My Blog

Posts for: March, 2018

By Stephen J. Wessels, DMD
March 26, 2018
Category: Oral Health
Tags: shingles  
3ThingsYourDentistRecommendsYoudoifYouHaveShingles

It may begin as an itching or burning feeling on your skin, followed by numbness or sensitivity to touch. But then you develop a painful red rash that forms crusty lesions. Fever and fatigue may follow.

These are the common symptoms for a form of chicken pox called shingles, a contagious disease from the human herpes group of viruses. While anyone can contract the shingles virus, it most often lies dormant in a person’s nervous system for decades after an earlier bout of chicken pox. It then breaks out (sometimes repeatedly), usually in patients over fifty.

A shingles outbreak can be miserable. It could also affect your dental care, especially if you have a rash on your face and neck. Here are 3 things you should do if you have shingles in regard to your dental care and overall health.

Tell your dentist you have shingles. A shingles outbreak is highly contagious in its early stages and can spread from direct contact with blisters or through airborne secretions from the infected person’s respiratory system. Even a simple teeth cleaning (especially with an ultrasonic device) at this stage could spread the virus to staff and other patients. So inform your dentist if your appointment coincides with an outbreak—it may be necessary to re-schedule your visit.

Start antiviral treatment as soon as possible. If you’re diagnosed with shingles, more than likely your doctor or dentist will recommend immediate antiviral treatment (typically acyclovir or famciclovir) within 3 days of symptom onset. This can help speed up healing, alleviate pain and possibly prevent more serious complications.

Get the shingles vaccine. Of course, you don’t have to wait for shingles to occur—there is an effective vaccine that could help prevent an outbreak. If you’ve had chicken pox (over 90% of American adults have) or you’re over sixty with or without previous chicken pox, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends you get vaccinated.

If you would like more information on shingles and how it may affect your dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.


SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.

As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.

Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.

Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.

Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome.┬áIf you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”


PromptTreatmentforGumDiseaseCouldUltimatelySaveYourTeeth

Your smile isn’t the same without healthy gums—neither are your teeth, for that matter. So, maintaining your gums by protecting them from periodontal (gum) disease is a top priority.

Gum disease is caused by bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that collects on teeth and is not removed due to poor oral hygiene practices. Infected gums become chronically inflamed and begin to weaken, ultimately losing their firm attachment to the teeth. This can result in increasing voids called periodontal pockets that fill with infection. The gums can also shrink back (recede), exposing the tooth roots to further infection.

Although gum disease treatment techniques vary, the overall goal is the same: remove the bacterial plaque fueling the infection. This most often involves a procedure called scaling with special hand instruments to manually remove plaque and calculus (tartar). If the infection has spread below the gum line we may need to use a procedure called root planing in which we scrape or “plane” plaque and calculus from the root surfaces.

As we remove plaque, the gums become less inflamed. As the inflammation subsides we often discover more plaque and calculus, requiring more treatment sessions. Hopefully, our efforts bring the disease under control and restorative healing to the gums.

But while gum tissue can regenerate on its own, it may need some assistance if the recession was severe. This assistance can be provided through surgical procedures that graft donor tissues to the recession site. There are a number of microsurgical approaches that are all quite intricate to perform, and will usually require a periodontist (a specialist in gum structures) to achieve the most functional and attractive result.

While we have the advanced techniques and equipment to treat and repair gum disease damage, the best approach is to try to prevent the disease from occurring at all. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing, and continues with regular dental cleanings and checkups.

And if you do notice potential signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, call us promptly for an examination. The sooner we diagnose and begin treatment the less damage this progressive disease can do to your gums—and your smile.

If you would like more information on protecting your gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”