In the early Eighties, dentists began noticing symptoms among a few patients that indicated something far more serious. They were, in fact, among the first healthcare providers to recognize what we now know as HIV-AIDS.
Today, about 1.2 million Americans have contracted the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). It’s a retrovirus, somewhat different than other viruses: it can invade immune system cells and hijack their replication mechanism to reproduce itself. Untreated it eventually destroys these cells to give rise to the more serious, life-threatening disease Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Thanks to antiretroviral drugs, most HIV positive patients live somewhat normal lives and avoid the more serious Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). But while antiretroviral therapy effectively inhibits the action of the virus, it isn’t a cure — the virus is a permanent resident of the body and can still affect health, especially in the mouth.
In this regard, one of the more common conditions associated with HIV is Candidiasis, a fungal infection also known as thrush, which causes cracking of the mouth corners and lesions or white patches on the surface of the tongue or roof of the mouth. HIV patients may also experience limited saliva flow that causes dry mouth (xerostomia) with effects that range from bad breath to a higher risk of tooth decay.
The most serious effect, though, of HIV on oral health is the body’s lower resistance to fight periodontal (gum) disease. HIV patients are especially susceptible to a severe form known as Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis (NUP), a sign as well of immune system deterioration and the beginning of AIDS. This painful condition causes gum ulcerations, extensive bleeding, and the rapid deterioration of gum attachment to teeth.
If you or a family member is HIV positive, you’ll need to pay close attention to oral health. Besides diligent brushing and flossing, you or they should also regularly visit the dentist. These visits not only provide diagnosis and treatment of dental problems, they’re also an important monitoring point for gauging the extent of the HIV infection.
Taking care of dental problems will also ease some of the discomfort associated with HIV. Thanks to proper oral care, you or someone you love can experience a higher quality of life.
Losing teeth to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease is never easy. But with implant-supported bridgework, you can regain lost function and appearance with a restoration that could last for many years.
Don’t think, though, that dental disease woes are a thing of the past with your new implants. Although your restoration itself can’t be infected, the supporting gums and underlying bone can, often through bacterial plaque accumulating around the implants. The bone that supports the implants could deteriorate, dramatically increasing your chances of losing your restoration.
It’s essential, then, that you keep the area between the bridge and gums clean of plaque through daily hygiene. This definitely includes flossing around the implants.
Flossing with an implant-supported bridge will be different than with natural teeth: instead of flossing between teeth you’ll need to thread the floss between the bridge and gums. Although this is a bit more difficult, it can be done with the help of a floss threader, a device with a loop on one end and a long, thin plastic point on the other—similar to a sewing needle.
To use it, thread about 18” of floss through the loop and then pass the threader’s thin end first through the space between the bridge and gums toward the tongue until the floss threader pulls through. You can then take hold of one end of the floss and then pull the threader completely out from beneath the bridge. Then, you wrap the ends around your fingers as you would normally and thoroughly floss the implant surfaces you’re accessing. You then release one end of the floss, pull out the remainder, rethread it in the threader and repeat the process in the next space between implants.
You also have other hygiene tool options: prefabricated floss with stiffened ends that thread through the bridge-gum space that you can use very easily; or you can purchase an interproximal brush that resembles a pipe cleaner with thin plastic bristles to access the space and brush around the implants.
Some patients also find an oral irrigator, a handheld device that sprays a pressurized stream of water to loosen and flush away plaque, to be an effective way of keeping this important area clean. But that said, oral irrigators generally aren’t as effective removing dental plaque as are floss or interproximal brushes.
Whatever flossing method you choose, the important thing is to choose one and practice it every day. By keeping bacterial plaque from building up around your implants, you’ll help ensure you won’t lose your restoration to disease, so it can continue to serve you for many years to come.
Your regular dental checkups should periodically include an important screening for oral cancer, especially as you grow older. Although oral cancers make up less than 3% of all other types, they’re among the most deadly with a 58% survival rate after five years.
Besides hereditary factors, oral cancer is strongly linked to tobacco use, alcohol abuse or diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a greater concern as we age: 90% of new cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40, heightening the need for regular screenings. These screenings become all the more important because many early sores or lesions can mimic other conditions like canker sores — without early detection, the disease could already be in advanced stages when it’s diagnosed.
An oral screening for cancer involves both sight and touch. We’ll first look for any suspicious lesions and red or white patches in the soft tissues of the face, neck, lips and mouth. We’ll then feel for any abnormal lumps on the mouth floor, the sides of the neck and in gland locations. We’ll also examine all sides of the tongue including underneath, as well as the tissues lining the back of your throat.
