If you had chicken pox as a child, you're at higher risk for a painful viral infection later in life called shingles. Besides a painful skin rash and other symptoms that can develop, shingles could also affect your dental care.
About 90% of children contract chicken pox, a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which usually clears up on its own. But later in life, usually after age 50, about a quarter to a third of chicken pox patients will develop shingles.
The onset of shingles usually produces an itching or burning sensation on the skin that's either numb or overly sensitive to the touch. A red rash may ensue with crusty lesions, accompanied sometimes by pain, fever and fatigue. The rash often forms a belt-like or striped pattern along one side of the face or body.
For most patients this painful rash is the extent of their symptoms. But women who are pregnant, patients undergoing cancer treatment or people with compromised immune systems are at risk for more serious complications if they contract the disease. It's important for these at-risk patients to obtain a vaccination, as well as avoid contact with anyone with shingles.
Which brings us to your dental care: in its early stages shingles can be contagious, the virus passing to others through skin contact or by airborne respiratory secretions. That's why it's important if you're currently experiencing a shingles episode that you let us know before undergoing any kind of dental work.Â Even a routine teeth cleaning with an ultrasonic device could disrupt the virus and increase the chances of it spreading to someone else. We may need to postpone dental work until the virus is under control.
Antiviral drugs like acyclovir or famciclovir are highly effective in bringing the disease under control, especially if treatment starts within three days of the onset of symptoms. And don't forget the shingles vaccination: the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends it for anyone 60 or older regardless of a past history with chicken pox.
See your physician as soon as possible if you begin to notice symptoms. Don't let shingles interfere with your life — or your dental care.
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Good nutrition is essential for your child's developing teeth and gums as well as the rest of their body. You do what you can to provide them not just nutritious meals but also healthy snacks for other times of the day.
But once they begin school, you can't watch out for them all the time. They could be away several hours where they might be tempted to make unhealthy snack choices.
What can you do to lessen their chances of unhealthy snacking at school?
Engage with the school and their snack offerings. A set of U.S. Department of Agriculture regulatory guidelines called Smart Snacks in Schools sets minimum nutritional standards for snacks offered on school grounds. These guidelines promote whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and limit calories, fat, salt and, of particular importance to dental health, sugar. The guidelines, though, are only a minimum, so join with other parents to encourage your school to exceed those snack nutrition minimums whenever possible.
Educate your child about nutrition. Good nutrition starts at home: it's important not only to offer wholesome foods but to also teach your child why some foods are better for their body (and their teeth) than others. By encouraging a lifestyle of healthy eating both in practice and knowledge, you'll find it easier to set limits on their snack choices away from home.
Send snacks with them to school. If you're unsure your child will make the right choices, especially if they're young, than send snacks with them to school. Be sure, though, what you're sending is as appealing as the school choices. Try a little creativity: popcorn with a zing of cinnamon or cheese; decorative snacks; or easy to eat bite-sized fruit or vegetables. The more they like what you're sending, the less likely they'll choose something else.
In some ways snacking could be the Achilles' heel in providing your child the right foods for good dental health. By following the tips above, though, you can help raise the chances they'll eat the best snacks for strong teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on nutrition 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 “Snacking at School.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
You might see your teeth and gums as separate parts of your mouth. But we dentists see them as a unified biological system, each of them contributing to your mouth's various functions: eating, speaking and, of course, smiling.
The teeth-gum-mouth relationship is also a factor when things aren't going well. Tooth decay, for example, doesn't suddenly appear — conditions have to be present in the mouth to cause it. The same can be said for periodontal (gum) disease or bite problems.
So the best approach in dental care is to consider the whole — to first learn all we can about your mouth. We need to understand not only your current problems but also your health history and the unique features of your mouth. With this deeper understanding we can formulate a long-term plan that addresses all your individual needs.
We specifically want to identify your individual oral health risks, from your genetic makeup to any past problems with dental disease or the bite. We then want to assess your current state of health: do you have any presence of dental disease? Is any past dental work failing or in need of updating? Are there any biomechanical issues with the bite or bone loss that need to be addressed?
With this more complete picture, we can then prioritize your care and treatment. Some things like gum disease require immediate attention. Other areas such as bite problems or cosmetic issues may require planning and time to fully address. Our aim, though, is to eventually bring you to as high a level of health as your individual situation will permit.
Once we've achieved an acceptable level of health, our aim is to then maintain that level. This includes monitoring for changes in your oral health and intervening when necessary.
As you can see, establishing a care strategy is only the beginning — and care will always be ongoing. In fact, we'll need to modify your care as new issues arise or you experience the effects of aging. Our end goal, however, always remains the same — to help you achieve and keep the most healthy and attractive mouth possible.
If you would like more information on getting the most from your 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 “Successful Dental Treatment: Getting the Best Possible Results.”
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