Posts for category: Oral Health
Over the last few months, federal, state and local officials have taken extraordinary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, some of these measures are beginning to ease. But for many of us, lingering concerns about exposure to the virus will continue to affect our daily lives—including routine activities like dental visits.
We may be asking the question “Is it safe?” for our everyday activities for some time to come. But in regard to seeing your dentist, the answer to that question is an unequivocal “Yes.” That's due not only to enhanced precautions put in place because of COVID-19, but also to longstanding practices in the dental profession to minimize the chances of infection.
In recognition this June of National Safety Month, we'd like to put your mind at ease that resuming dental care won't put you at undue risk of COVID-19 or any other infectious disease. Here's how:
Protocols. Everything we do to protect patients and staff from infection is part of an overall plan. This isn't optional: Both governments and professional organizations require it of every dental practitioner. Our plan, based on best practices for infection control, details the procedures we'll use to keep everyone involved in dental treatment, including you, safe from infection.
Barriers. Wearing masks, gloves or other protective equipment isn't a new practice arising from the current crisis—barrier protection has been a critical part of infection control protocols for many years. Rest assured that even during the most routine dental procedures, our staff will wear appropriate barrier equipment to reduce the possibility of infection during treatment.
Disinfection. Viruses and other infectious agents can live for some time on surfaces. To close this possible route of infection, we clean all clinical surfaces between patient visits with approved disinfectants. Instruments and equipment are thoroughly sterilized after each use. And any waste generated during treatment is separated from common waste and disposed of carefully following hazardous waste removal protocols.
It may be a slow return to many aspects of life we once took for granted. Your dental care doesn't have to be one of them. We were prepared before this crisis, and we'll continue to be prepared when it's over to keep you safe from infection.
If you would like more information about dental office safety, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Infection Control in the Dental Office” and “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
Looking in the mirror, you probably focus on your teeth and gums—i.e., your smile. Your dentist, though, will take the time to look deeper into your mouth, searching for anything out of the ordinary. That could be a type of mouth sore known as lichen planus.
Lichen planus are lesions that can appear on skin or mucus membranes, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their resemblance to lichens, a fungus found on trees or rocks (although the sore itself isn't fungi). As such, they often have a lacy pattern of lines emanating from purplish bumps.
Again, the first indication you have such a condition may come from your dentist. Sometimes, though, you may notice greater sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods and, if the gums are affected, irritation when you eat or brush.
If you find out you have lichen planus, don't be alarmed—it usually doesn't pose harm to your health and it's not contagious. Its appearance, though, could be mimicked by more harmful medical conditions, so your dentist will want to confirm the lesion observed is truly lichen planus.
It's routine, then, for your dentist to excise a small sample of the sore's tissue and send it to a pathology lab for biopsy. Although results will more than likely confirm lichen planus or some other benign lesion, it's better to err on the side of caution and ensure you're not dealing with something more serious.
If you are diagnosed with lichen planus, you may need to take steps to manage symptoms. In most people, the sore will go away on its own, although there's no guarantee it won't reappear sometime later. In the event it lingers, your dentist may prescribe a topical steroid to help ease any discomfort.
You can also minimize a future outbreak by practicing effective daily oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial populations that may contribute to the condition. And when you're symptomatic, try avoiding spicy or acidic foods like citrus, peppers or caffeinated beverages.
Lichen planus is more bothersome than harmful. Taking the above steps can help you avoid it or deal with it more effectively when it occurs.
If you would like more information on lichen planus, 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 “Lichen Planus: Mouth Lesions That are Usually benign.”
Oral cancer is one of the more dangerous malignancies people face. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of this deadly disease through changes in lifestyle habits and behaviors.
Two of the better known behaviors for increased oral cancer risk are immoderate consumption of alcohol and the use of tobacco, particularly chewing tobacco and snuff. Eliminating these, especially the latter, can vastly improve your odds of avoiding cancer. Another factor is a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) that's transmitted sexually, which you can avoid through safe sex practices.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, there's one more you should make to lower your oral cancer risk: adjustments to your diet. Research over the last half century has provided ample evidence of a link between the foods we eat and our risk of all types of cancers, including oral.
