Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) jolted our collective consciousness in the 1980s. The deadly disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) had no known cure and, at the time, no effective treatment.
HIV is a retrovirus, a virus with a genetic makeup and reproduction system differing from other kinds. After taking up permanent residency in the body, HIV begins “hijacking” the replication process of cells in the body's immune system and replacing it with a copy of its own. This destroys the cells' ability to protect the body from hostile organisms. As the virus affects more and more cells, the patient's condition ultimately develops into AIDS.
An estimated 35 million people worldwide (1.2 million in the U.S.) are currently infected with the virus. Thanks to new antiretroviral drugs, though, HIV can be kept from accelerating into AIDS. While their condition remains serious, many HIV positive patients can now live long and relatively normal lives. Even so, having the virus requires them to pay close attention to their health, including their mouth.
Even while stalled from becoming AIDS, HIV can still cause oral problems for 30 to 80% of patients. The fungal infection candidiasis (also known as thrush) is the most common of these problems, which appears as lesions, cracking skin or creamy white patches on the tongue or palate that easily bleed. Patients also have higher risks for dry mouth, oral cancer and periodontal (gum) disease.
HIV positive patients must practice diligent daily oral care and see their dentist for checkups regularly. Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment can keep gum disease and other damaging conditions under control. Monitoring oral health is also important because certain mouth conditions could be an early sign the infection is entering a new advanced stage in the body that requires additional attention.
Keeping vigilant in all aspects of health is a way of life for someone with HIV. Such vigilance, though, can help them maintain a healthy mouth and even prolong their life.
Tooth sensitivity can be disheartening: you’re always on your guard with what you eat or drink, and perhaps you’ve even given up on favorite foods or beverages.
The most common cause for this painful sensitivity is dentin exposure caused by receding gums. Dentin contains tiny open structures called tubules that transmit changes in temperature or pressure to the nerves in the pulp, which in turn signal pain to the brain. The enamel that covers the dentin, along with the gum tissues, creates a barrier between the environment and dentin to prevent it from becoming over-stimulated.
Due to such causes as aggressive over-brushing or periodontal (gum) disease, the gum tissues can recede from the teeth. This exposes portions of the dentin not covered by enamel to the effects of hot or cold. The result is an over-stimulation of the dentin when encountering normal environmental conditions.
So, what can be done to relieve painful tooth sensitivity? Here are 3 ways to stop or minimize the symptoms.
Change your brushing habits. As mentioned, brushing too hard and/or too often can contribute to gum recession. The whole purpose of brushing (and flossing) is to remove bacterial plaque that’s built up on tooth surfaces; a gentle action with a soft brush is sufficient. Anything more than two brushings a day is usually too much — you should also avoid brushing just after consuming acidic foods or liquids to give saliva time to neutralize acid and restore minerals to the enamel.
Include fluoride in your dental care. Fluoride has been proven to strengthen enamel. Be sure, then, to use toothpastes and other hygiene products that contain fluoride. With severe sensitivity you may also benefit from a fluoride varnish applied by a dentist to your teeth that not only strengthens enamel but also provides a barrier to exposed dentin.
Seek treatment for dental disease. Tooth sensitivity is often linked to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Treating dental disease may include plaque removal, gum surgery to restore receded gums, a filling to remove decay or root canal therapy when the decay gets to the tooth pulp. These treatments could all have an effect on reducing or ending your tooth sensitivity.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for sensitive 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 “Tooth Sensitivity.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
The American marketplace usually offers us plenty of buying choices — sometimes it seems too many. A case in point: the toothpaste aisle at your local supermarket.
It can be a bit overwhelming with all the razzle-dazzle packaging and exciting claims of “Whiter Teeth!” or “Fresher Breath!” But toothpaste really isn't that complicated, if you keep in mind its primary goal: to help you with your toothbrush remove disease-causing plaque from teeth surfaces.
And the vast majority can, thanks to ingredients you'll find in just about every brand. All toothpastes, for example, contain some form of abrasive material that boosts the mechanical action of brushing to remove plaque. This isn't new: the ancient Egyptians used ox-hoof ashes, burnt eggshells and pumice as abrasives. Today you'll find hydrated silica (originating from sand), hydrated alumina or calcium carbonate as abrasives on the ingredient list.
You also need some form of detergent to help loosen and break down substances that won't dissolve in water. Toothpaste detergent is much milder than that which you use on your dishes. The most common is sodium lauryl sulfate, a foaming agent found in shampoo and other beauty products. It's been used safely for half a century in toothpaste, although it can irritate the inner linings of some people's mouths. If this is a problem for you, you should look for toothpaste with a different detergent.
There is also a myriad of other ingredients, including binders, humectants (which help the toothpaste retain moisture) and flavorings. You may also find bleaching agents that help brighten your teeth, although they may not be strong enough to remove deep staining, something we would need to help you with.
And let's not forget one other frequent ingredient: fluoride. This natural chemical strengthens enamel and helps fight tooth decay as part of a disease prevention strategy. It's perhaps the most valuable ingredient you'll find in toothpaste, so make sure it's in your chosen brand.
If you want to simplify your decision, choose toothpaste with the seal of acceptance from the American Dental Association. The seal indicates the claims of the toothpaste manufacturer have been independently verified. You can trust those brands to help keep your teeth clean and free from disease. In the end, that's really what you want from your toothpaste.
If you would like more information on the right toothpaste for you, 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 “Toothpaste: What's in it?”
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
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