If we notice anything that’s concerning we may then perform a biopsy by removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue and have it examined microscopically for the presence of cancer cells. We may also remove any lesions deemed pre-cancerous as an added precaution against possible cancer development.
The American Cancer Society recommends an oral cancer screening annually for people forty years or older and every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 39. Even better, we recommend all adults undergo a screening every year. This, along with ending tobacco use and other lifestyle and dietary changes, will greatly improve your chances of remaining free of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on detecting and treating oral cancer, 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 “Oral Cancer.”
Mayim Bialik has spent a good part of her life in front of TV cameras: first as the child star of the hit comedy series Blossom, and more recently as Sheldon Cooper’s love interest — a nerdy neuroscientist — on The Big Bang Theory. (In between, she actually earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA…but that’s another story.) As a child, Bialik had a serious overbite — but with all her time on camera, braces were just not an option.
“I never had braces,” she recently told Dear Doctor – Dentistry & Oral Health magazine. “I was on TV at the time, and there weren’t a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.” Instead, her orthodontist managed to straighten her teeth using retainers and headgear worn only at night.
Today, there are several virtually invisible options available to fix orthodontic issues — and you don’t have to be a child star to take advantage of them. In fact, both children and adults can benefit from these unobtrusive appliances.
Tooth colored braces are just like traditional metal braces, with one big difference: The brackets attached to teeth are made from a ceramic material that blends in with the natural color of teeth. All that’s visible is the thin archwire that runs horizontally across the teeth — and from a distance it’s hard to notice. Celebs like Tom Cruise and Faith Hill opted for this type of appliance.
Clear aligners are custom-made plastic trays that fit over the teeth. Each one, worn for about two weeks, moves the teeth just a bit; after several months, you’ll see a big change for the better in your smile. Best of all, clear aligners are virtually impossible to notice while you’re wearing them — which you’ll need to do for 22 hours each day. But you can remove them to eat, or for special occasions. Zac Efron and Katherine Heigl, among others, chose to wear clear aligners.
Lingual braces really are invisible. That’s because they go behind your teeth (on the tongue side), where they can’t be seen; otherwise they are similar to traditional metal braces. Lingual braces are placed on teeth differently, and wearing them often takes some getting used to at first. But those trade-offs are worth it for plenty of people. Which celebs wore lingual braces? Rumor has it that the list includes some top models, a well-known pop singer, and at least one British royal.
So what’s the best way to straighten your teeth and keep the orthodontic appliances unnoticeable? Just ask us! We’d be happy to help you choose the option that’s just right for you. You’ll get an individualized evaluation, a solution that fits your lifestyle — and a great-looking smile!
For more information about hard-to-see (or truly invisible) orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “Clear Aligners for Teenagers.”
Modern life can be demanding. The body helps us rise to the occasion through responses we collectively call stress.
But while stress can be a good thing, it can also overwhelm us and manifest in some harmful way: bouts of back pain, stomach ulcers or even acne. It could also trigger tooth grinding, often occurring as we sleep. And like other stress relievers, tooth grinding can be detrimental to your health long term.
Teeth-on-teeth contact occurs normally when we eat or speak, or simply as our jaws contact each other with glancing touches hundreds if not thousands of times a day. Such normal contact is beneficial because it stimulates healthy bone growth in the jaw. But if the forces created exceed the normal range as with tooth grinding (up to ten times), it can cause a bevy of problems to the teeth and jaws.
While excessive jaw motion during teeth grinding can cause inflammation and painful spasms in the muscles, the greater danger is to the teeth, which could even fracture from the high amount of force. The more common occurrence, though, is an increased rate of enamel erosion, which causes the tooth to lose vital structure and eventually appear shorter in appearance.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce teeth grinding or its severity. The first order of business is to treat its effects by reducing its symptoms and ongoing damage. We can recommend some behavior modification techniques to alter the frequency of the habit or a night guard to protect the teeth from the intensity of the habit if you’re unable to change the behavior.
A custom-fitted night or occlusal guard, a retainer-like dental appliance made of smooth acrylic plastic is designed so that the lower teeth glide over the guard surface when grinding and can’t make solid contact with the upper teeth. This reduces the generated force and helps protect the teeth.
In the long term, though, you should address the root cause — how you’re handling daily stress. Treatment by a psychotherapist or counselor, for example, could help you develop ways to channel stress in more productive ways.
However your treatment strategy develops, it’s important to address stress and teeth grinding as soon as possible. Controlling it will have long-term benefits for your teeth and smile.
If you would like more information on dealing with stress that causes tooth grinding, 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 “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
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