Forty years have passed since the first reported case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and it and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it are still with us. About 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with HIV, with 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
The emergence of antiretroviral drugs, though, has made it possible for many with HIV to live normal lives. Even so, the virus can still have a profound effect on health, including the teeth and gums. Because of its effect on the immune system, HIV+ patients are at greater risk for a number of oral conditions, like a fungal infection called candidiasis ("thrush").
Another common problem is chronic dry mouth (xerostomia), caused by a lack of saliva production. Not only does this create an unpleasant mouth feel, but the absence of saliva also increases the risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
The latter can be a serious malady among HIV patients, particularly a severe form of gum disease known as Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis (NUP). With NUP, the gums develop ulcerations and an unpleasant odor arising from dead gum tissue.
Besides plaque removal (a regular part of gum disease treatment), NUP may also require antibiotics, antibacterial mouthrinses and pain management. NUP may also be a sign that the immune system has taken a turn for the worse, which could indicate a transition to the AIDS disease. Dentists often refer patients with NUP to a primary care provider for further diagnosis and treatment.
Besides daily brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings are a necessary part of a HIV+ patient's health maintenance. These visits are also important for monitoring dental health, which, as previously noted, could provide early signs that the infection may be entering a new disease stage.
It's also important for HIV+ patients to see their dentist at the first sign of inflamed, red or bleeding gums, mouth lesions or loose teeth. Early treatment, especially of emerging gum disease, can prevent more serious problems from developing later.
Living with HIV-AIDS isn't easy. But proper health management, including for the teeth and gums, can help make life as normal as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care and HIV-AIDS, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
There are few more painful experiences than a toothache. You can't ignore it: it's as if your mouth is screaming for relief.
But while the throbbing pain can tell you something's wrong, it may not be clear exactly what's wrong. There's more than one possibility — it could be with the tooth itself, the gums around the tooth or a combination of both.
In the first case, a toothache could be a sign of severe tooth decay within the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp. The pain you feel comes from the nerves within the pulp under attack from the infection.
For this level of decay there's one primary way to save the tooth and stop the pain: a root canal treatment. In this procedure we remove all the infected and dead tissue from the pulp and fill the empty chamber and root canals with a special filling. We then seal and crown the tooth to prevent further infection.
Another source of toothache happens when your gums have become painfully inflamed due to infection. This is usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease, triggered by a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces known as plaque. In this case, we must remove all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from tooth and gum surfaces, including on the roots. Your gums can then heal and return to health.
But your situation could be more complex. Untreated tooth decay can advance to the roots and subsequently infect the gums. Likewise advanced gum disease can pass the infection from the gums to the root and into the pulp.Â For such cases you may need a specialist, either an endodontist specializing in root canal issues or a periodontist specializing in the gums.Â They can better diagnose the origin and extent of the problem and offer advanced techniques and treatments to deal with it.
It's possible in these more complex situations your tooth has become diseased beyond repair and must be replaced. It's important, then, that you see us if you experience any significant tooth pain, even if it seems to go away. The sooner we diagnose and begin treating the cause of your pain, the better your chances of regaining your dental health.
If you would like more information on treating dental 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 “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
Finding out you have a cavity isn't the best of news. But finding out it's a root cavity is even worse: if not treated, the decay can spread more rapidly than a cavity occurring in the tooth's crown surfaces.
Our teeth are basically composed of two parts: the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line, and the roots, the hidden portion beneath the gums. The root in turn fits into a bony socket within the jaw to help hold the tooth in place (along with attached gum ligaments).
A tooth crown is covered by an ultra-hard layer of enamel, which ordinarily protects it from harmful bacteria. But when acid produced by bacteria comes into prolonged contact with enamel, it can soften and erode its mineral content and lead to a cavity.
In contrast to enamel, the roots have a thin layer of material called cementum. Although it offers some protection, it's not at the same performance level as enamel. But roots are also normally covered by the gums, which rounds out their protection.
But what happens when the gums shrink back or recede? This often occurs with gum disease and is more prevalent in older people (and why root cavities are also more common among seniors). The exposed area of the roots with only cementum standing in the way of bacteria and acid becomes more susceptible to cavity formation.
Root cavities can be treated in much the same way as those that occur in the crown. We first remove any decayed tooth structure with a drill and then place a filling. But there's also a scenario in which the cavity is below the gum line: In that case, we may need to gain access to the cavity surgically through the gums.
If you have exposed root areas, we can also treat these with fluoride to strengthen the area against cavity formation. And, as always, prevention is the best treatment: maintain a daily schedule of brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings to remove bacterial plaque.
Because decay can spread within a tooth, dealing with a root cavity should be done as promptly as possible. But if we diagnose and initiate treatment early, your chances of a good outcome are high.
If you would like more information on treating root cavities and other forms of tooth decay, 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 “Root Cavities.”
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