Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
We've been using bridges to replace missing teeth for decades. Now, recently-developed implant-supported bridges are even more dependable, promising greater durability and less interference with remaining natural teeth.
But just like other restorations, you'll need to keep implant bridges clean to ensure their longevity. Although both the bridge and implants are impervious to disease, the supporting gums and bone aren't. If they become infected, they can break down and your restoration will fail.
Cleaning an implant-supported bridge includes flossing around each of the implants to remove dental plaque, a thin film of food particles and bacteria most responsible for dental disease. To perform this task, you'll have to pass the floss between the bridge and gums to access the sides of each implant.
To help make it easier, you can use a tool like a floss threader, a thin, shaft-like device with a loop on one end and a needle-like point on the other. You'll first thread about 18" of floss through the end and then pass the threader between the bridge and gums with the sharp end toward the tongue.
With the threader completely through, you'll then wrap the floss around your fingers as with regular flossing and move the floss up and down each side of the implants you can access. You'll then pull the floss out, reload the threader and move to the next section, repeating this process until you've flossed each side of each implant.
You can also use pre-cut floss with a stiffened end to thread between the bridge and gums or an interproximal brush with a thin bristled head that can reach underneath the bridge. And you might consider using an oral irrigator, a pump device that sprays a stream of pressurized water to remove and flush away plaque around implants.
To round out your hygiene efforts, be sure you visit your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings. Your dentist can also advise you and give you training on keeping your implants clear of disease-causing plaque. Cleaning around your implants will help ensure your restoration will last.
If you would like more information on caring for your dental restoration, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
Good nutrition is vital for maintaining health and preventing disease, especially for your mouth. A diet rich in whole foods — fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy products — and low in sugar will not only promote strong teeth and gums, but lessen your chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Diet is also a prominent factor in reducing the risk for another serious mouth disease — oral cancer. While oral cancer makes up only 3% of total cancer cases reported annually, the five-year survival rate is a sobering 50%, much lower than for other types of common cancers. While genetics plays a role in your susceptibility to oral cancer, lifestyle choices and practices present the greater risk factors for the disease.
Of these lifestyle factors, refraining from tobacco products, moderating your alcohol consumption and avoiding risky sexual behavior are of primary importance in reducing your cancer risk. With that said, you should also take into account the foods that are part of your daily diet — both what you should and shouldn’t eat. As an example of the latter, some foods contain a class of chemicals known as nitrosamines that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). One such chemical, nitrite, is used as a preservative in meats like bacon or ham, and may also be found in beer, and seafood products.
On the positive side, your diet should be rich in foods that supply antioxidants, substances that protect the body’s cells from damaging, unstable molecules known as free radicals. The best sources for antioxidants (more so than dietary supplements) are plant foods rich in fiber and vitamins C and E. Eating more of these may also reduce your intake of nitrates, animal fat and saturated fat.
Adopting a moderate, nutritious diet, along with exercise, can have a huge positive impact on your general health and quality of life. Along with other lifestyle changes, better dietary choices can also help ensure a healthy mouth and reduce your risk of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on the role of nutrition in reducing your risk of 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.”
The Golden Globes ceremony is a night when Hollywood stars shine their brightest. At the recent red-carpet event, leading man Viggo Mortensen had plenty to smile about: Green Book, the movie in which he co-starred, picked up the award for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy. But fans looking at the veteran actor's big smile today might not realize that it once looked very different. A few years ago, an accident during the filming of The Two Towers took a major chip out of Mortensen's front tooth!
That might be OK for some movies (think The Hangover or Dumb and Dumber)—but it's not so great for everyday life. Fortunately, Mortensen visited a dentist promptly, and now his smile is picture-perfect. How was that accomplished? He didn't say…but generally, the best treatment for a chipped tooth depends on how much of the tooth's structure is missing.
If the tooth has only a small chip or crack, it's often possible to restore it via cosmetic bonding. This procedure can be done right in the dental office, frequently in a single visit. Here's how it works: First the tooth is cleaned and prepared, and then a tooth-colored resin is applied to the area being restored. After it is cured (hardened) with a special light, additional layers may be applied to build up the missing structure. When properly cared for, a tooth restored this way can look good for several years.
For a longer-lasting restoration, veneers may be recommended. These are wafer-thin shells made of durable material (most often porcelain) that cover the front (visible) surfaces of teeth. Strong and lifelike, veneers can match the exact color of your natural teeth—or give you the bright, high-wattage smile you've always wanted. No wonder they're so popular in Hollywood! Because veneers are custom-made for you, getting them may require several office visits.
If a chip or crack extends to the inner pulp of the tooth, a root canal procedure will be needed to keep the tooth from becoming infected—a situation that could have serious consequences. But you shouldn't fear a root canal! The procedure generally causes no more discomfort than filling a cavity (though it takes a little longer), and it can help save teeth that would otherwise be lost. After a root canal, a crown (cap) is generally needed to restore the visible part of the tooth.
When a damaged tooth can't be restored, it needs to be extracted (removed) and replaced. Today's best option for tooth replacement is a dental implant—a small, screw-shaped post inserted into the bone of your jaw that anchors a lifelike, fully functional crown. Implants require very little special care and can look great for many years, making them a top choice for tooth replacement
If you have questions about chipped or damaged teeth, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
One of the keys to a healthy mouth is daily oral hygiene. These tasks have one objective: remove plaque, a thin film of bacteria and leftover food particles, from tooth surfaces. Plaque fosters bacterial growth that can cause diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Brushing does an effective job removing plaque from the broad surfaces of teeth. But because plaque can also grow between teeth where your brush can’t reach, you also need to floss.
Unfortunately, flossing is a lot of people’s least favorite hygiene task. It can be time-consuming and requires a little more dexterity than brushing. As a result, it’s common for people to brush but not floss — and potentially miss plaque that could trigger dental disease.
There is an easier alternative to traditional string flossing: an oral irrigator. These countertop appliances deliver a stream of pulsating water at high pressure through a handheld device that looks similar to a power toothbrush. The user directs the water stream through the nozzle tip (which comes in various sizes) between the teeth. The water vibrates plaque loose and then rinses it away.
Besides people with limited dexterity, water flossers are also ideal for individuals wearing braces or other orthodontic hardware. Because of the metal hardware on and around teeth, flossing can be an arduous task. An oral irrigator makes it easier to floss and reduce plaque buildup, a perennial problem for orthodontic patients. In fact, one study of orthodontic patients found that using an irrigator with a tip especially designed for braces removed five times as much plaque as patients using only a manual toothbrush.
Of course, anyone can use an oral irrigator as an alternative to traditional flossing. Your dentist and staff can advise you on what to look for in equipment and provide instruction on how to use it. If traditional flossing isn’t your thing, consider an oral irrigator to get rid of plaque and keep your teeth and gums healthy and attractive.
If you would like more information on oral irrigation to remove daily plaque, 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 “Cleaning between Your Teeth: How Water Flossing can help.”
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