other skin or mucous surfaces on the wrists, legs or fingernails.
When it appears inside the mouth it usually resembles a lacy pattern of white lines or ulceration. Gum tissues may become red and inflamed, with some soreness after brushing or eating. Although there’s no known cure for lichen planus, it rarely causes serious problems — in fact, you may not even be aware you have the condition unless pointed out during a dental exam. It may, in time, fade away.
If the lesions do become bothersome (painful, itchy or overly-sensitive), there are some ways to ease discomfort: brushing with a soft toothbrush (to minimize irritation), flossing, and avoiding acidic or spicy foods and beverages which have been known to cause flare-ups. Managing stress is also helpful, and a topical steroid may be prescribed for more severe outbreaks.
Perhaps the greatest concern with lichen planus, though, is it may resemble more serious conditions, particularly oral cancer. The only way to be certain that it is a benign condition is to perform a biopsy on some of the affected tissue. If you notice a problem, be sure to visit us for a complete examination. And regardless of whether you have the condition or not, regular oral cancer screenings, as well as limits on alcohol consumption and stopping use of tobacco, will also reduce your risk of oral cancer.
Odds are if you have a case of lichen planus it isn’t causing you any problems. If it does cause you discomfort, though, you can take steps to ease your symptoms.
In our constant battle against infectious disease, the “enemy” is often too close for comfort: hospitals and other medical facilities must be ever vigilant against opportunistic infections their patients may contract while in their care.
Dental offices are no exception. Because even the simplest procedure — a dental cleaning, for example — may result in exposure, providers and patients alike face a possible health risk. We must be especially concerned with blood-borne viral infections — spread by person to person contact through blood — the most serious being hepatitis B and C, and HIV/AIDS.
Hepatitis is a viral inflammatory disease that disrupts the critical functions of the liver, particularly as it cleanses and regulates the blood, and cause serious bodily impairment or death. The virus can be transmitted when the blood from an infected person makes its way into the bloodstream of another person, mainly through cuts or a needle injection. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can lead to the chronic condition AIDS that destroys the body’s immune system; it spreads mainly through sexual contact, as well as through person to person blood contact.
The best defense against the spread of these diseases in dental offices or other healthcare settings is to eliminate as much as possible any opportunity for blood-to-blood contact. To accomplish this, all healthcare providers, including dentists, are mandated by federal, state and local authorities to incorporate and follow routine safety precautions. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues regularly updated comprehensive guidelines for protocols and procedures to disinfect and sterilize equipment and facilities.
We dentists and our clinical staffs are also mandated by state licensing boards to refresh our knowledge of infection control procedures through continuing education. Such procedures cover every aspect of infection control, from barrier protection — by way of gloves, masks or gowns — to instrument disinfection.
Protecting patients as well as providers from the spread of infection is one of our profession’s highest standards. As a result, incidents of infection among the 170,000 practicing dentists in the United States are rare. You can be assured, then, that we’re taking every precaution to keep you and your family safe from disease when you visit our office.
If you would like more information on dental office procedures to prevent the spread of infection, 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 “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
For most people, raising kids is an expensive proposition. (A recent estimate by the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts the average tab at almost a quarter of a million dollars before they turn 18.) But if you’ve been keeping up with parenting news lately, you may have come across an even more jaw-dropping fact: According to a survey by the Sunstar group, a maker of oral hygiene products, when the tooth fairy makes a pickup in New York City, she (or her parental surrogate) leaves an average of $13.25 per tooth!
That compares to $9.69 per tooth in Los Angeles, $5.85 in Chicago and $5.02 in Boston — and it’s a far higher rate than most other polls have shown. But it brings up a good question: What's a baby tooth really worth? Ask a dentist, and you may get an answer that surprises you: A lot more than that!
A child’s primary (baby) teeth usually begin coming in around the age of 6 to 9 months, and start making their exits about the time a child reaches six years; by the age of 10 – 13, they’re usually all gone. But even though they will not last forever, baby teeth are far from disposable — and they deserve the same conscientious care as adult teeth. Here’s why:
Primary teeth play the same important roles in kids’ mouths as permanent teeth do in the mouths of adults: they allow kids to bite and chew effectively, speak normally and smile brightly. Their proper functioning allows children to get good nutrition and develop positive social interactions as they grow toward adolescence — and those are things it’s difficult to put a price tag on.
But that’s not all baby teeth are good for. Each one of those little pearly-whites serves as a guide for the permanent tooth that will succeed it: It holds a space open in the jaw and doesn’t let go until the grown-up tooth is ready to erupt (emerge) from beneath the gums. If primary teeth are lost too soon, due to disease, decay or accidents, bite problems (malocclusions) can develop.
A malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) can result when permanent teeth don’t erupt in their proper locations. “Crowding” is a common type of malocclusion that can occur when baby teeth have been lost prematurely. The new, permanent teeth may come in too close together because neighboring teeth have shifted into the gap left by the prematurely lost tooth, creating an obstruction for the incoming teeth. In other cases, the permanent teeth may emerge in rotated or misplaced positions.
Bite problems make teeth harder to clean and thus more prone to disease; they may also cause embarrassment and social difficulties. The good news is that it’s generally possible to fix malocclusion: orthodontists do it every day. The bad news: It will almost certainly cost more than $13.25 per tooth. Alternatively, baby teeth in danger of being lost too soon can often be saved via root canal treatment or other procedures.
We’re not advocating giving big money to toddlers — but we do want to make a point: The tooth fairy’s payout: a few dollars. A lifetime of good checkups and bright smiles: incalculable.
Periodontal (gum) disease is the most likely cause of a loose, permanent tooth. This progressive infection causes damage to the gums and bone tissues that hold teeth in place, leading to looseness and ultimately tooth loss.
Gum disease, however, isn’t the only cause: although not as common, excessive biting forces over time may also lead to loose teeth. The excessive force stretches the periodontal ligaments that hold teeth in place, causing the teeth to become loose.
This condition is called occlusal trauma. In its primary form, the patient habitually grinds or clenches their teeth, or bites or chews on hard objects like pencils or nails. Generating 20-30 times the normal biting force, these habits can cause considerable damage. It can also be a factor when gum disease is present — supporting bone becomes so weakened by the disease, even normal biting forces can cause mobility.
If you recognize the early signs of grinding or clenching, particularly jaw soreness in the morning (since many instances of teeth grinding occur while we sleep), it’s important to seek treatment before teeth become loose. The symptoms are usually treated directly with muscle relaxants, an occlusal guard worn to soften the force when teeth bite down, or stress management, a major trigger for teeth grinding. The sooner you address the habit, the more likely you’ll avoid its consequences.
If, however, you’re already noticing a loose tooth, treatment must then focus on preserving the tooth. Initially, the tooth may need to be splinted, physically joined to adjacent teeth to hold it in place while damaged tissues heal. In some cases, minute amounts of enamel may need to be removed from the tooth’s biting surfaces to help the tooth better absorb biting forces. Other treatments, including orthodontics and gum disease treatment, may also be included in your treatment plan.
If you notice a loose tooth, it’s critical you contact us as soon as possible for an evaluation — if you delay you increase the chances of eventually losing it. The earlier you address it, the better your chances of preserving your tooth.
If you would like more information on loose teeth, 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 “Loose Teeth.”