Forty years have passed since the first reported case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and it and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it are still with us. About 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with HIV, with 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
The emergence of antiretroviral drugs, though, has made it possible for many with HIV to live normal lives. Even so, the virus can still have a profound effect on health, including the teeth and gums. Because of its effect on the immune system, HIV+ patients are at greater risk for a number of oral conditions, like a fungal infection called candidiasis ("thrush").
Another common problem is chronic dry mouth (xerostomia), caused by a lack of saliva production. Not only does this create an unpleasant mouth feel, but the absence of saliva also increases the risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
The latter can be a serious malady among HIV patients, particularly a severe form of gum disease known as Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis (NUP). With NUP, the gums develop ulcerations and an unpleasant odor arising from dead gum tissue.
Besides plaque removal (a regular part of gum disease treatment), NUP may also require antibiotics, antibacterial mouthrinses and pain management. NUP may also be a sign that the immune system has taken a turn for the worse, which could indicate a transition to the AIDS disease. Dentists often refer patients with NUP to a primary care provider for further diagnosis and treatment.
Besides daily brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings are a necessary part of a HIV+ patient's health maintenance. These visits are also important for monitoring dental health, which, as previously noted, could provide early signs that the infection may be entering a new disease stage.
It's also important for HIV+ patients to see their dentist at the first sign of inflamed, red or bleeding gums, mouth lesions or loose teeth. Early treatment, especially of emerging gum disease, can prevent more serious problems from developing later.
Living with HIV-AIDS isn't easy. But proper health management, including for the teeth and gums, can help make life as normal as possible.
If you would like more information on dental care and HIV-AIDS, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
By the time a person passes the half-century mark, they've done quite a bit of living: their share of ups and downs, successes and failures, and joys and sorrows. But while aging can take its toll on their physical and cognitive health, older adults still have much to offer from their life experience. It often falls to other family members to keep them in the best health possible—including their oral health.
Helping an older adult maintain healthy teeth and gums is crucial to their overall well-being. So in recognition of Older Americans Month in May, here are 4 tips for helping an older family member keep a healthy mouth.
Support their daily hygiene. Age-related physical and cognitive impairment can make the simple tasks of brushing and flossing much more difficult. You can help by providing an older family member with tools that make it easier for them to clean their teeth, like larger handled toothbrushes or water flossers. In some cases, you may have to perform their hygiene tasks for them, but it's worth the effort to reduce their risk of dental disease.
Watch for "dry mouth." If an older person complains of their mouth being constantly dry, take it seriously. Chronic dry mouth is a sign of not enough saliva, which could make them more prone to dental disease. The likely culprits, especially for older adults, are prescription medications, so speak with their doctor about alternatives. You can also encourage them to use saliva boosters or to drink more water.
Ask for oral cancer screens. Ninety percent of oral cancer occurs in people over the age of 40, with the risk increasing with age. Be sure, then, to ask for an oral cancer screen during their dental visits, presuming it's not already being done. Screenings usually involve visual and tactile examinations of the inside of the mouth and the sides of the neck, looking for unusual lesions, swelling or discolorations. The sooner oral cancer is found, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Have dental work checked. An older person may have acquired various forms of dental work like bridges, implants or removable dentures. Because these play an important role in their oral health, you should have their dental work checked routinely. This is particularly true for dentures, which can lose their fit and comfort over time. Dental work in need of repair makes dental function more difficult and can increase their risk of disease.
Given the depth of responsibility in caring for an older adult, it's easy to let some things slip by the wayside. Their oral health shouldn't be one of them—giving it the priority it deserves will pay dividends in their health overall.
If you would like more information about oral care for an older adult, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Dry Mouth.”
If you think your smile is beyond hope, you might be in for a happy surprise: Today's dental cosmetics can improve even the most forlorn dental situation. It could be a one-visit tooth whitening—or a total “smile makeover.”
If it's the latter, your transformation journey could take months or even years—so you need some idea of where this journey will take you. That will come through initial discussions with your dentist about your dreams and desires for a new smile.
But you'll also need to consider what your dental condition will practically allow: Although your goal is a more attractive appearance, the higher priority is your long-term dental health. There's also cost—dental enhancements can be expensive, so you may have to adjust your dream smile to match the reality of your finances.
