As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Canker sores, known medically as aphthous ulcers, are fairly common among people. Lasting for about a week or so, these mouth sores are usually more irritating than painful. But about a quarter of the population, especially women, frequently suffer from an acute form that doesn't often respond well to over-the-counter remedies.
A typical canker sore is usually round with a yellow-gray center ringed by a reddened "halo." They can be preceded by tingling or painful sensations at the site a few hours or so before breaking out. Recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS) is the more severe form of canker sore, often with outbreaks of multiple painful sores. While the more common sore is usually less than a centimeter in diameter, RAS sores are often much larger.
Canker sores often arise during periods of stress or anxiety, and seem to be connected with eating certain acidic foods like tomato sauce, citrus fruits or spicy dishes. RAS also seems to be related to underlying systemic conditions like vitamin deficiencies, anemia or digestive disorders. Besides managing diet and stress, people with regular canker sores and milder cases of RAS can often find relief with non-prescription numbing agents often found in stores and pharmacies.
For more severe RAS, though, you may need the help of your dentist or physician with treatments like prescription steroids or other medications that come in gel or rinse form or through injections. The goal of any treatment approach is to decrease pain severity and shorten healing times after an outbreak.
While most mouth sores, including RAS, aren't dangerous to your health, you should still take any sore seriously. You should especially seek medical evaluation if a sore doesn't heal after a couple of weeks, if they seem to come more frequently and are more severe, or if you don't seem to ever be without a sore in your mouth. These could indicate a serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
One thing's for sure: there are ways to ease your suffering if you have frequent bouts with regular canker sores or even RAS. Talk to your dentist about ways to minimize your discomfort from these irritating mouth sores.
If you would like more information on aphthous ulcers or canker 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 “Mouth Sores.”
Your nightly snoring has become a major sleep disturbance for you and other family members. But it may be more than an irritation — it could also be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition that increases your risk for life-threatening illnesses like high blood pressure or heart disease.
Sleep apnea most often occurs when the tongue or other soft tissues block the airway during sleep. The resulting lack of oxygen triggers the brain to wake the body to readjust the airway. This waking may only last a few seconds, but it can occur several times a night. Besides its long-term health effects, this constant waking through the night can result in irritability, drowsiness and brain fog during the day.
One of the best ways to treat sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This requires an electric pump that supplies constant pressurized air to a face mask worn during sleep to keep the airway open. But although effective, many patients find a CPAP machine clumsy and uncomfortable to wear. That's why you may want to consider an option from your family dentist called oral appliance therapy (OAT).
An OAT device is a custom-made appliance that fits in the mouth like a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. The majority of OAT appliances use tiny metal hinges to move the lower jaw and tongue forward to make the airway larger, thus improving air flow. Another version works by holding the tongue away from the back of the throat, either by holding the tongue forward like a tongue depressor or with a small compartment fitted around the tongue that holds it back with suction.
Before considering an OAT appliance, your dentist may refer you to a sleep specialist to confirm you have sleep apnea through laboratory or home testing. If you do and you meet other criteria, you could benefit from an OAT appliance. There may be other factors to consider, though, so be sure to discuss your options with your dentist or physician to find the right solution for a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea treatments, 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 “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”
We don’t often think about it, but eating is a multi-staged process. It starts, of course, with food that’s hopefully high in nutritional value. But you also need coordinated jaw action to chew and shred your food that when combined with the enzymes in saliva can then be effectively digested in the stomach.
But what if you’re unable to chew some foods because you suffer from chronic jaw pain and dysfunction? This is the situation for millions of people who suffer from problems associated with the jaw joints—temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). It’s not just the chronic pain and discomfort TMD can cause that’s a real issue—it may also be preventing you from eating foods that are healthy for you.
Because TMD can make it difficult to open your jaws wide or causes pain when you bite down, you might especially have trouble with certain fruits and vegetables as well as many meats. Many people opt to skip otherwise healthy foods because they’re too difficult to eat. That, however, could lead to lack of proper nutrition in the long run.
But with a few techniques and modifications, you can still include many of these foods in your diet even when TMD discomfort flares up. For one, be sure to cut all your food portions (including toast) into small, bite-sized pieces. These should be small enough to limit the amount of jaw opening required to comfortably place the bite in your mouth and chew. When preparing your food, be sure to peel fruits and vegetables that have skin, which is often hard to chew.
You should also try cooking crisper fruits and vegetables to a soft, moist texture. Choose meat cuts, poultry or seafood that can be cooked to a tender, moist consistency—you can also use gravies and sauces to further moisten them.
And don’t forget to chew slowly. Not only does slower eating aid in digestion, it will help you avoid overworking your jaw joints.
With a few adjustments you can have a normal, nutritious diet and minimize the discomfort of your TMD symptoms. Continual healthy eating is a must for overall health and quality of life.
If you would like more information on reducing the impact of TMD on your life and health, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
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. If 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.”
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