Our bodies wage a continuous war against enemies too small to be seen with the naked eye. If we’re healthy, our immune system will stop the vast majority of these microbial agents.
But some of them, viruses in particular, are so small and with certain characteristics that they can slip past our immune systems. Prevention — removing the opportunity for these viruses to gain entry into our bodies in the first place — is a key component in controlling infection.
Healthcare facilities, including dental offices, are primary battlegrounds in this war. In recent years, the stakes have increased as viral infections that cause the liver disease hepatitis (B and C) and HIV that causes the auto-immune disorder AIDS are on the rise. Although different in effect, these viruses spread in much the same way — when the blood of an infected person comes in contact with the bloodstream of another person.
The risk for this exposure is higher in situations when there’s a break in the skin. Blood transfusion, surgery centers and similar facilities with invasive procedures require high standards of protection to prevent viral transmission between people.Â This includes dental clinics — even a routine hygienic cleaning can become a conduit for viral infection.
As a result, the more than 170,000 dental providers across the country have adopted strict infection control standards that conform to the National Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, as well as state and local regulations. These standards detail such issues as wearing protective equipment and clothing (like disposable gloves, gowns or facemasks), cleaning and sterilizing instruments, or disposing of bio-hazardous waste.
High infection control standards are also promoted by the professional boards and organizations of dental providers, like the American Dental Association, and are a requirement for continued membership.Â As a result, infection occurrences from dental visits or procedures are extremely rare.
We understand you may have concerns. We’re glad to discuss with you our procedures for infection control and how we’re following the highest standards to keep you and our staff safe. We’re making sure the care you receive for your teeth and gums doesn’t lead to another health problem.
If you would like more information on dental infection control practices, 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 “Infection Control in the Dental Office.”
Fluoride is a critical weapon in the war against tooth decay. But this natural chemical proven to strengthen tooth enamel has also aroused suspicion over the years that it might cause health problems.
These suspicions have led to rigorous testing of fluoride's safety. And the verdict from decades of research? We've found only one verifiable side effect, a condition called enamel fluorosis. Caused by too much fluoride present in the body, enamel fluorosis produces white streaks and patches on teeth, and can develop into darker staining and pitting in extreme cases. But other than having an unattractive appearance, the teeth remain sound and healthy.
Fortunately, you can reduce the risk of fluorosis by limiting fluoride exposure to within recommended limits. Fluoride can show up in processed foods and other substances, but the two sources you should focus on most are oral hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water.
Dentists highly recommend using toothpaste with fluoride to fight tooth decay. But be careful how much your family uses, especially younger members. An infant only needs a slight smear of toothpaste on their brush for effective hygiene. At around age 2, you can increase the amount to about the size of a vegetable pea.
As to drinking water, most utilities add fluoride to their supply. If yours does, you can find out how much they add by calling them or visiting cdc.gov ("My Water's Fluoride"), where you can also learn more about recommended levels of fluoridation. If you think it's excessive, you can switch to water labeled "de-ionized," "purified," "demineralized," or "distilled," which contain little to no added fluoride.
Even if your fluoridated water is within recommended levels, you may wish to take extra precautions for infants nursing with formula. If possible, use "ready-to-feed" formula, which usually contains very low amounts of fluoride if any. If you're using the powdered form, use only water with the aforementioned labeling for mixing.
Before making any drastic changes that might affect your family's fluoride intake, consult with your dentist first. And be sure you're keeping up regular dental visits—your dentist may be able to detect any early signs of fluorosis before it becomes a bigger problem.
If you would like more information on maintaining the proper fluoride balance with your family, 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Teeth-replacing dental implants not only look life-like, they’re made to last. For one thing, the metals and dental materials used in them are impervious to bacterial infection.
But that doesn’t mean implants are impervious to failure. Implants depend on the bone and other natural mouth structures for support. If the bone becomes weakened due to disease, the implant could become unstable and ultimately fail.
Peri-implantitis, the condition that can lead to this kind of failure, is a major concern for implant longevity. It’s a type of periodontal (gum) disease triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up quickly in the absence of adequate brushing and flossing. The gum tissues around the implant become infected and inflamed.
If the infection isn’t properly treated with renewed oral hygiene and clinical plaque removal, it could spread below the gum line and begin to damage the underlying gum tissues and bone. This could destroy the all-important connection between the titanium implant post and the bone. The implant could eventually loosen and become completely detached from the bone.
The key is early intervention before the bone becomes damaged. Besides plaque removal we may also need to apply antibiotics in some form to control the growth of disease-causing bacteria. If the disease has fairly advanced we may also need to consider surgical repair to strengthen the attachment between implant and bone.
You can help to avoid peri-implantitis altogether by practicing consistent daily brushing and flossing around all your teeth including the implant, and seeing your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum swelling, redness or bleeding. Staying on top of your gum health will help not only the natural tissues and remaining teeth in your mouth, it will help preserve your implants for decades to come.
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Do you ever get sores in your mouth that seem to appear for no reason and then disappear just as mysteriously? Chances are they’re aphthous ulcers — better known as canker sores.
These are irritating breaks in the protective lining of the mouth (oral mucosa) — akin to a blister without its dome — that are yellowish/grayish in the center surrounded by an aggravated red border. They typically develop in movable, thinner oral membranes such as the cheeks and lips, under the tongue, or the soft palate at the back of the mouth. Because they expose underlying tissues, canker sores can be quite painful, especially when eating or drinking.
Recurrent aphthous ulcers (RAS) affect up to 25% of the population, making them one the most common oral conditions. They are considered “minor” when they are smaller and “major” when they exceed 1 centimeter in diameter. Larger ones take more time to heal and may cause scarring. A less common type is herpetiform aphthae, so named because the small clusters of ulcers that characterize it are similar in appearance to those caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV1). However, unlike herpes-related cold sores and fever blisters, canker sores in any form are not contagious. Another difference is that ulcers from the herpes virus occur more frequently on the gums and hard palate.
No Clear Cause
There is no clear cause for canker sores. They often appear during stressful periods and times when resistance is down, suggesting an immune system malfunction. They may also be an allergic reaction to ingredients in food or oral products like toothpaste or mouthwash or related to an underlying medical conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases or nutritional deficiencies.
Canker sores usually resolve on their own within seven to ten days. Various over-the-counter and prescription treatments can help facilitate healing and help minimize pain along the way. If they do not resolve within two weeks; or they increase in severity, frequency or duration; or you’re never without a mouth sore it’s important to seek dental or medical attention as they could signify a more serious condition.
If you would like more information about canker sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Mouth Sores.”
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