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.
Occurrences of obesity and Type 2 diabetes have soared in the last few decades. While there are a number of influencing factors, health officials place most of the blame on one of our favorite foods: sugar. Only a generation ago we were consuming an annual average of 4 pounds per person. Now, it's nearly 90 pounds.
We've long known that sugar, a favorite food not only for humans but also oral bacteria, contributes to dental disease. But we now have even more to concern us—the effect of increased sugar consumption on health in general.
It's time we took steps to rein in our favorite carbohydrate. Easier said than done, of course—not only is it hard to resist, it's also hard to avoid. With its steady addition over the years to more and more processed foods, nearly 77% of the products on grocery store shelves contain some form of sugar.
Here's what you can do, though, to reduce sugar in your diet and take better care of your dental and general health.
Be alert to added sugar in processed foods. To make wiser food choices, become familiar with the U.S.-mandated ingredient listing on food product packaging—it tells if any sugar has been added and how much. You should also become acquainted with sugar's many names like "sucrose" or "high fructose corn syrup," and marketing claims like "low fat" that may mean the producer has added sugar to improve taste.
Avoid sodas and other prepared beverages. Some of the highest sources for added sugar are sodas, sports drinks, teas or juice. You may be surprised to learn you could consume your recommended daily amount of sugar in one can of soda. Substitute sugary beverages with unsweetened drinks or water.
Exercise your body—and your voice. Physical activity, even the slightest amount, helps your body metabolize the sugar you consume. And speaking of activity, exercise your right to have your voice heard by your elected officials in support of policy changes toward less sugar additives in food products.
Becoming an informed buyer, disciplined consumer and proactive citizen are the most important ingredients for stopping this destructive health epidemic. Your teeth—and the rest of your body—will thank you.
If you would like more information on the effects of sugar on dental and general 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 “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
You may be among the one in three Americans who suffer from the pain of tooth sensitivity. Before attempting treatment, though, we must first identify the cause.
Your teeth are made of layers of different organic tissue. The pulp at the center of the tooth contains nerves that transmit pain or pressure sensation to the brain. The pulp is encased by dentin, a layer of tissue composed of tiny tubules that conduct temperature and pressure changes from outside the tooth to the pulp nerves. The hard outer enamel shell shields the dentin from over-stimulation from these sensations.
There are, however, some instances where the dentin may become exposed and cause sensitivity in the tooth. This can occur when the gum tissue recedes and the root of the tooth is exposed to the oral environment. If the root loses its surface coating (referred to as cementum, a cement-like outer layer around the root surfaces) because of over-aggressive brushing (too hard for too long) or advanced periodontal (gum) disease, sensitivity is often the result.
Another instance is enamel erosion. Although made of the hardest substance in the human body, enamel has one major enemy — acid. A high oral acid level brought on by over-consuming acidic foods and beverages or as a symptom of gastric reflux disease dissolves (de-mineralizes) the enamel’s mineral content. Brushing just after eating actually contributes to de-mineralization because the enamel is in a softer state. It requires forty-five minutes to an hour for your saliva to neutralize acid and restore minerals to the enamel — you may actually be brushing away enamel with this practice.
Once we know the underlying cause, we can use an appropriate method to reduce sensitivity. One way is to reduce nerve sensitivity in the dentin’s tubules or block them altogether. There are several chemical products for both home and dental office application that can reduce sensitivity and encourage enamel re-mineralization (as can the fluoride added to toothpaste). We can also strengthen enamel and provide a mechanical barrier to acid through concentrated fluoride in a varnish applied to tooth and root surfaces. And, life-like restorations like crowns or veneers not only improve the appearance of your teeth, they can also provide coverage for exposed dentin.
If you are experiencing painful sensitivity, make an appointment to visit us. Once we know the source, we can treat the problem and reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity and how to treat it, 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.”
Starting college is one of life’s biggest transition moments, the first time many young people can truly say they’re on their own. Their freshman year can be both exhilarating and frightening.
The reason for this seeming dichotomy is that both exciting opportunities and harmful pitfalls abound in college life. One such pitfall that’s often overlooked involves dental health: it’s all too easy to neglect good habits and adopt bad ones. But while it may not seem as harmful as other dangers, inattention to your dental health could create consequences that plague you long after graduation.
But being diligent about dental care can help you avoid serious problems now and in the future. At the top of the list: brush and floss your teeth daily and continue seeing a dentist at least twice a year. Hopefully, your parents or guardians have trained you in these vital habits—and they’re definitely habits you should continue for the rest of your life.
Close in importance to good oral hygiene is a healthy diet. Besides eating primarily “natural” food—fresh fruits and vegetables and less-processed foods—you should also set limits on your sugar consumption. This carbohydrate is a primary food for disease-causing bacteria, so limiting as much as possible the sugar you eat to just meal times will lower your risk for tooth decay.
Another area in which you should tread wisely is alcohol consumption. Besides the obvious consequences of alcohol abuse, immoderate drinking can also cause dental problems. Alcohol (and smoking) tends to dry out the mouth, which can increase the levels of oral bacteria and in turn increase your risk of both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, avoid getting piercings involving the lips, mouth or tongue even if it’s the thing to do. Piercing hardware can chip teeth and contribute to the shrinking back of the gums (recession). And be sure you practice safe sex: unprotected sexual activity could expose you to viral infections that cause oral problems including cancer.
Your college years should be an exciting and memorable experience. By practicing these and other common sense dental habits, you’ll be sure to remember these years fondly.
If you would like more information on dental care during college, 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
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