Posts for category: Oral Health
We all know how much better we feel after a good night’s sleep: refreshed, energized and ready to handle — even excel at — our day-to-day responsibilities. Yet millions of people, young and old, are robbed of a good night’s rest by sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, in which the soft tissues in the back of the throat block the airway during sleep. This temporarily disrupts airflow, causing numerous “micro-arousals” (sleep interruptions) that we may not even be aware of. A lack of sleep can make us drowsy, irritable and unfocused. In children, these typical symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to mistaken diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The relationship between sleep apnea and behavioral problems has been highlighted in several recent scientific journal articles, including a major study published several years ago in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The lead author, Dr. Karen Bonuck, said at the time: “We found that children with sleep-disordered breathing were from 40 to 100 percent more likely to develop neurobehavioral problems by age 7, compared with children without breathing problems. The biggest increase was in hyperactivity, but we saw significant increases across [other] behavioral measures.” Therefore, an accurate diagnosis of a child’s behavioral problems — leading to the right treatment — is crucial. While sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a physician, treatment for the condition is often provided by a dentist.
What can be done for children suffering from sleep apnea? The most common treatment is surgical removal of the tonsils or adenoids. This treatment can sometimes be performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, a dentist who has received several years of post-graduate surgical training. There are several other procedures oral surgeons can perform to open the airway, depending on what anatomical structures are blocking it.
Sometimes a child with sleep apnea can benefit from a procedure to expand the palate (roof of the mouth) to enlarge the airway. This is not a surgical treatment but rather an orthodontic one. An orthodontist (a dentist who specializes in moving teeth) will fit the child with a palatal expander, a butterfly-shaped device that gradually separates the two bones that form the upper jaw and roof of the mouth. This is often done to prevent crowding of teeth and other bite problems, but has been shown in some cases to improve airflow.
There is another dental approach used to treat adults and older children, whose jaw growth is complete. It’s called oral appliance therapy, and it involves wearing a custom-made device during sleep that resembles a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. An oral appliance can maintain an opened, unobstructed, upper airway during sleep in various ways, including: repositioning the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula; stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue; increasing the muscle tone of the tongue.
If your child has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, we can help you find the best treatment approach. For more information, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry” and “Snoring & Sleep Apnea.”
They seemingly pop up out of the blue inside your mouth: tiny sores that are sometimes painful — and always annoying. Then, in about a week to ten days these small, irritating lesions are gone.
They're known as canker sores: the most common break out in the linings of the mouth, including the cheeks, lips, under the tongue or even the back of the throat. Medically known as aphthous ulcers, you'll recognize these round lesions by their yellow-gray center surrounded by a red “halo.”
You might feel a tingling sensation a couple of days before an outbreak. Once they appear they usually last a week to ten days; during that time they can cause discomfort especially while eating or drinking.
We don't know fully what causes canker sores, but it's believed they're related to abnormalities in the immune system, the processes in the body that fight infection and disease. High stress or anxiety and certain acidic or spicy foods like citrus fruit or tomato sauce also seem to trigger them.
Most people experience canker sores that range in intensity from slight discomfort to sometimes severe pain. But about 20-25% of people, mostly women, have an acute form known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS). Thought to be hereditary, RAS produces clusters of ulcers that are almost always painful, and which come and go on a regular basis.
Our main treatment goal with canker sores is to decrease discomfort while the outbreak runs its course and promote rapid healing. There are over-the-counter ointments that often prove effective. For more resistant symptoms we can also prescribe topical or injectable steroids or other medications.
Canker sores are rarely concerning as a significant health issue. You should, however, take an outbreak seriously if it hasn't healed within two weeks, if the outbreaks seem to be increasing in frequency or severity, or you're never without a sore in your mouth. In these cases, we may need to take a tissue sample of the lesion to biopsy for signs of cancer, pre-cancer or some other skin disease.
More than likely, though, the canker sore will be benign albeit annoying. With effective treatment, though, you can get through the outbreak with only a minimal amount of discomfort.
If you would like more information on treating canker sores, 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 “Mouth Sores.”
Some things in life look worse than they really are. A condition known as “geographic tongue” is a good example: while it may look serious, it’s not a cause for real concern.
If you’ve never heard of geographic tongue it’s because it’s not a common ailment: it only affects one to three percent of the population. The name comes from patches of redness on the top surface of the tongue surrounded by grayish white borders, which gives the red patches a look similar to land masses on a map.
It’s known formally as “benign migratory glossitis,” which tells us more about the condition: “benign” means the patches aren’t cancerous; “migratory” indicates the patches tend to move and take different shapes along the surface of the tongue. In fact, it’s possible for them to appear, disappear, and then reappear over the course of a few days.
The exact causes of geographic tongue haven’t been fully substantiated. Researchers believe emotional stress, psychological problems or hormonal disturbances (especially women during pregnancy or ovulation) could be triggers for its occurrence. Certain dietary deficiencies like zinc or vitamin B, or acidic foods are also believed to be factors.
While geographic tongue isn’t painful, it can leave your tongue feeling more sensitive with a mild burning or stinging sensation. If you’re prone to having geographic tongue, there are some things you can do to reduce the irritation. Try to avoid eating acidic or spicy foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits or mint, as well as astringent substances like alcohol or certain mouthwashes. We may also prescribe anesthetic mouthrinses, antihistamines or steroid ointments to help ease any discomfort.
The good news, though, is that this harmless condition is more irritating than anything else. With a little care and forethought you won’t even know you have it.
If you would like more information on geographic tongue, 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 “Geographic Tongue.”
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.
Among the “to-do” items on your pre-dive checklist like “Pack wetsuit” or “Fill scuba tanks,” be sure to add one other: “Check my dental health status.”
While that may seem like an odd concern, the changes in atmospheric pressure you encounter while diving (or flying, for that matter) could amplify oral sensitivity and intensify pain if you have pre-existing teeth or jaw problems.
The reason for this is the effect of basic physics on the body. All anatomical structures, including organs, bones and muscles, equalize external pressures the body encounters. We don’t notice this at normal atmospheric pressure, but when we encounter an extreme — either lower pressure during air flight or higher pressure during a scuba dive — we may feel the effects of the pressure on any structure with a rigid-walled surface filled with either air or fluid. These structures can’t equalize the pressure as fast as other areas, resulting in pain or discomfort. This is known medically as “barotrauma,” or more commonly as a “squeeze.”
One structure in particular could have an effect on your upper teeth and jaws: the sinus cavities of the skull, particularly the maxillary sinuses just below the eyes. Their lower walls are right next to the back teeth of the upper jaw and, more importantly, share the same nerve pathways. It’s quite possible, then, for pain from one area to be felt in the other, commonly known as “referred pain.” A toothache could then be felt in the sinus region, and vice-versa.
During a squeeze, then, pain levels from existing problems in the teeth and jaws that were previously tolerable (or even unnoticed) may well become amplified as the pressure from the sinus cavity impinges upon the jaw. That dull toothache you’ve been having may suddenly become excruciating at 30,000 feet — or 30 meters under the surface.
That’s why it’s important to see us if you’ve experienced any signs of tooth decay, gum disease or TMD, including pain, before your next dive or air flight. And, if you encounter any significant pain while flying or diving, be sure you consult with us as soon as possible when you return. Taking action now could help you avoid a miserable, and potentially dangerous, flying or diving experience in the future.
If you would like more information on pressure changes 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 “Pressure Changes can Cause Tooth and Sinus Pain.”