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.”
Though it sounds like an elite academic society, "The Freshman 15" is anything but. The phrase stands for the weight, pegged at 15 pounds, that many incoming students gain in their first few months at college—the result of poor dietary habits brought on by a hectic schedule and newfound freedoms.
These and other habits have consequences—and not just for unwanted pounds. Many can lead to dental problems, which could continue to overshadow a student's oral health long after college is over.
Here, then, are 5 tips to pass along to your newly minted college student (or anyone else, for that matter) to keep their teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
Brush and floss daily. While a hectic course load beckons, a student should still make time every day to brush and floss their teeth. Along with regular dental cleanings, these two tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a bacterial film that causes dental disease. Daily oral hygiene is good insurance against developing future tooth decay and gum disease.
Cut back on sugar. A student may rely on sugary snacks for a boost of energy throughout their day, but it could be setting them up for dental disease. That's because harmful oral bacteria also feed on sugar. Choose instead real, whole foods and snacks that are better for teeth—and for avoiding those dreaded freshman pounds.
Limit acidic beverages. Besides added sugar, sodas, sports and energy drinks also contain acid, another ingredient unfriendly to teeth. During prolonged contact, acid softens and erodes the mineral content in tooth enamel, opening the door to tooth decay. Those who drink these kinds of beverages should limit their consumption as much as possible.
Don't smoke. Smoking dries out the mouth, preventing saliva from buffering the acid that causes tooth decay. Its main ingredient nicotine restricts the mouth's blood vessels, further increasing the chances of dental disease. Tobacco use in general, including smoking, is also a key risk factor for oral cancer.
Avoid mouth "jewelry." It might be the bomb on campus, but lip rings, tongue bolts and other mouth jewelry can cause dental damage. Besides the possibility of chipped teeth, metal jewelry in or around the mouth is more likely to cause infection. Better to skip this fashion statement for healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on good oral 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
If you're looking for a cosmetic enhancement with a “light” touch, you can't beat dental veneers. These custom-made wafers of dental porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, heavy staining or gaps, revitalizing your smile.
But with traditional veneers, a minimal impact doesn't mean no impact at all. Although they're quite thin—often a millimeter or less—they can still look bulky when bonded to unprepared teeth. Dentists usually remove a small amount of surface enamel to help them appear more natural.
The alteration itself is painless, and only the bare minimum of enamel is removed. Even so, the alteration is permanent—the tooth will require a veneer or other form of restoration from then on. But a new kind of veneer may make it possible to avoid any enamel removal, or much less. These no-prep or minimal-prep veneers are even thinner, between 0.3 and 0.5 millimeters.
With these ultra-thin veneers, your dentist may only perform a little minor enamel re-shaping, particularly the sides of the teeth, to ensure a good fit. As thin as they are—akin to that of a contact lens—no-prep veneers can be bonded to the teeth surface without the need for fitting them under the gum line.
No-prep veneers are ideal for people with smaller than normal teeth, or that appear smaller due to other facial features. This also includes teeth that have worn down from age or teeth grinding, or those that are misshapen in some way. They also work well with people who have a narrow smile where less teeth than normal are visible in the “smile zone.”
They can also be used with patients who have oversized or prominent teeth, but it may still require some enamel removal. The only qualification for anyone receiving ultrathin veneers is that their enamel is in reasonably good health.
Because there's little to no alteration of the teeth, no-prep veneers can be reversed. Removing them, though, is no easy task, so you'll still need to think long-term before obtaining one. All in all, though, no-prep veneers in the right setting can still transform your smile without much permanent change to your teeth.
If you would like more information on no-prep 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 “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
If you're a fan of former NFL player and current host of Good Morning America Michael Strahan, then you're well aware of his unique smile feature—a noticeable gap between his front teeth. So far, Strahan has nixed any dental work to correct the gap, often saying it was part of "who I am."
But if you follow him on Twitter, you may have been shocked by a video he posted on March 30th of him sitting in a dentist's chair. Calling it a "moment fifty years in the making," Strahan said, "Let's do it." After some brief video shots of a dental procedure, Strahan revealed a new gapless smile.
But some of his Twitter fans weren't buying it—given the timing, they sniffed an elaborate April Fool's Day ruse. It turns out their spider senses were on target: Strahan appeared once again after the video with his signature gap still intact, grinning over the reaction to his successful prank.
The uproar from his practical joke is all the more hilarious because Strahan has let it be known he's truly comfortable with his smile "imperfection." But it also took him awhile to reach that point of acceptance, a well-known struggle for many people. On the one hand, they want to fix their dental flaws and improve their smile. But then again, they're hesitant to part with the little "imperfections" that make them unique.
If that's you, here are some tips to help you better navigate what best to do about improving your smile.
See a cosmetic dentist. A cosmetic dentist is singularly focused on smile enhancement, and particularly in helping patients decide what changes they want or need. If you're looking for such a dentist, seek recommendations from friends and family who've changed their smiles in ways you find appealing.
Get a "smile analysis." Before considering specific cosmetic measures, it's best to first get the bigger picture through an examination called a "smile analysis." Besides identifying the defects in your smile, a cosmetic dentist will use the analysis to gauge the effect any proposed improvements may have on your overall facial appearance.
Embrace reality. A skilled cosmetic dentist will also evaluate your overall oral health and assess how any cosmetic procedures might impact it. This might change your expectations if it whittles down the list of enhancement possibilities, but it may help determine what you can do to get the best improved smile possible.
A great cosmetic dentist will work diligently with you to achieve a new smile that's uniquely you. Even if, like Michael Strahan, you decide to keep a trademark "imperfection," there may still be room for other enhancements that will change your appearance for the better.
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.
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