There's more to your dental visit than preventing or treating teeth or gum problems. We're also on the lookout for a number of potential soft tissue problems that could occur in or around your mouth.
Here are 4 examples of such problems we can detect and help you manage.
Lumps. Whenever you accidentally bite the inside of your mouth, the wound you create forms a protective layer of hard collagen. Unfortunately, the “callous” can rise higher than the surrounding cheek surface and easily get in the way of your teeth again. With successive bites and more scar tissue you'll soon notice a prominent lump. Although not a health danger, it becomes annoying with each successive bite. We can surgically remove the lump and flatten out the mouth surface.
Canker sores. Known as aphthous ulcers, these round sores with a yellow-gray center and a red “halo” can break out on the inside cheeks, tongue or back of the throat. Unless they don't heal within a couple of weeks or seem to be increasing in frequency, they're nothing to worry about. They can, however, cause a burning or stinging sensation. We can reduce this discomfort and speed healing with over-the-counter ointments or prescription options like topical or injected steroids.
Cracked mouth corners. Also known as perleche (from the French lecher, meaning “to lick”), your mouth corners can become dry and irritated and you may begin licking them to soothe the discomfort. Accumulated saliva can trigger a yeast infection, which can spread to other parts of your mouth. We can usually prevent this by prescribing antifungal ointments, and a steroid ointment to control inflammation.
Mouth rash. Peri-oral dermatitis is a red, scaly rash that appears around the outside of the mouth. Because it's often mistaken for acne or other conditions, it's often treated with topical steroids. This actually suppresses the skin's normal healing effects and can actually make the rash worse. The best way to treat it is to stop using any kind of ointment or cream and use only mild soap to wash the area. We can also prescribe antibiotics to help speed the healing process.
If you would like more information on these and other soft tissue problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth,” “Mouth Sores,” and “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Most children's permanent teeth erupt on a fairly predictable schedule. Sometimes, though, one or more teeth might not develop as they should — or at all.
These absent teeth pose functional problems for chewing and hygiene, which can affect long-term dental health. But they can also have a disruptive effect on an otherwise attractive smile if the missing teeth are the upper lateral incisors in the most visible part of the smile.
You normally find this pair of teeth on either side of the upper central incisors (the two front-most teeth). On the other side of the lateral incisors are the canine or eye teeth, known for their pointed appearance. Without the lateral incisors, the canines tend to drift into the space next to the central incisors. This can produce an odd appearance even a layperson will notice: only four teeth where there should be six!
It's possible to correct this abnormality, but it will take time and expense. The first step is usually to move the teeth in the upper jaw with braces to their correct position. This puts teeth where they should be and also opens space between the canines and central incisors so we can eventually replace the missing teeth with dental implants.
But the key to all this is timing. It's usually appropriate to undertake tooth movement with braces during late childhood or adolescence. But implants shouldn't be installed until the person's jaw fully matures, usually in early adulthood. An implant placed before then could eventually become misaligned.
To accommodate the time between bite correction and implant placement, the patient can wear a retainer appliance that will keep the newly created space open. We can also attach artificial teeth to the retainer to camouflage the empty space.
It usually takes a team of a family dentist, an orthodontist and a surgeon to see this kind of “smile makeover” project through, possibly over several years. But the gains in better aesthetics and health are well worth the time and expense.
If you would like more information on replacing non-developing teeth, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow.”
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.”
Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
Although oral cancer isn't the most prevalent among metabolic diseases, it is one of the most deadly with only a 50% survival rate after five years. That's because it can be difficult to detect in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
That's why prevention to reduce your chances of oral cancer is so important. Many people know quitting tobacco products, including smokeless varieties, and moderating alcohol consumption are key to any prevention strategy. But there's one other factor you should also consider: your diet.
We've learned quite a bit in the last few decades about how certain foods we eat contribute to the cancer disease process. Cancer seems to originate when elements in the body or environment (known as carcinogens) damage DNA, our unique genetic code, on the cellular level. For example, a class of chemicals called nitrosamines is a known carcinogen: we often encounter it in the form of nitrites used to preserve meat (like bacon or ham) or as byproducts in beer, seafood or cheese.
Another form of carcinogen is the unstable molecules produced during normal cellular function called free radicals. But our bodies have a natural neutralizer for free radicals called antioxidants. We obtain these substances in our food in the form of vitamins and minerals. While you can also ingest these in the form of supplements, the best way to obtain them is through a diet rich in plant-based food, particularly fruits and vegetables.
So in addition to lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco or moderating alcohol consumption, make sure your diet is a healthy and nutritious one. Limit your intake of processed foods (especially meats) and increase your portions of fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
And don't neglect practicing effective brushing and flossing each day, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups. All of these healthy practices will greatly decrease your chances for life-threatening oral cancer.
If you would like more information on preventing 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.”
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