With the big picture in focus, the next step is to refine the details of your makeover plan. Nothing does this better—for you and your dentist—than to “see” your proposed smile ahead of time. This is possible with computer technology: Your dentist can modify a digitized photo of your face and smile to show the proposed changes to your teeth and give you a reasonable view of your future smile.
Another way is to create a “trial smile.” Using composite dental material, your dentist fashions a temporary restoration that fits over your teeth. Unlike the digitally enhanced still photo, a trial smile let's you see what your new appearance will look like while moving, talking or smiling. Although it's removed before you leave the office, you can have photos taken to show friends and family.
You and your dentist can use these methods to make adjustments to your makeover plan before applying the real enhancements. It also eliminates any unpleasant surprises after all the work is done—you'll already know what your future smile will look like.
These initial steps are just as important as the actual procedures you'll undergo. Through careful planning, you'll gain a new smile that can improve your life.
If you would like more information on smile transformations, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
Preventing periodontal (gum) disease not only preserves your teeth and gums, it might also benefit the rest of your health. There's growing evidence that gum disease has links to other systemic diseases.
Gum disease usually starts with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, which triggers a bacterial gum infection. Left untreated, the infection advances and steadily breaks down the gums' attachment to teeth.
This can create large ulcerated areas that are too weak to prevent the passing of bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream and other parts of the body. There's growing evidence from epidemiology (the study of the spread and control of disease) that this bloodstream transfer, as well as the inflammation that accompanies gum disease, could affect other body-wide conditions or diseases.
Diabetes. This chronic condition occurs when the body can't adequately produce insulin, a hormone that regulates sugar (glucose) in the blood, or can't respond to it. Diabetes can inhibit healing, cause blindness or lead to death. Both diabetes and gum disease are inflammatory in nature, and there's some evidence inflammation arising from either condition may worsen the other.
Heart disease. Heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of death. Like diabetes and gum disease, these heart-related conditions are also characterized by inflammation. There are also specific types of bacteria that arise from gum disease that can travel through the body and increase the risk of heart disease.
Arthritis. An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis causes debilitating pain, particularly involving the joints, and leads to decreased mobility. Interestingly, many newly diagnosed arthritis patients are also found to have some form of periodontal disease—the two diseases, in fact, follow a similar development track. Although this may hint of a connection, we need more research to determine if there are indeed links between the two diseases.
Regardless of any direct relationships between gum disease and other conditions, preventing and treating it can improve both your oral and general health. You can lower your risk of gum disease by practicing daily brushing and flossing and undergoing regular dental cleanings to remove plaque. And at the first sign of gum problems, see your dentist as soon as possible for early intervention—the earlier the better.
If you would like more information on oral health 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
There's a lot to like about porcelain veneers, especially as you get older. For one, they can be less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic restorations. More importantly, though, they're versatile—they can solve a variety of dental appearance problems.
Veneers are thin shells of porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to alter their appearance—a work of custom art crafted by a dental technician to fit an individual patient's dental needs. They can turn back the clock on a less than attractive smile, and, with a little care, could last for years.
Here are some dental appearance problems you might encounter in your later years that veneers may help you improve.
Discoloration. As we get older, our teeth color can change—and not for the better. Teeth whitening temporarily brightens dull and dingy teeth, but the effect will fade over time. Additionally, there are some forms of staining, particularly those arising from within a tooth, for which external whitening can't help. Veneers can mask discoloration and give a new, permanent shine to teeth.
Unattractive shape. As we age, wearing on teeth can cause them to appear shorter and create sharper angles around the edges. Veneers can be used to restore length and soften the shape of teeth. Because veneers can be customized, we can actually create a tooth shape that you believe will improve your appearance.
Dental flaws. A lifetime of biting and chewing, not to mention a chance injury, can lead to chips, cracks or other dental defects. But veneers can cover over unsightly flaws that cause you to be less confident in your smile. Veneers can give you back the smile you once had or, if you were born with dental flaws, the smile you never had.
Misalignments. The biting forces we encounter throughout our lifetime can move teeth out of alignment, or widen gaps between them. You can undergo orthodontic treatment to correct these misalignments problems, but if they're relatively minor, we may be able to use veneers to “straighten” your smile.
If you're concerned about the effects of aging on your smile, veneers could help you look younger. Visit us for a full dental evaluation to see if a veneer restoration is right for you.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
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