As dentists, we often see other mouth problems besides those with teeth and gums. One of the most common is cracking around the corners of the mouth. Although usually not serious, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Medically known as angular cheilitis (literally “an inflammation of the angles of the lip”), it’s also called perleche, derived from the French lecher, “to lick.” The latter moniker aptly describes the tendency of sufferers to compulsively lick the sores to relieve irritation, which actually can make things worse.
Perleche has a number of possible causes, mostly from in or around the mouth (although systemic diseases or medications can cause it on rare occasions). It’s often found among younger people who drool during sleep or older people with deep wrinkles along the sides of the mouth that increase the chances of dryness and cracking. Long-term wind or cold exposure, ill-fitting dentures or a lack of back teeth (which help support facial structure) may also contribute to the condition.
Patients with perleche can also develop yeast infections from a strain called candida albicans. The infection can spread through the whole mouth, significantly increasing the chances of physical discomfort.
Treating perleche often involves topical ointments with inflammation-reducing steroids and zinc oxide, which has antifungal properties, to provide an environmental barrier during the healing process. If a yeast infection occurs, we may treat it with oral or topical antifungal medication like Nystatin for the whole mouth and chlorhexidine rinses, which has antibacterial properties.
It also helps to adopt a few preventive measures that can minimize the occurrence of perleche. If you wear dentures, for example, cleaning them often (including, if necessary, with chlorhexidine) and leaving them out at night reduces bacterial and fungal growth. We can also see if your dentures are fitting properly. Replacing missing teeth provides better facial support and could minimize wrinkling around the mouth. And, of course, keeping up daily brushing and flossing helps ensure a healthy and disease-free mouth.
If you’re experiencing cracked mouth corners, let us know at your next appointment. With our help and of other medical professionals we may be able to give you relief from this irritating condition.
If you would like more information on gaining relief from angular cheilitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
February marks National Children's Dental Health Month. It’s important for children to form daily oral hygiene habits early, but how do you get little ones to take care of their teeth? Try these tips:
Describe your actions. When children are too young to brush on their own, gently brush their teeth for them, narrating as you go so they learn what toothbrushing entails. For example, “Brush, brush, brush, but not too hard,” or “Smile big. Let’s get the front teeth. Now let’s get the teeth in the very back.”
Make learning fun. Around age 3, children can start learning to brush their own teeth. To model proper technique, play follow the leader as you and your child brush teeth side by side, making sure to get all tooth surfaces. Then you both can swish and spit. After brushing together, brush your child’s teeth again to make sure hard-to-reach surfaces are clean. Note that children generally need help brushing until at least age 6.
Encourage ownership and pride. Children feel more invested in their oral health when they get to pick out their own supplies, such as a toothbrush with their favorite character and toothpaste in a kid-friendly flavor. To boost pride in a job well done, reward your child with a sticker or star after they brush their teeth.
Keep your child brushing for two minutes. According to the American Dental Association, toothbrushing should be a two-minute task. To pass the time, play a favorite song or download a tooth-brushing app designed to keep kids brushing the recommended two minutes. For increased motivation, electric toothbrushes for children often have a built-in two-minute timer as well as appealing characters, lights and sounds.
And don’t forget one more key to a lifetime of good oral health—regular dental visits. If you have questions about your child’s dental hygiene or if it’s time to schedule a dental visit, please contact our office. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
Along with the gums, your teeth’s roots help stabilize them. Without them your teeth couldn’t handle the normal biting forces you encounter every day. That’s why a rare condition called root resorption must be treated promptly: this gradual breakdown and dissolving of root structure could eventually cause you to lose your tooth.
Resorption is normal in primary (“baby”) teeth giving way for permanent teeth or sometimes during orthodontic treatment. But the form of resorption we’re referring to in permanent teeth isn’t normal, and is highly destructive.
The condition begins in most cases outside the tooth and works its way in, usually at the gum line around the cervical or “neck-like” region of the tooth (hence the term external cervical resorption or ECR). ECR produces pink spots on the teeth in its early stages: these are spots of weakened enamel filled with pink-colored cells that cause the actual damage. The cells create cavity-like areas that can continue to enlarge.
We don’t fully understand what causes ECR, but there seems to be links with excessive force during orthodontics, tooth trauma (especially to the gum ligaments), tooth grinding habits or internal bleaching procedures. However, most people with these problems don’t develop ECR, so the exact mechanism remains a bit of a mystery.
The good news, though, is that we can treat ECR effectively, provided we discover it before it inflicts too much damage. That’s why regular dental visits are important, coupled with your own observation of anything out of the ordinary and immediate dental follow-up.
If the affected area is relatively small, we may be able to remove the cells causing the damage and repair the area with a tooth-colored filling. If it appears the pulp (the tooth’s innermost layer) is involved, we may need to perform a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill the empty space with a special filling. You may also need other procedures to reduce the chances of gum recession around the affected tooth.
Proactive dental care is your best insurance against losing a tooth to root resorption. So keep an eye on your teeth and see your dentist regularly to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatments for root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
It’s something you think about often—especially when you look in a mirror or at a photo of yourself. You wish something could have been done about it a long time ago. But now you think you’re too old to correct your misaligned teeth—your “crooked” smile.
Actually, you can transform your smile through orthodontics, whatever your age. Millions of your peers have done just that—currently, an estimated one in five orthodontic patients is an adult.
If orthodontics isn’t right for you it won’t be because of age, but most likely the condition of your gums and underlying bone or your overall health. That first factor is extremely important: if you’ve lost a significant amount of bone due to periodontal (gum) disease, there may not be enough to support the force of moving the teeth during orthodontics.
Health conditions like severe heart-valve disease, uncontrolled diabetes or drugs to treat arthritis or osteoporosis can also make tooth movement difficult. And, if you have restricted saliva flow (dry mouth), wearing orthodontic devices could be uncomfortable and increase your risk of tooth decay.
If, however, your mouth and body are reasonably healthy (and you don’t have a difficult bite problem to correct), there’s no reason why you can’t undergo orthodontic treatment. The only other thing that might hold you back is concern over your appearance during treatment. Many adults balk at the possible embarrassment of wearing metal braces “at their age.”
If this is a concern, you may have an alternative: clear aligners. These are a series of computer-generated clear plastic trays that conform to the individual contours of your teeth. Each tray is slightly different—you wear one for a short period of time (usually two weeks) before moving on to the next tray to successively and gradually move your teeth. They’re nearly invisible to others and, unlike fixed metal braces, you can take them out for a rare special occasion.
The only way you’ll know whether correcting your misaligned teeth is a viable option is to undergo a full orthodontic evaluation. From there we can help you decide if and how you want to gain a straighter, more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on adult orthodontics, 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
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