Although normally benign, a cold sore outbreak can be irritating and embarrassing. Understanding why they occur is the first step to minimizing outbreaks.
The typical cold sore (also known as a fever blister) is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Type I, medically known as “Herpes Labialis” because it occurs on or around the lips. This virus is not to be confused with HSV Type II, which causes a genital infection. Unlike most viruses, HSV Type I can cause a recurring sore outbreak in certain people. Most viruses tend to occur only once because the body produces anti-bodies to prevent further attack; it’s believed HSV Type I, however, can shield itself from these defenses by hiding in the body’s nerve roots.
These cold sore outbreaks often occur during periods of high stress, overexposure to sunlight or injuries to the lip. Initially you may have an itch or slight burning around the mouth that escalates into more severe itching, redness, swelling and blistering. The sores will break out for about a week to ten days and then scab over and eventually heal (unless they become infected, in which case the healing process may go longer). You’re contagious between the first symptoms and healing, and so can spread the virus to other people.
In recent years, anti-viral prescription medications have been developed that can effectively prevent HSV outbreaks, or at least reduce the healing time after an occurrence. The most common of these are acyclovir and valcyclovir, proven effective with only a few possible mild side effects. They can be taken routinely by people with recurring cold sores to suppress regular outbreaks.
While HSV Type I cold sores are more an aggravation than a health danger, it’s still important for you to see us initially for an examination if you encounter an outbreak. It’s possible for a more serious condition to masquerade as a cold sore or blister. A visit to us may also get you on the right track to reducing the frequency of outbreaks, as well as minimizing discomfort when they do occur.
If you would like more information on the treatment of cold 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 “Cold Sores.”
We always look forward to seeing our patients, but not all of you look forward to seeing us! If you’re one of them, don’t worry — we don’t take it personally. Dental anxiety prevents many people from seeking the care they require to restore or maintain a healthy smile.
But if dental problems are allowed to progress, they can affect not only the beauty of your smile and health of your mouth, but your overall wellness, too. Infection can travel from the mouth to other areas of the body, and dental disease exacerbates chronic health conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
Fear should never be an obstacle (in the immortal words of President Franklin Roosevelt, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”). And fortunately there are some safe options for those of us who can’t get past our anxiety when it comes to dental care:
Oral Sedation. A sedative medication can be prescribed that you take by mouth approximately an hour before your dental visit to minimize anxiety and promote relaxation.
Intravenous (IV; “intra” – inside, “venous” – vein) Sedation. If oral sedation isn’t entirely effective in facilitating treatment, then a medication combining a sedative for relaxation and a pain-blocking anesthetic can be delivered through or small needle or catheter that is gently inserted into a vein. This is referred to as “conscious sedation” because you are in a semi-awake state during which you are able to respond to verbal direction. It takes effect quickly, and you can come out of it quickly. However, you may not remember much about your procedure. It is very different from general anesthesia during which you are completely unconscious.
Dentists who offer IV sedation receive extensive training after which we must pass an exam and apply for a special permit that we maintain through continuing education. We carefully screen patients for eligibility and monitor you throughout so you can rest easy before, during, and after your procedure.
If you would like more information about sedation in dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Sedation Dentistry.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
A blow to the face can result in a variety of injuries to your jaws and the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) that join the lower jaw to the skull. Only a thorough examination can determine the type and extent of the injury, and how to treat it.
The pain you feel in your jaw may indicate a direct injury, usually near the joint. This could mean the joint head (condyle) has dislocated, or moved out of the joint space. It could also mean you’ve fractured your lower jaw, most commonly just below the head of the joint.
Jaw pain can also indicate structures near the jaw and joint have been damaged and the jaw is indirectly affected. In some cases a damaged tooth may be radiating pain signals through the jaw (along similar nerve paths). More likely, trauma to soft tissue near the jaw joint has swelled with inflammation, putting pressure on the joint and temporarily stopping the condyle from seating fully in the joint space.
Any of these injuries can also cause painful muscle spasms, a defensive reaction from the body that causes muscles on either side of the jaw to limit movement preventing further damage (a natural splint, if you will). Thus, the pain may be compounded by a diminished range of motion when you try to chew or speak.
It’s important, therefore, to determine the exact cause of pain and limited movement before commencing treatment. Spasms and inflammation are usually treated with muscle relaxant drugs and anti-inflammatory pain relievers. In the case of a dislocation, gentle manipulation can ease the condyle back into the joint space. A fracture would require more extensive treatment, including repositioning broken bone and immobilizing the jaw from movement to allow healing. In the most severe cases, surgical treatment may be necessary to internally immobilize the joint.
If you sustain an injury that results in jaw swelling and pain, you should see us without delay. The sooner we can diagnose and begin the proper treatment for your injury, the less likely you’ll encounter long-term problems and the sooner you’ll be pain and swelling free.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of jaw pain, 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 “Jaw Pain.”
Chronic jaw pain can make eating, speaking or even smiling difficult. What's more, finding the right treatment approach can be just as difficult.
This is because TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder: named for the joints on either side of the lower jaw) actually describes a wide range of possible problems with the joints and connecting muscles. Any of them can result in impaired jaw function, radiating pain or even headaches.
We'll need to conduct a full dental and facial exam to accurately diagnose your jaw pain's cause. Even then, the way may still not be clear: there's considerable debate among dentists about the best treatment approach. Two basic schools of thought prevail, one conservative and non-invasive and the other more aggressive and interventional.
The conservative approach seeks to alleviate symptoms in a variety of ways, including recommending softer foods to give muscles and joints time to relax, applying cold and heat to ease soreness, massage of the jaw joint muscles, gentle stretching and jaw exercises. We may also prescribe medications like ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and swelling relief, and sometimes muscle relaxers to reduce spasms. If your pain stems from clenching or grinding habits, we could fit you with a custom bite guard you wear while you sleep to reduce the forces on your teeth.
The more aggressive approach is much more invasive. These methods include altering the bite or teeth position with orthodontics or dental work or surgically altering the joints themselves or the shape of the jaw. If you're recommended one of these more aggressive treatments, you should know they're not commonly used to treat TMD and they're irreversible. There's also no guarantee you'll gain relief from your symptoms, so by all means get a second opinion before undergoing any procedures.
For most people the best course of treatment is to start with the least invasive techniques, which are usually very successful. If they don't relieve your pain and limited function, we may then consider escalating treatment to more irreversible procedures to help you find relief from this unwelcome condition.
If you would like more information on jaw joint pain and how to treat it, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
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