If you notice a small sore or a change in the appearance of the tissues inside your mouth, don’t panic. It’s likely a common, minor ailment that appears on a lot of skin surfaces (like the wrists or legs) besides the cheeks, gums, or tongue.
These small sores or lesions are called lichen planus, named so because their coloration and patterns (white, lacy lines) look a lot like lichen that grow on trees or rocks. They’re only similar in appearance to the algae or fungi growing in the forest — these are lesions thought to be a form of auto-immune disease. Although they can affect anyone, they’re more common in women than men and with middle-aged or older people.
Most people aren’t even aware they have the condition, although some can produce itching or mild discomfort. They’re often discovered during dental checkups, and although they’re usually benign, we’ll often consider a biopsy of them to make sure the lesion isn’t a symptom of something more serious.
There currently isn’t a cure for the condition, but it can be managed to reduce symptoms; for most people, the lesions will go away on their own. You may need to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, hot peppers or caffeinated drinks that tend to worsen the symptoms. If chronic stress is a problem, finding ways to reduce it can also help alleviate symptoms as well as quitting tobacco and reducing your alcohol intake.
Our biggest concern is to first assure the lesion isn’t cancerous. Even after confirming it’s not, we still want to keep a close eye on the lesion, so regular monitoring is a good precaution. Just keep up with the basics — good oral hygiene and regular checkups — to ensure you have the most optimum oral health possible.
If you would like more information on lichen planus lesions, 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 “Lichen Planus: Mouth Lesions that are Usually Benign.”
There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make if you want to reduce your risk of oral cancer, with quitting a tobacco habit at the top of the list. You should also moderate your alcohol consumption and practice safe sex to prevent the spread of the human papilloma virus (HPV 16) linked to oral cancer.
And there's one other area that might be ripe for change—your diet. The foods we consume can work both ways in regard to cancer: some, especially processed products with certain chemicals, increase your cancer risk; more natural foods, on the other hand, can help your body fight cancer formation.
Although how cancer forms and grows isn't fully understood, we do know some of the mechanisms involved. One major factor in cancer growth is damage to DNA, the molecule that contains all the instructions for normal cell growth. Certain chemicals called carcinogens cause much of this DNA damage.
One example of these dangerous chemicals are nitrosamines, found in substances used to preserve meats like bacon or ham. Nitrosamines also occur in beer during the brewing process, some fish and fish products, processed cheese and foods pickled with nitrite salt. It's believed long-term consumption of foods with these chemicals can increase the risk of cancer.
On the other hand, there are foods with substances called antioxidants that help our bodies resist cancer. Antioxidants protect cells from unstable molecules called free radicals that can also damage DNA. You'll find antioxidants in abundance in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those high in fiber. Vitamins like C and E found in many natural foods also have antioxidant properties.
So, to help keep your risk of cancer and other diseases low, make sure your diet includes mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, along with plant-based fats found in nuts or olive oil. At the same time minimize your consumption of processed foods with preservatives and other chemicals, along with animal and saturated fats.
A change in eating not only reduces your cancer risk, it can also improve your overall health and well-being. You'll also find a healthy diet can be dental-friendly—it can help keep your teeth and gums disease-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on dental-friendly nutrition 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Dairy foods have played a role in human diets for thousands of years. More than one kid—whether millennia ago on the Mesopotamian plains or today in an American suburb—has been told to drink their milk to grow strong. This is because milk and other dairy products contain vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy body, including healthy teeth and gums. In honor of National Dairy Month in June, here are four ways dairy boosts your oral health:
Dental-friendly vitamins, minerals and proteins. Dairy products are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals that are important for good dental health. They are packed with calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that work together to strengthen tooth enamel. In addition to the vitamins they contain naturally, milk and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D, which aids in calcium and phosphorus absorption; cheese contains a small amount of vitamin D naturally. What's more, dairy proteins have been shown to prevent or reduce the erosion of tooth enamel and strengthen the connective tissues that hold teeth in place.
Lactose: a more tooth-friendly sugar. Sugars like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, which are routinely added to processed foods, are a primary trigger for tooth decay. This is because certain oral bacteria consume sugar, producing acid as a by-product. The acid weakens tooth enamel, eventually resulting in cavities. Dairy products—at least those without added sugar—are naturally low in sugar, and the sugar they contain, lactose, results in less acid production than other common sugars.
The decay-busting power of cheese. We know that high acidity in the mouth is a major factor in decay development. But cheese is low in acidity, and a quick bite of it right after eating a sugary snack could help raise the mouth's pH out of the danger zone. Cheeses are also rich in calcium, which could help preserve that important mineral's balance in tooth enamel.
Dairy for gum health. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who regularly consumed dairy products had a lower incidence of gum disease than those who did not. And since gum health is related to the overall health, it's important to do all we can to prevent and manage gum disease.
For those who cannot or choose not to consume dairy products, there are other foods that supply calcium naturally, such as beans, nuts and leafy greens—and many other foods are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients. It may be wise to take a multivitamin or calcium with vitamin D as a supplement as well.
If you would like more information about nutrition and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
The next time you visit your dentist you might see an item quite different from the other dental instruments and equipment in the office: a blood pressure cuff. Checking blood pressure is becoming a more common occurrence in dental offices across the country.
Abnormal blood pressure and some of the medications used to treat it are often a factor in some dental procedures, particularly if anesthesia is involved. But your dentist may also check your blood pressure for another reason: dental visits represent another avenue to screen for this condition that increases the risk of serious health problems.
Undiagnosed high blood pressure is a prevalent but often “silent” problem because the early stages of the condition may not display any symptoms. Many people first become aware they have an issue only after a blood pressure check at their family doctor, pharmacy or a health fair, for example. Otherwise, they could go months, even years without this vital knowledge about their health.
But while people may only visit their doctor once a year (or less) many see their dentist much more often, even twice a year, for routine cleanings and checkups. Including blood pressure screenings as a routine part of dental treatment could alert patients to a potential issue much earlier than their next doctor’s visit.
In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association looked at a group of dental patients with no reported heart disease risk and who had not seen a doctor in the twelve months before their dental visit. During their visit their blood pressure was checked. Of those then referred to a physician for an abnormal reading, 17% learned for the first time they had an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s estimated about 80 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease and many don’t even know it. Diagnosing and controlling high blood pressure is a key factor in treating these life-threatening conditions. And many dentists are joining the fight by making this simple screening method a part of their dental care services.
If you would like more information on blood pressure screening, 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 “Monitoring Blood Pressure: What you don't know can hurt you.”
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