Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.
Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.
Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.
But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.
As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.
In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.
As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.
Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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.”
After a year of lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions, people are itching this summer to get back out into the great outdoors. The good news is that quite a number of national and state parks are open. But there may still be some restrictions, and you might need reservations in busier parks. The key is to plan ahead—and that includes for normal contingencies like dental emergencies.
Anyone who's physically active can encounter brunt force to the face and jaws. A tumble on a hike or a mishap with a rental bike could injure your teeth and gums, sometimes severely. But if you're already prepared, you might be able to lessen the damage yourself.
Here's a guide for protecting your family's teeth during that long-awaited summer vacation.
Locate dental and medical care. If you're heading away from home, be sure you identify healthcare providers (like hospitals or emergency rooms and clinics) in close proximity to your vacation site. Be sure your list of emergency providers also includes a dentist. Besides online searches, your family dentist may also be able to make recommendations.
Wear protective mouth gear. If your vacation involves physical activity or sports participation, a mouthguard could save you a world of trouble. Mouthguards, especially custom-made and fitted by a dentist, protect the teeth, gums and jaws from sudden blows to the face. They're a must for any activity or sport with a risk of blunt force trauma to the face and jaws, and just as important as helmets, pads or other protective gear.
Know what to do for a dental injury. Outdoor activities do carry a risk for oral and dental injuries. Knowing what to do if an accident does occur can ease discomfort and may reduce long-term consequences. For example, quickly placing a knocked out tooth back into its socket (cleaned off and handled by the crown only) could save the tooth. To make dental first aid easier, here's a handy dental injury pocket guide (//www.deardoctor.com/dental-injuries/) to print and carry with you.
And regardless of the injury, it's best to see a dentist as soon as possible after an accident. Following up with a dentist is necessary to tidy up any initial first aid, or to check the extent of an injury. This post-injury dental follow-up will help reduce the chances of adverse long-term consequences to the teeth and gums.
Your family deserves to recharge after this tumultuous year with a happy and restful summer. Just be sure you're ready for a dental injury that could put a damper on your outdoor vacation.
If you would like more information about preventing or treating dental injuries, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
In an ideal world, your family's dental needs would mesh seamlessly with the family budget. Alas, it's not always that way, and it can often be a head scratcher figuring out how to pay for needed dental work.
You can reduce treatment costs with dental insurance, which could conceivably cut your bill in half. But dental policies often have payment caps and coverage limitations on materials and procedures. And unless someone else like an employer is paying for it, you'll have to subtract the premiums you're paying from any benefits you receive to reveal what you're actually saving.
Even with dental insurance, you can still have a remaining balance that exceeds what you can pay outright. You may be able to work out a payment plan with the dentist for extended treatments like braces, but this might not be possible in other cases.
That leaves financing what you owe with loans or credit cards. For the latter, it's highly likely your dentist accepts major credit cards. But since many cards charge high interest rates, you could pay a hefty premium on top of your treatment charges the more you extend your payments on a revolving account over time.
Your dentist may also participate with a healthcare credit card. Although similar to a regular credit card, it only pays for healthcare costs like dental fees. Interest rates may also be high like regular cards, but some healthcare cards offer promotional periods for paying a balance over a designated time for little to no interest. But late payments and overextending the promotional period could nullify this discount.
You might save more on interest with a loan that has a fixed interest rate and payment schedule rather than a credit card with revolving interest (although credit cards may be more suitable for smaller expenditures while a fixed loan works better for larger one-time charges). One in particular is a healthcare installment loan program, one of which your dentist might be able to recommend, which is often ideal for paying dental costs.
Paying for your family's needed dental care can be financially difficult. But you do have options—and your dentist may be able to assist you in making the right choice.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be top of mind.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
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