Posts for category: Oral Health

WhatYouShoulddoAboutThisBizarreDrugSideEffect

Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.

But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."

It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.

We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.

While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.

One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.

If you would like more information on reactions to medication that might affect your oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

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.”

KeepanEyeonYourYoungChildrensFluorideIntake

We've known for a long time that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel against decay. We've also learned that fluoride consumption early in life pays later dividends with healthier teeth.

But while fluoride has generally proven safe, too much ingested by young children could cause enamel fluorosis. This condition produces a mottled or streaked appearance in teeth ranging from faint white patches to darker, pitted staining. Fluorosis doesn't harm teeth, but it does make them less attractive.

To prevent this, it may be necessary with your dentist's help to monitor your infant's or young child's fluoride intake and keep it in check. That will depend in large part on where you live, as well as your child's hygiene and eating habits.

Like three-quarters of public water systems, your local utility may be adding fluoride to your drinking water. The amount is governed by federal guidelines, which currently recommend fluoride amounts of no more than 0.70 parts per million of water. The fluoride levels in your water could have an impact on your child's total fluoride intake. You can find out for sure how much fluoride is present in your water by contacting your water utility company.

Another major fluoride source is toothpaste and other hygiene products. You can control your child's fluoride exposure by limiting the amount of toothpaste on their brush. Children under two only need a “smear,” while those between two and six need only a pea-sized amount.

Processed foods can contain fluoride if fluoridated water was used in their production. In this case, replace as much of the processed food items in your family's diet as you can with fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods.

Along this line, if you have an infant you want to pay particular attention to feeding formula, especially the powdered form you mix with water. If you're concerned about the amount of fluoride in your water consider other infant feeding options. Besides breast-feeding in lieu of formula, you can also use ready-to-feed pre-mixed with water (usually lower in fluoride) or mix powdered formula with bottled water specifically labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized,” or “distilled.”

This can be a lot to keep up with but your dentist can advise you. Fluoride is still a potent weapon against tooth decay and a safeguard on your child's current and future dental health.

If you would like more information on the relationship between fluoride and your child's 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”

The3TopIngredientsThatMakeYourToothpasteaSuperPlaqueBuster

Human beings have known for millennia the importance of keeping teeth clean. Although we've only come to more fully understand dental plaque's role in dental disease in the last century, our ancestors seemed to know instinctively this gritty biofilm on teeth had to go.

People from the past once used a variety of substances like ground oyster shells or leftover fire ashes to remove plaque from their teeth. Today, most of the world has replaced these substances with toothpaste, a mainstay of daily oral hygiene.

So, why is toothpaste better than other substances used in the ancient past? Besides the many other ingredients found in the typical tube of toothpaste, here are the top 3 that make it the ultimate tooth cleaner.

Abrasives. While your toothbrush does most of the mechanical work loosening plaque, toothpaste has ingredients called abrasives that give an added boost to your brushing action. The ideal abrasive is strong enough to remove plaque, but not enough to damage tooth enamel. If you look at your toothpaste's ingredient list, you'll probably see an abrasive like hydrated silica (made from sand), hydrated alumina, calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphates.

Detergents. Your toothpaste's foaming action is a sign of a detergent, which helps loosen and break down non-soluble (not dissolvable with plain water) food substances. While similar to what you may use to wash your clothes or dishes, toothpaste detergents are much milder, the most common being sodium lauryl sulfate found in many cosmetic items. If you have frequent canker sores, though, sodium lauryl sulfate can cause irritation, so look for a toothpaste with a different detergent.

Fluoride. The enamel strengthening power of fluoride was one of the greatest discoveries in dental care history. Although not all toothpastes contain it, choosing one with fluoride can improve your enamel health and help protect you from tooth decay.

These and other ingredients like binders, preservatives and flavorings, all go in to make toothpaste the teeth-cleaning, disease-fighting product we've all come to depend upon. Used as part of daily oral hygiene, toothpaste can help brighten and freshen your smile, and keep your teeth and gums healthy.

If you would like more information on using the right toothpaste, 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?

TestYoureBrushingandFlossingSuccesswithaPlaqueDisclosingAgent

Brushing and flossing your teeth provides a lot of benefits, including a brighter smile and fresher breath. But the primary benefit—and ultimate goal—is removing dental plaque. This biofilm of bacteria and food remnants on tooth and gum surfaces is the number one cause for dental disease.

Brushing and flossing can effectively keep plaque under control. Unfortunately, plaque can be a stubborn foe, hiding in areas easily missed if you're not thorough enough.

So how do you know you're doing a good job brushing and flossing? One quick way is to use your tongue or dental floss to feel for any grittiness, a possible sign of remaining plaque. Ultimately, your dentist or hygienist can give you the best evaluation of your hygiene efforts during your three or six-month checkup.

But there's another way to find out more definitively how well you're removing plaque in between dental visits: a plaque disclosing agent. These over-the-counter products contain a dye solution that stains plaque so it stands out from clean tooth surfaces.

A disclosing agent, which can come in the form of tablets, swabs or a liquid, is easy to use. After brushing and flossing, you apply the agent according to the product's directions. The dye reacts with plaque to stain it a distinct color. You may also find products with two-tone dyes that stain older and newer plaque different colors to better gauge your overall effectiveness.

You then examine your teeth in the bathroom mirror, looking especially for patterns of missed plaque. For example, if you see dyed plaque running along the gum line, you'll know you need to concentrate your hygiene there.

After observing what you can do to improve your future efforts, you can then brush and floss your teeth to remove as much of the dyed plaque as you can. The staining from the dye is temporary and any remaining will fade over a few hours.

Using a disclosing agent regularly could help you improve your overall hygiene technique and reduce your risk of disease. Ask your dentist for recommendations on products.

If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”