Most childhood sicknesses are highly treatable and quickly fade from memory afterward. But there's one viral infection that can reappear years later, albeit in a different form and this time it might not be as forgettable. It could even impact your dental care.
Varicella, more commonly known as chicken pox, is a viral infection that mainly affects children. Fortunately, the itchy blisters and other symptoms associated with it usually clear up on their own. But the virus itself, varicella zoster virus (VZV), can remain behind and become dormant.
Fast-forward a few decades, and the child once with chicken pox is now an adult, usually over 50. In 20-30% of former chicken pox patients, the virus reactivates as a new infection known commonly as shingles.
Shingles often begins with an itching, burning or numbing sensation on the skin that develops into a severe rash. Because of its effect on surface nerves, the rash often takes on a striped or belt-like pattern on the skin. A shingles outbreak can also cause fever, fatigue and pain, the latter of which in rare cases can be quite severe.
Shingles in its early stages is also highly contagious, transmitted easily through either physical contact with the skin lesions or through airborne secretions. This is especially troubling for certain groups: pregnant women, patients undergoing cancer or other serious disease treatment, or those with compromised immune systems. For them, shingles can pose a significant risk for complications.
Because of its easy transmission, and the danger it can pose to certain groups, dentists typically postpone treatment—even routine dental cleanings—for patients experiencing a shingles outbreak, especially a facial rash. Once their outbreak subsides, those procedures can be rescheduled.
If you develop what you think is shingles, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Certain prescribed antiviral medications can ease the symptoms and hasten recovery, but they're most effective if started within three days of the onset of the disease. There's also an effective vaccination for shingles recommended for people over 60 to help avoid the disease altogether.
One other thing! If you do develop shingles and have an upcoming dental appointment, let your dentist know. Better to reschedule your visit after you've recuperated than to put others' health at risk.
If you would like more information on shingles and dental care, 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 “Shingles, Herpes Zoster.”
When it comes to helping your child avoid tooth decay, it's all hands on deck. Tooth decay can not only harm their current set of primary teeth, but the loss of even one tooth could lead to bite problems later on.
And, even if you're doing all the right things—daily brushing and flossing, limiting sugar consumption and regular dental visits—your child might still develop cavities. If so, it may be necessary to add a boost of prevention with topical fluoride applied by your dentist.
With its enamel-strengthening properties, fluoride plays an important role in dental disease prevention. For decades, manufacturers have added fluoride to toothpaste. And, many water utilities now add tiny amounts of fluoride to their drinking supply.
According to a number of studies, these fluoride applications are effective weapons against tooth decay. But direct applications of fluoride to tooth surfaces can provide even greater benefit to children with a higher susceptibility for decay.
Topical fluoride is usually applied by means of a gel, foam or varnish. In varnish form, it's brushed on the teeth, while dentists apply the foam solution within a tray fitted around the teeth. The gel application can be administered by either method.
Although these topical applications use a higher concentration of fluoride than you find in toothpaste, it poses no serious danger to a child's health. But because high doses of fluoride can lead to staining, topical applications are only administered periodically during childhood.
The only short-term health concern is if the child accidentally swallows some of the mixture during application. This can cause symptoms like an upset stomach, vomiting or headache. Dentists, however, take a number of precautions to prevent accidental ingestion in order to avoid these unpleasant side effects.
The benefits, though, appear to well outweigh this minor risk. In a review of several scientific studies involving nearly 10,000 children, there was an average 28% reduction in decayed, missing or filled teeth in those children that underwent topical fluoride treatments.
If you want to know more about topical fluoride treatments and whether they can help your child avoid tooth decay, talk to your dentist. This fluoride booster could help further protect them from this destructive dental disease.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
"Trick or treat!" Chances are, you'll hear that cry from costumed children at your door this October 31st. Fortunately, you're unlikely to be in any danger of mischief should you fail to reward your trick or treaters. But there may be an unpleasant "trick" awaiting them—or, more specifically, their teeth: tooth decay.
