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.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Saliva is a true workhorse among bodily fluids — it breaks down food for digestion, keeps harmful bacteria in check and neutralizes acid that is destructive to tooth surfaces. So when saliva flow is chronically diminished, it’s more serious than the uncomfortable feeling of “dry mouth” — it can have a detrimental effect on your overall health.
It’s normal to experience temporary mouth dryness: in the morning (because saliva flow slows during sleep), when we’re under stress, or after smoking or consuming certain foods and beverages like onions or coffee. But chronic dry mouth (“xerostomia”) is different — the mouth remains dry for extended periods, leading to problems like tooth decay caused by inadequate acid neutralization.
Medications are one of the most common causes for xerostomia. According to the Surgeon General, there are over 500 medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — that can cause it, including antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants. Radiation or chemotherapy used for cancer treatment may also cause dry mouth, sometimes permanently. There are also systemic conditions that affect saliva flow like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and many autoimmune diseases.
Treating chronic dry mouth will of course depend on the underlying cause. If drug-related the first approach should be to find a substitute medication that won’t as readily cause reduced saliva flow. If that’s not possible, then it’s helpful to drink more water when taking the medication (a few sips before and a full glass afterward). You can also cut back on caffeinated, acidic or sugary foods and drinks as well as alcohol, and refrain from tobacco use.
A saliva stimulant might also help. Besides prescription medication, there are other products like xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar found in chewing gum, toothpaste or rinses, that help increase saliva flow — and xylitol also inhibits the growth of decay-causing bacteria.
The most important thing for chronic dry mouth is maintaining consistent daily hygiene through brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings and checkups. Helping to increase your saliva flow and making every effort to prevent dental disease will help keep this condition from harming your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth.”
Preventing tooth decay is mostly about the basics: daily brushing and flossing followed by regular dental cleanings and checkups. But there’s also a bigger picture: your own personal risk profile for decay based on factors you can modify directly — and those you can’t.
The first type of factor usually involves habits and behavior that either work with your mouth’s natural defenses to fight decay or against it. Besides regular hygiene, your diet is probably the most important of these you can modify for better dental health.
A diet rich in fresh vegetables, protein and dairy products boosts strong, healthy teeth resistant to decay. Conversely, bacteria thrive on the sugar in many snack foods, while sodas, sports or energy drinks elevate acid levels that soften and erode the minerals in your teeth’s enamel.
Lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption also increase your decay risk. Not only do they promote plaque buildup (the thin film of bacteria and food particles that feeds the decay process), but tobacco especially can impede the body’s natural prevention and healing properties.
Conscientious hygiene practices, a dental-friendly diet and modified lifestyle habits all can help you prevent decay. But diligence may not be enough — there are other possible factors you can’t control or may find difficult to change. For example, you may have a genetic propensity toward certain bacteria that cause decay. You may have a condition like gastric reflux that increases the mouth’s acid level. You may also be taking medications that reduce saliva flow, the mouth’s natural acid neutralizer.
But if we know which of these indirect risk factors affect you, we can compensate with extra measures. If enamel strength is a problem we can topically apply fluoride; we can also reduce chronic bacterial levels with prescription rinses. If you have restricted saliva flow, we can attempt to modify your prescriptions through your doctor or prescribe aids that increase saliva.
The key is to investigate your complete risk factor profile through a thorough dental examination. Once we know everything about your mouth, life and health that increases your decay risk, we can put in place a balanced strategy of prevention and treatment just for you. Doing so will greatly increase your chances for keeping your teeth decay-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating dental 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Today's dental restorations are truly amazing. Not only are they life-like and functional, they can endure for many years a hostile environment of bacteria, acid and heavy biting forces.
Even so, you'll still need to take care of your restorations to help them last. Here's how to extend the life of 3 common forms of dental work.
Fillings. We use fillings, both metal amalgam and tooth-colored materials, to repair holes or cavities in teeth caused by tooth decay. Although strong, dental fillings can break if you subject them to abnormally high biting force (like chewing ice). There's also a chance that if a slight separation occurs between the filling and tooth, bacteria can take up residence and reignite the decay process. To prevent this, practice a daily regimen of oral hygiene to clean away bacterial plaque—and reduce sugar in your diet, a prime food source for bacteria.
Veneers. Usually made of thin porcelain, veneers are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other blemishes. But although they're strong, veneers aren't immune to damage. Habits like biting nails, the aforementioned ice chewing or unconsciously grinding your teeth could cause a chipped veneer. And if periodontal (gum) disease causes your gums to recede, the exposed part of the tooth may look noticeably darker than the veneer. To protect your veneers and their appearance, avoid habits like ice chewing, and seek treatment for teeth grinding and dental disease.
Bridgework. Bridges are used to replace one or more missing teeth. Traditional bridges use the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge; for a single missing tooth, implants are a preferable option because they don't require permanently altering the neighboring teeth to support it. With either option, though, you should brush and floss around the restoration to reduce the risk of dental disease. Infections like gum disease or tooth decay could eventually weaken the bridge's supporting teeth or gum disease can damage an implant's gum and bone support.
With any dental restoration, be sure to practice daily oral hygiene, eat a nutritious, low-sugar diet, and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. Taking care of your dental work will help it take care of you for a long time to come.
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