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.
Dental implants are popular with both patients and dentists for their durability and likeness to natural teeth. That natural look, though, can be difficult to attain, especially in what’s known as the “smile zone” — the area of the mouth where teeth are most visible when you smile.
Our biggest concern is the upper front teeth, where the gums are most visible, especially if you smile widely. It takes considerable skill, experience and artistry to position implants in this area so that they appear to naturally emerge from the gums and blend well with other teeth.
To obtain that natural look, we must first assess whether or not there’s enough bone present, which tends to dissolve (resorb) when a tooth is missing, to sufficiently anchor the implant in the right position. There also needs to be sufficient bone around adjacent teeth to support the tiny triangles of gum tissue between teeth called papillae. Without the papillae an unattractive black hole may result between the implant and an adjacent tooth or implant.
Another factor we must consider is the type of gum tissue you have. Everyone generally inherits one of two types of tissue from their parents: thin or thick. The type you have can influence the way the implant appears to emerge from the gums. If you have thick gums, they’re easier to work with and can cover more of the implant. Thinner tissues aren’t quite as easy and are less forgiving if an implant isn’t placed as precisely as possible.
In recent years, improvements in implant design have sought to provide greater stability around bone and gum tissues to offset some of the issues we’ve mentioned. A variation on the design of the top of the implant (where the crown is attached) changes the direction of growth for gum tissues from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one, which can help with the final appearance.
The first step, if you’re considering dental implants for a tooth in the smile zone, is to visit us for a complete examination to see if any of these factors may have an impact on your situation. We can then advise you on the best course of action to achieve the most attractive smile possible.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Implant Aesthetics.”
What's an actor's most important feature? According to Vivica A. Fox, whose most recent big-screen role was in Independence Day: Resurgence, it's what you see right up front.
"On screen, your smile and your eyes are the most inviting things that bring the audience in" she said. "Especially if you play the hot chick."
But like lots of people, Vivica reached a point where she felt her smile needed a little help in order to look its best. That's when she turned to a popular cosmetic dental treatment.
"I got veneers years ago," Ms. Fox told Dear Doctor magazine in a recent interview, "just because I had some gapping that probably only I noticed."
What exactly are dental veneers? Essentially, they are thin shells of lustrous porcelain that are permanently attached to the front surfaces of the teeth. Tough, lifelike and stain-resistant, they can cover up a number of defects in your smile — including stains, chips, cracks, and even minor spacing irregularities like the ones Vivica had.
Veneers have become the treatment of choice for Hollywood celebs — and lots of regular folks too — for many reasons. Unlike some treatments that can take many months, it takes just a few appointments to have veneers placed on your teeth. Because they are custom made just for you, they allow you to decide how bright you want your smile to be: anywhere from a natural pearly hue to a brilliant "Hollywood white." Best of all, they are easy to maintain, and can last for many years with only routine care.
To place traditional veneers, it's necessary to prepare the tooth by removing a small amount (a millimeter or two) of its enamel surface. This keeps it from feeling too big — but it also means the treatment can't be reversed, so once you get veneers, you'll always have them. In certain situations, "no-prep" or minimal-prep veneers, which require little or no removal of tooth enamel, may be an option for some people.
Veneers aren't the only way to create a better smile: Teeth whitening, crowns or orthodontic work may also be an alternative. But for many, veneers are the preferred option. What does Vivica think of hers?
"I love my veneers!" she declared, noting that they have held up well for over a decade.
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
Aspirin has been a popular pain reliever and fever reducer for over a century. Its effect on the clotting mechanism of blood, however, has led to its widespread and often daily use in low dose form (81 mg) to help reduce the chances of heart attack or stroke in cardiovascular patients. While this has proven effective for many at risk for these conditions, it can complicate dental work.
Aspirin relieves pain by blocking the formation of prostaglandins; these chemicals stimulate inflammation, the body’s protective response to trauma or disease. Aspirin reduces this inflammatory response, which in turn eases the pain and reduces fever. It also causes blood platelets to stop them from clumping together. This inhibits clotting, which for healthy individuals could result in abnormal bleeding but is beneficial to those at risk for heart attack or stroke by keeping blood moving freely through narrowed or damaged blood vessels.
Even for individuals who benefit from regular aspirin therapy there are still risks for unwanted bleeding. Besides the danger it may pose during serious trauma or bleeding in the brain that could lead to a stroke, it can also complicate invasive medical procedures, including many in dentistry. For example, aspirin therapy could increase the rate and degree of bleeding during tooth extraction, root canal or other procedures that break the surface of soft tissue.
Bleeding gums after brushing is most often a sign of periodontal (gum) disease. But if you’re on an aspirin regimen, gum bleeding could be a side effect. A thorough dental examination will be necessary to determine whether your medication or gum disease is the root cause.
It’s important, then, to let us know if you’re regularly taking aspirin, including how often and at what dosage. This will help us make more accurate diagnoses of conditions in your mouth, and will enable us to take extra precautions for bleeding during any dental procedures you may undergo.
If you would like more information on the effects of aspirin and similar medications on dental treatment, 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 “Aspirin: Friend or Foe?”
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