The underlying factor for this occurrence is the candy they've eagerly collected on their spooky foray, over $2 billion worth nationwide for this one holiday alone. That's because all that candy your kids will fill up on post-Halloween is loaded with refined sugar.
But something else loves all that sweetness as much as your kids—decay-causing bacteria living in their mouths. Oral bacteria thrive—and multiply—on sugar—which means more acid, a by-product of their digestive process, which can erode tooth enamel, which then opens the door to tooth decay.
Now, we don't want to rain on anyone's parade, much less on a child's traditional night of fun in late October. The key, like many other of life's pleasures, is moderation. Here, then, are a few tips from the American Dental Association for having a more "dental-friendly" Halloween.
Provide alternative treats. Candy may be ubiquitous to Halloween, but it isn't the only thing you have to put in their sacks. Be sure you also include items like sealed, one-serving packages of pretzels, or peanut butter or cheese sandwich crackers.
Choose candy wisely. Considering dental health, the best candies are those that don't linger in the mouth long. Stay away, then, from sticky or chewy candies, which do just that. Also, try to avoid hard candies that might damage the teeth if bitten down on.
Don't keep it all. Before they dig in, have your child sort through their sack and choose a set number of pieces to keep and enjoy. Then, find a creative way to share the rest with others. This limits the number of sugary treats consumed after Halloween, while also encouraging sharing.
Restrict snacking. Continuous snacking on Halloween candy can be a problem—the constant presence of sugar in the mouth encourages bacterial growth. Instead, limit your child's snacking on Halloween treats to select times, preferably after meals when saliva (an acid neutralizer) is more active.
Brush and floss. Even with non-sugary foods and snacks, dental plaque can still build up on teeth. This thin biofilm provides a haven for bacteria that increases your child's chances for tooth decay. Be sure, then, that your kids brush and floss every day, especially around holidays.
Halloween can be the source for fond, childhood memories. Follow these tips to make sure tooth decay doesn't ultimately put a damper on your family's fun.
If you would like more information about protecting your children's teeth from tooth decay, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
We're all interested in how our toothpaste tastes, how it freshens breath or how it brightens teeth. But those are secondary to its most important function, which is how well our toothpaste helps us remove dental plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease.
Daily brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, resulting in a much lower risk for dental disease. But while the mechanical action of brushing loosens plaque, toothpaste helps complete its removal. It can do this because of two basic ingredients found in nearly every brand of toothpaste.
The first is an abrasive (or polishing agent), a gritty substance that boosts the effectiveness of the brushing action (which, by the way, alleviates the need for harmful aggressive brushing). These substances, usually hydrated silica, hydrated alumina or calcium carbonate, are abrasive enough to loosen plaque, but not enough to damage tooth enamel.
The other ingredient, a detergent, works much the same way as the product you use to wash greasy dishes—it breaks down the parts of plaque that water can't dissolve. The most common, sodium lauryl sulfate, a safe detergent found in other hygiene products, loosens and dissolves plaque so that it can be easily rinsed away.
You'll also find other ingredients to some degree in toothpaste: flavorings, of course, that go a long way toward making the brushing experience more pleasant; humectants to help toothpaste retain moisture; and binders to hold bind all the ingredients together. And many toothpastes also contain fluoride, a naturally-occurring chemical that strengthens tooth enamel.
You may also find additional ingredients in toothpastes that specialize in certain functions like reducing tartar buildup (hardened plaque), easing tooth or gum sensitivity or controlling bacterial growth. Many toothpastes also include whiteners to promote a brighter smile. Your dentist can advise you on what to look for in a toothpaste to meet a specific need.
But your first priority should always be how well your toothpaste helps you keep your teeth and gums healthy. Knowing what's in it can help you choose your toothpaste more wisely.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene products and 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 “Toothpaste: What's in It?”
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