The biggest concern is over certain elements in some foods that can damage DNA, the molecular “operating instructions” that regulate the formation and function of our bodies' cells. These elements are collectively known as carcinogens because of their role in cancer formation.
An example of a carcinogen is a group of chemicals called nitrosamines. These form during preservation processes using nitrites in meats like bacon or ham. They're also found in beer or certain preserved fish. To limit your consumption of nitrosamines, you should reduce these and other processed products and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables, or organic meats and dairy products.
Our DNA can also be damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals that arise during normal cellular function. But there are also substances known as antioxidants that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Many plant-based foods contain nutrients like vitamins C and E that have antioxidant properties, so including them in your diet could help reduce your oral cancer risk.
Several clinical studies over the years have been consistent in their findings that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of oral or throat cancers, as well as other forms of cancer. Making changes to your diet in that direction, plus other lifestyle changes, could help you avoid this devastating oral disease.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
There are a lot of opportunities to have your blood pressure checked: your doctor's office, of course; your local pharmacy; health fairs; and the dentist's office. The last one might surprise you, but blood pressure monitoring before a dental examination or office visit has become quite routine.
Why all this attention to blood pressure? Because chronic high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major cause for cardiovascular disease (CVD), a family of life-threatening conditions that affects 80 million people in the United States. And, you may not even be aware you have it.
That's why avenues for blood pressure screening are on the rise, and the dental office is a prime opportunity. Since you see us regularly for cleanings and checkups (you do, don't you?), there's a good chance we might help you become aware you have a problem if we perform blood pressure readings.
One study published by the Journal of the American Dental Association, for example, followed a group of dental patients with no previous risk factors of CVD, and who had not seen a doctor in the previous twelve months. Through blood pressure screening at their dental visits, 17% discovered they had high blood pressure and at risk for a cardiovascular event.
Your blood pressure can also have an effect on your oral health, especially if you're taking medication to control it. Some medications can cause reduced saliva flow, which could drastically increase your chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. We would also need to exercise care during dental procedures with certain local anesthetics: some may cause both your pulse and blood pressure to rise.
Although we're primarily focused on your dental care, we also know it's only one aspect of your overall health. By simply including blood pressure checks during your checkup, we may help you identify a problem before it causes you greater health problems in the future.
If you would like more information on blood pressure and 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure.”
Many people have questions about the proper use of antibiotics — especially today, as the overuse of these medications has become a concern. It isn’t necessary for most people to take antibiotics before having a dental procedure. But for a few — notably, those with particular heart conditions and, in some cases, joint replacements — pre-medication is advisable. The question may be even more confusing now, because the standard recommendations have recently changed — so let’s try and sort things out.
First, why would anyone need antibiotics before dental treatment? Essentially, it’s because of the chance that an open wound could allow bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream. For people in good health, the body is capable of quickly containing and neutralizing the bacterial exposure. But people with some types of heart disease, heart transplants, and/or total joint replacements have a greater likelihood of developing a bacterial infection, which can be dangerous — or even life-threatening. The same may be true of people whose immune systems are compromised.
At one time, people with a broad range of heart problems and artificial joints were advised to pre-medicate; today, new research indicates that fewer people need to take this step. Antibiotics are currently recommended before dental procedures if you have:
- An artificial heart valve, or a heart valve repaired with artificial material
- A history of endocarditis
- A heart transplant with abnormal heart valve function
- Cyanotic congenital heart disease (a birth defect where blood oxygen levels are lower than normal) that hasn’t been fully repaired — including children with surgical shunts and conduits
- A congenital heart defect that has been completely repaired with artificial material or with a device — but only for the first six months after the repair procedure
- Repaired congenital heart disease with residual defects, such as leakage or abnormal flow
In addition, not everyone who has an artificial joint needs antibiotic premedication. Instead, your health care providers will rely on your individual medical history to determine whether this step is required in your situation. However, having a compromised immune system (due to diabetes, cancer, arthritis, chemotherapy and other factors) is still an indication that antibiotics may be needed.
The question of whether or not to pre-medicate is an important one — so it’s vital that you share all relevant medical information with your doctors and dentists, and make sure everyone is in the loop. That way, the best decisions can be made regarding your treatment.