Shingles is a painful viral infection that could potentially recur in sufferers for years. It causes painful skin rashes, general nerve pain, fever and fatigue. In extreme cases, it can cause blindness if the eyes become infected. And because it’s highly contagious, it could affect your dental treatment.
Formally known as herpes zoster, shingles is a recurrent form of chicken pox. If you contracted chicken pox in childhood, the shingles virus could lay dormant for several years. In fact, most people who contract shingles are over 50.
Because it acutely affects the nerves around the skin, the disease’s most common symptom is a belted or striped rash pattern that often appears on one side of the body and frequently on the head, neck or face. While the severity of symptoms may vary among patients, shingles can be a significant health threat to certain people, especially pregnant women, cancer patients or individuals with compromised immune systems.
In its early stages, the shingles virus can easily pass from person to person, either by direct contact with the rash or by airborne secretions that others can inhale. Because it’s highly contagious, even a routine teeth cleaning could potentially spread the virus to dental staff or other patients. Because of the significant health threat it potentially poses to some people, your dental provider may decline to treat you if you’re showing symptoms of the disease.
To stay ahead of this, let your dentist know you’re experiencing a shingles episode if you have an upcoming dental appointment, in which case you may need to reschedule. In the meantime, you should seek medical attention from your physician who may prescribe antiviral medication. Starting it within 3 days of a shingles outbreak can significantly reduce your pain and discomfort as well as its contagiousness.
And if you’re over sixty or at risk for shingles, consider getting the shingles vaccine. This readily available vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease and could help you avoid the pain and disruption this viral infection can bring to your life.
Although naturally resilient, your teeth still face some significant dangers. Tooth decay and gum disease, “enemies” within the mouth, can severely damage your teeth and eventually lead to their loss.
But there are also external dangers just as devastating — traumatic injuries that can happen in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, we can treat even the most serious of these injuries and increase the chances of an injured tooth’s survival.
Here are some of those common dental injuries:
Chipped or Fractured Teeth. This is a case where a part of the tooth has been broken but it’s still firmly rooted in the mouth. If small portions of the enamel or dentin (the next underlying layer of the tooth) have been chipped, we may be able to reattach them or fill the affected tooth area with a natural-colored filling (larger broken portions may require a complete crown). If the damage has injured or exposed the inner pulp, a root canal treatment might be in order to prevent infection and reduce pain.
Dislocated (Luxated) Teeth. A dislocation occurs when the impact moves the tooth in an abnormal way in the socket. We must first reposition the tooth and, if need be, stabilize it by splinting it to neighboring teeth. This type of injury may also require a root canal treatment.
Knocked out (Avulsed) Teeth. It’s quite possible to replant a knocked out tooth — if you act quickly. Without touching the root, the tooth should be rinsed with cold, clean water and then placed into the empty socket within five minutes of the injury. If placement isn’t possible, the tooth should be placed in a container with milk or with some of the injured person’s collected saliva (to keep the root from drying out), and sent with the injured person to treatment. We need to see the injured person as soon as possible to make sure the tooth is repositioned properly and take other measures to protect it. We’ll also need to monitor it for proper healing for awhile.
Although some injuries may be too severe to save a traumatized tooth, seeking immediate treatment certainly increases the chances for survival. If you or a family member experiences such an injury, keep calm and contact us immediately.
If you would like more information on treating dental injuries, 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 “Trauma & Nerve Damage to Teeth.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
You have a great smile: beautiful white teeth all perfectly aligned. But unbeknownst to you, periodontal (gum) disease might even now be damaging your gum tissues, setting the stage for future tooth and bone loss — and a ruined smile.
While it’s easy to miss the early stage of this disease caused by bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces, there are a few signs if you pay close attention. Bleeding gums after moderate brushing or flossing could indicate normally resilient gum tissues have begun to weaken. You may also notice a slight redness and swelling around the margins of the gums and a bad taste or breath. As it progresses, you may experience painful abscesses (infected pockets that develop between the gums and tooth) and loose teeth, a late sign of tissue detachment and bone loss. If you are a smoker, nicotine reduces swelling and bleeding of the gums, removing signs you have a disease. If you smoke, you need to see your dentist regularly.
While renewed daily oral hygiene is important for stopping gum disease, you may also need professional care to bring it under control. The main treatment calls for the manual removal of plaque and calculus (hardened deposits of plaque) that are sustaining the infection. Dentists and hygienists both can perform scaling, which removes plaque and calculus at or just below the gum line, and root planing to clean accessible root surfaces.
In more advanced cases, though, you may need the services of a periodontist, a specialist in treating diseased or injured gums, bone and other connective tissues that support the teeth. They’re also skilled in more advanced treatments like gum flap surgery that more fully exposes a tooth’s root area for plaque and calculus (or tartar) removal, or tissue grafting procedures that improve the health and appearance of damaged gums.
If you suspect you have gum disease, the place to start is with your family dentist. They can determine if your case will respond to basic scaling, root planing or antibiotic treatment. If the disease appears more advanced or with complications, they will most likely refer you to a periodontist for treatment.
If you’ve already seen bleeding, swelling or redness, see your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment for any case of gum disease, the less likely it will lead to the loss not only of your teeth but your beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease, 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
Fatigue, a “foggy” mind, and irritability are all signs you’re not getting enough sleep—and neither might your sleeping partner from your continuous snoring. You might have a common form of sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) known as obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes obstructed (usually by the tongue), resulting in a lack of oxygen. The body rouses from sleep just enough to correct the obstruction. This can occur and interrupt deep sleep several times a night, causing the aforementioned problems as well as personality changes, high blood pressure or increased stomach acid reflux. If the problem persists, sleep apnea could also become a long-term factor in the development of heart disease, diabetes or other serious conditions.
Fortunately, we can do something about it. While some may require more invasive intervention, most cases of sleep apnea can be alleviated through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. In this therapy, an electrical pump supplies pressurized air into a face mask worn while sleeping. The increased air pressure helps to keep the airway open.
For some patients, however, CPAP can cause discomfort like claustrophobia, nasal congestion and dryness. If that’s a concern for you, you might want to consider an oral appliance provided by your dentist.
Customized to your own individual mouth contours, this appliance is usually a two-part hinged device that draws the lower jaw and the tongue forward to open the airway. Easily adjustable, these appliances are usually more comfortable to wear than a CPAP and don’t require electricity or have the attendant noise of a CPAP pump.
They do, however, have a few drawbacks: they can disrupt saliva flow, causing either too much or too little; they may result in some morning soreness; and they can stimulate unnecessary tooth or jaw movements. For most, though, these side effects are minor compared to a better night’s sleep.
If you suspect you may have some form of SRBD, you’ll need to have it confirmed through a physical examination and possibly sleep lab testing. If it is sleep apnea, your physician and dentist can work together to help you find the right therapy to regain the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
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