Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
More than 20 million people in the United States use electronic cigarettes or e-cigs as an alternative to tobacco smoking. While many users believe "vaping" is a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, recent research into the health effects of e-cigs could put a damper on that belief. There's particular concern among dentists that this popular habit could harm users' dental health.
E-cigs are made with a chamber that holds the liquid vaping solution and a heating mechanism to heat the liquid and vaporize it. Users inhale the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings, as they would a traditional cigarette.
The nicotine alone can be problematic for dental health as we'll see in a moment. But the vapor also contains aerosols that some research indicates could damage the inner skin linings of the mouth in a similar fashion to the smoke of traditional cigarettes. One study by researchers with the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada found evidence that e-cig vapor increased the death rate of mouth cells, and led to greater cell irregularities over time.
According to other studies, there's evidence that e-cig vapor may disrupt the balance of the oral microbiome, the communities of both beneficial and harmful bacteria that normally live in the mouth. The imbalance in favor of more harmful bacteria could increase the risk for dental disease, particularly periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, nicotine from e-cigs seemed to create similar conditions in the mouth as it does with tobacco. Nicotine in any form can constrict blood vessels and reduce the body's ability to fight infection and to heal. Research indicates both forms of nicotine increase the risk for dental disease and make treatment more difficult.
These findings only identify conditions created by e-cigs that could be problematic for future dental health. Although we don't fully understand the long-term health effects of this new habit, based on the evidence so far the mouth may not fare so well. It's looking like e-cigs may be no safer for your teeth and gums than the cigarettes they replace.
Periodontal (gum) disease causes more than simple gum swelling—this bacterial infection can harm and destroy your teeth’s supporting structures, including the bone. Its aggressiveness sometimes requires equally aggressive treatment.
Gum disease usually begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces. Without proper oral hygiene plaque builds up with large populations of bacteria that can trigger an infection.
The growth of this disease is often “silent,” meaning it may initially show no symptoms. If it does, it will normally be reddened, swollen and/or bleeding gums, and sometimes pain. A loose tooth is often a late sign the disease has severely damaged the gum ligaments and supporting bone, making tooth loss a distinct possibility.
If you’re diagnosed with gum disease, there is one primary treatment strategy—remove all detected plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. This can take several sessions because as the gums begin responding to treatment and are less inflamed, more plaque and calculus may be discovered.
Plaque removal can involve various techniques depending on the depth of the infection within the gums. For surfaces above or just below the gum line, we often use a technique called scaling: manually removing plaque and calculus with specialized instruments called scalers. If the infection has progressed well below the gum line we may also use root planing, a technique for “shaving” plaque from root surfaces.
Once infection reaches these deeper levels it’s often difficult to access. Getting to it may require a surgical procedure known as flap surgery. We make incisions in the gums to form what looks like the flap of an envelope. By retracting this “flap” we can then access the root area of the tooth. After thoroughly cleansing the area of infection, we can do regenerative procedures to regain lost attachment. Then we suture the flap of gum tissue back into place.
Whatever its stage of development, it’s important to begin treatment of gum disease as soon as it’s detected. The earlier we can arrest its spread, the less likely we’ll need to employ these more invasive procedures. If you see any signs of gum disease as mentioned before, contact us as soon as possible for a full examination.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
While the sport of golf may not look too dangerous from the sidelines, players know it can sometimes lead to mishaps. There are accidents involving golf carts and clubs, painful muscle and back injuries, and even the threat of lightning strikes on the greens. Yet it wasn’t any of these things that caused professional golfer Danielle Kang’s broken tooth on the opening day of the LPGA Singapore tournament.
“I was eating and it broke,” explained Kang. “My dentist told me, I've chipped another one before, and he said, you don't break it at that moment. It's been broken and it just chips off.” Fortunately, the winner of the 2017 Women’s PGA championship got immediate dental treatment, and went right back on the course to play a solid round, shooting 68.
Kang’s unlucky “chip shot” is far from a rare occurrence. In fact, chipped, fractured and broken teeth are among the most common dental injuries. The cause can be crunching too hard on a piece of ice or hard candy, a sudden accident or a blow to the face, or a tooth that’s weakened by decay or repetitive stress from a habit like nail biting. Feeling a broken tooth in your mouth can cause surprise and worry—but luckily, dentists have many ways of restoring the tooth’s appearance and function.
Exactly how a broken tooth is treated depends on how much of its structure is missing, and whether the soft tissue deep inside of it has been compromised. When a fracture exposes the tooth’s soft pulp it can easily become infected, which may lead to serious problems. In this situation, a root canal or extraction will likely be needed. This involves carefully removing the infected pulp tissue and disinfecting and sealing the “canals” (hollow spaces inside the tooth) to prevent further infection. The tooth can then be restored, often with a crown (cap) to replace the entire visible part. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted (removed).
For less serious chips, dental veneers may be an option. Made of durable and lifelike porcelain, veneers are translucent shells that go over the front surfaces of teeth. They can cover minor to moderate chips and cracks, and even correct size and spacing irregularities and discoloration. Veneers can be custom-made in a dental laboratory from a model of your teeth, and are cemented to teeth for a long-lasting and natural-looking restoration.
Minor chips can often be remedied via dental bonding. Here, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to the surfaces being restored. The resin is shaped to fill in the missing structure and hardened by a special light. While not as long-lasting as other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can often be completed in just one office visit.
If you have questions about restoring chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers” and “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin.”
A beautiful smile is a balanced smile, especially in regard to your gums. A normal smile usually shows 4 mm or less of gum tissue along with about 10 mm of tooth length. But if your gums show more than that, your smile may seem too gummy. In terms of perceived balance, this could detract from your smile's attractiveness.
Fortunately, you don't have to live with a gummy smile—there are various ways to correct or minimize its effect. First, though, we'll need to determine the underlying cause before deciding on the best treatment. And, there are several possible causes, the obvious being too much gum tissue present. Teeth that appear shorter due to wear or incomplete eruption could also make the gums appear larger.
We may be able to correct these size problems by surgically removing and reshaping excess gum tissues and possibly the underlying bone to reveal more of the teeth. We can also bond composite resins or porcelain veneers to shorter teeth to make them appear larger.
But not all gummy smile problems pertain directly to the teeth and gums; instead, it could be your upper lip moves too far up as you smile (hypermobility). Or, your upper jaw may be too long for your face, which can also cause too much of the gums to show during smiling.
With upper lip hypermobility, we may be able to inhibit the lip muscles' movement temporarily with Botox injections that partially paralyze the muscles (the effect eventually wears off, so this treatment will need to be repeated). A periodontist, an oral surgeon, or a plastic surgeon could also permanently alter the upper lip movement through a surgical procedure. Surgery may also be necessary for an abnormally long upper jaw: orthognathic surgery re-positions the jaw to the skull, which can lessen the amount of gums showing.
If your smile is too gummy, we can transform it. But first, let's find out what the real cause is with a comprehensive dental examination. Once we know, we can better advise you on the best way to bring beautiful balance to your smile.
If you would like more information on improving a gummy smile, 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 “Gummy Smiles.”
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