We’ve come a long way since the early 1980s when we first identified the HIV virus. Although approximately 35 million people worldwide (including a million Americans) now have the virus, many are living relatively long and normal lives thanks to advanced antiretroviral drugs.
Still, HIV patients must remain vigilant about their health, especially their oral health. In fact, problems with the teeth, gums and other oral structures could be a sign the virus has or is moving into the full disease stage, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). That’s why you or a loved one with the virus should maintain regular dental checkups or see your dentist when you notice any oral abnormalities.
One of the most common conditions among HIV-positive patients is a fungal infection called candidiasis (or “thrush”). It may appear first as deep cracks at the corners of the mouth and then appear on the tongue and roof of the mouth as red lesions. The infection may also cause creamy, white patches that leave a reddened or bleeding surface when wiped.
HIV-positive patients may also suffer from reduced salivary flow. Because saliva helps neutralize excess mouth acid after we eat as well as limit bacterial growth, its absence significantly increases the risk of dental disease. One of the most prominent for HIV-positive patients is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection normally caused by dental plaque.
While gum disease is prevalent among people in general, one particular form is of grave concern to HIV-positive patients. Necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis (NUP) is characterized by spontaneous gum bleeding, ulcerations and a foul odor. The disease itself can cause loosening and eventually loss of teeth, but it’s also notable as a sign of a patient’s deteriorating immune system. The patient should not only undergo dental treatment (including antibiotics), but also see their primary care physician for updates in treating and managing their overall symptoms.
Above all, HIV-positive patients must be extra diligent about oral hygiene, including daily brushing and flossing. Your dentist may also recommend other measures like saliva stimulators or chlorhexidine mouthrinses to reduce the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Together, you should be able to reduce the effects of HIV-induced teeth and gum problems for a healthier mouth and better quality of life.
If you would like more information on oral care for HIV-AIDS patients, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
While out with friends one evening, you take a bite of ice cream. Suddenly, pain shoots through your teeth. It only lasts a second, but it's enough to ruin your good time.
This could be tooth sensitivity, a painful reaction to hot or cold foods. It often occurs when the enamel in prolonged contact with acid has eroded. Acid is a waste product of bacteria found in plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate brushing and flossing. Enamel normally mutes temperature or pressure sensation to the underlying dentin layer and nerves. Loss of enamel exposes the dentin and nerves to the full brunt of these sensations.
Sensitivity can also happen if your gums have shrunk back (receded) and exposed dentin below the enamel. Although over-aggressive brushing can often cause it, gum recession also happens because of periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection also arising from plaque.
The best way to avoid tooth sensitivity is to prevent enamel erosion or gum recession in the first place. Removing accumulated plaque through daily brushing and flossing is perhaps the most essential part of prevention, along with a nutritious diet low in sugar and regular dental cleanings and checkups.
It's also important to treat any dental disease that does occur despite your best hygiene efforts. Gum disease requires aggressive plaque removal, especially around the roots. While receded gum tissues often rebound after treatment, you may need gum grafting surgery to restore lost tissues if the gums have receded more deeply. For enamel erosion and any resulting decay you may need a filling, root canal treatment or a crown, depending on the depth and volume of structural damage.
While you're being treated you can also gain some relief from ongoing sensitivity by using a toothpaste with potassium nitrate or similar products designed to desensitize the dentin. Fluoride, a known enamel strengthener, has also been shown to reduce sensitivity. We can apply topical fluoride directly to tooth surfaces in the form of gels or varnishes.
Don't suffer through bouts of tooth sensitivity any more than you must. Visit us for a full exam and begin treatment to relieve you of the pain and stress.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Removing plaque, a bacterial film that builds up on teeth, daily is crucial in preventing dental disease, but is your brushing and flossing making enough of a difference?
Plaque forms every day in our mouths as a result of eating. The bacteria in it produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Certain strains can also infect the gums and cause periodontal (gum) disease. Either of these primary diseases could lead to tooth loss.
Daily plaque removal with brushing and flossing keeps bacteria growth under control, so a quick swish of your toothbrush across your teeth won't be enough. Plaque's soft, sticky consistency enables it to hide in hard to reach places below the gum line, irregular biting surfaces, or in fillings or other dental work.
Because it's virtually invisible, it's hard to tell if you've successfully removed it. That's where disclosing agents can help. These are solutions, swabs or tablets with a dye that temporarily stains plaque while not staining tooth surfaces. Dental hygienists use them to show patients where they're missing plaque when brushing and flossing, but you can also use them at home to see how you're doing between dental visits.
After brushing and flossing, use the disclosure product according to the package directions. If you're using a solution, for example, swish it around in your mouth for about thirty seconds and then spit it out. The dye reacts with leftover plaque to stain it a bright color. Some products even offer a two-tone dye that displays older plaque in a different color from newer plaque.
After noticing the dyed plaque in a mirror, brush and floss until you don't see it anymore. You may have to change your approach, which will help you perform better in the future. Although safe in the mouth, you should still avoid swallowing the agent or getting it on your clothes. Any on your lips, gums or tongue will eventually wear off in a few hours.
A disclosing agent gives you a snapshot of where you need to improve your oral hygiene. Occasional “spot checks” will help keep your brushing and flossing well tuned.
We’re all familiar with “naughty” and “nice” lists for food: “nice” items are beneficial or at least harmless; on the other hand, those on the “naughty” list are not and should be avoided. And processed sugar has had top billing on many people’s “naughty” list for some time now.
And for good reason: it’s linked to many physical ills including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. As a favorite food for oral bacteria that cause dental disease, sugar can also increase your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Most people agree that reducing sugar in their diet is a great idea health-wise. But there’s one small problem: a great many of us like sugar—a lot. No matter how hard we try, it’s just plain difficult to avoid. Thanks perhaps to our ancient ancestors, we’re hard-wired to crave it.
But necessity is the mother of invention, which is why we’ve seen the development over the past half century of artificial sweeteners, alternatives to sugar that promise to satisfy people’s “sweet tooth” without the harmful health effects. When it comes to dental health, these substitute sweeteners won’t contribute to bacterial growth and thus can lower disease risk.
But are they safe? Yes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency has approved six types of artificial sweeteners for human consumption: acesulfame K, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, sucralose and rebaudioside A. According to the FDA any adverse effects caused by artificial sweeteners are limited to rare conditions like phenylketonuria, which prevents those with the disease from safely digesting aspartame.
So, unless you have such a condition, you can safely substitute whatever artificial sweetener you prefer for sugar. And if dental health is a particular concern, you might consider including xylitol. This alcohol-based sweetener may further deter tooth decay—bacteria can’t digest it, so their population numbers in the mouth may actually decrease. You’ll find xylitol used as a sweetener primarily in gums, candies and mints.
Reducing sugar consumption, couple with daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, will certainly lower your risk of costly dental problems. Using a substitute sweetener might just help you do that.
If you would like more information on sweetener alternatives, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
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