It may begin as an itching or burning feeling on your skin, followed by numbness or sensitivity to touch. But then you develop a painful red rash that forms crusty lesions. Fever and fatigue may follow.
These are the common symptoms for a form of chicken pox called shingles, a contagious disease from the human herpes group of viruses. While anyone can contract the shingles virus, it most often lies dormant in a person’s nervous system for decades after an earlier bout of chicken pox. It then breaks out (sometimes repeatedly), usually in patients over fifty.
A shingles outbreak can be miserable. It could also affect your dental care, especially if you have a rash on your face and neck. Here are 3 things you should do if you have shingles in regard to your dental care and overall health.
Tell your dentist you have shingles. A shingles outbreak is highly contagious in its early stages and can spread from direct contact with blisters or through airborne secretions from the infected person’s respiratory system. Even a simple teeth cleaning (especially with an ultrasonic device) at this stage could spread the virus to staff and other patients. So inform your dentist if your appointment coincides with an outbreak—it may be necessary to re-schedule your visit.
Start antiviral treatment as soon as possible. If you’re diagnosed with shingles, more than likely your doctor or dentist will recommend immediate antiviral treatment (typically acyclovir or famciclovir) within 3 days of symptom onset. This can help speed up healing, alleviate pain and possibly prevent more serious complications.
Get the shingles vaccine. Of course, you don’t have to wait for shingles to occur—there is an effective vaccine that could help prevent an outbreak. If you’ve had chicken pox (over 90% of American adults have) or you’re over sixty with or without previous chicken pox, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends you get vaccinated.
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.”
You might not be aware how much force your jaws generate while you eat or chew. But you can become aware in a hurry when part of your inside cheek or lip gets in the way.
What may be even worse than the initial painful bite are the high odds you’ll bite the same spot again—and again. That’s because of a feature in the skin’s healing process.
As a surface wound heals, it often forms a cover of fibrous tissue consisting of the protein collagen. This traumatic fibroma, as it’s called, is similar to a protective callous that develops on other areas of damaged skin. In the process, though, it can become “taller” than the surrounding skin surface, which increases the chances of another bite.
This second bite often results in more fibrous tissue formation that rises even higher from the skin surface, which then becomes more likely to be bit again. After repeated cycles, the initial wound can become a noticeable, protruding lump.
These kinds of sores are typically not cancerous, especially if they’ve appeared to form slowly over time. But they can be a nuisance and the occasion of sharp pain with every subsequent bite. There is, though, an effective way to deal with it—simply have it removed.
While it involves a surgical procedure—an oral surgeon, periodontist or dentist with surgical training usually performs it—it’s fairly minor. After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, the dentist will then completely excise the lesion and close the resulting gap in the skin with two or three small sutures (it could also be removed with a laser). The wound should heal within a few days leaving you with a flat, flush skin surface.
The tissue removed is usually then biopsied. Although it’s highly unlikely it was more than an annoying sore, it’s still common procedure to examine excised tissues for cancer cells. If there appears to be an abnormality, your dentist will then see you to take the next step in your treatment.
More than likely, though, what you experienced was a fibroma. And with it now a thing of the past, you can chew with confidence knowing it won’t be there to get in the way.
If you would like more information on dealing with common mouth sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
Winter is the time for snowy landscapes, hot cocoa and flannel PJs, but for some 'tis the season for tooth trouble. What can you do to keep your teeth from becoming a pain this winter?
Tackle tooth sensitivity. Does crisp winter air on your teeth give you a jolt? A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that 1 in 8 people (over 12%) suffer from tooth sensitivity, particularly to cold. Sensitivity can result from receding gums, erosion of tooth enamel, tooth decay or other dental problems. If you experience tooth sensitivity, use toothpaste that is specially formulated for sensitive teeth and breathe through your nose to protect your teeth from extreme cold. Most importantly, schedule a dental exam to determine why your teeth are sensitive.
Stay hydrated. In winter, we spend more time with the heat on and we tend to drink less water. A dry mouth can result, which can lead to bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. Staying well hydrated keeps your gums and teeth moist and helps you produce more saliva, which is key to good oral health and fresh breath. Saliva helps wash away food debris and bacteria, neutralize decay-causing acid and repair weakened tooth enamel. For healthy teeth and gums, be sure to drink plenty of water this winter.
Safeguard your teeth on the slopes. Are you planning to hit the slopes this winter? Be sure to wear a mouthguard to help protect against injury. Beginning skiers and snowboarders are more likely to suffer falls that could result in dental injuries, while experts may fly over bumps and jumps, causing the upper and lower teeth to knock together with force. Even backyard sledders are at risk of dental injury. Mouthguards help protect against chipped, broken, or knocked-out teeth as well as soft tissue damage. So before you enjoy wintertime sports, make sure your teeth are protected. For the best fit and comfort, ask us about a custom mouthguard.
If you have questions about these or other dental issues, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity” and “Dry Mouth.”
“No man is an island….” So wrote the poet John Donne four centuries ago. And while he meant the unity of humanity, the metaphor could equally apply to the interdependence of the various parts of the human body, including the mouth. According to recent scientific research, your mouth isn’t an “island” either.
Much of this research has focused on periodontal (gum) disease, an infection most often caused by bacterial plaque that triggers inflammation in the gum tissues. Although an important part of the body’s defenses, if the inflammation becomes chronic it can damage the gums and weaken their attachment to the teeth. Supporting bone may also deteriorate leading eventually to tooth loss.
Avoiding that outcome is good reason alone for treating and controlling gum disease. But there’s another reason—the possible effect the infection may have on the rest of the body, especially if you have one or more systemic health issues. It may be possible for bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the diseased gum tissues to affect other parts of the body or possibly make other inflammatory conditions worse.
One such condition is diabetes, a disease which affects nearly one person in ten. Normally the hormone insulin helps turn dietary sugars into energy for the body’s cells. But with diabetes either the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the available insulin can’t metabolize sugar effectively. The disease can cause or complicate many other serious health situations.
There appears to be some links between diabetes and gum disease, including that they both fuel chronic inflammation. This may explain why diabetics with uncontrolled gum disease also often have poor blood sugar levels. Conversely, diabetics often have an exaggerated inflammatory response to gum disease bacteria compared to someone without diabetes.
The good news, though, is that bringing systemic diseases like diabetes under control may have a positive effect on the treatment of gum disease. It may also mean that properly treating gum disease could also help you manage not only diabetes, but also other conditions like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, or rheumatoid arthritis. Taking care of your teeth and gums may not only bring greater health to your mouth, but to the rest of your body as well.
If you would like more information on treating dental diseases like 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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