Posts for: April, 2016
We’ve all had physical ailments that were more irritating than serious. The problem of skin cracking at the corners of the mouth fits into that category.
Both dentists and dermatologists encounter this condition often and have a name for it: perleche, derived from the French word lecher, meaning “to lick.” The term arises from patients’ tendency to excessively lick the broken skin to soothe the itching or burning.
Perleche most often arises from certain mouth conditions, although systemic problems like anemia or diabetes may also cause it. Children or younger adults, especially those with orthodontic braces or a tendency to drool as they sleep, often develop perleche; older adults with wrinkling around the mouth are also susceptible. Mouth dryness caused by reduced saliva flow may also irritate the skin and cause discomfort.
As the skin becomes irritated, the person may begin to lick the corners of the mouth to soothe them. This sets up conditions for an infection, most often caused by yeast known as candida albicans. The infection may become more acute and begin to affect the entire inside of the mouth or throat.
If you’ve developed perleche, our primary treatment goal is to reduce any infection with the aid of oral or topical antifungal drugs. One drug, Nystatin, is often taken as a lozenge that dissolves in the mouth and works its way from there through the rest of the body. You can also apply antifungal ointments several times a day to the corners of the mouth, often in combination with steroid ointments that reduce redness and swelling. You can also apply antifungal zinc oxide paste to the cracked skin, which also serves as a barrier between the skin and outer contaminants.
To reduce the chance of future outbreaks, we may recommend you rinse with Chlorhexidine, as well as replace missing teeth or refit loose dentures — these too are contributing factors to erupting yeast infections. You might also need to undergo dermatologic treatment for wrinkles if they’ve proven to be a factor in developing perleche.
Although not a major problem, perleche can be exceedingly uncomfortable and embarrassing. Thanks to a number of treatment options, you don’t have to put up with that discomfort for long.
If you would like more information on perleche (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 magazine article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Teeth grinding and other biting habits are more than a nuisance — they can generate twenty to thirty times the forces of normal biting. Over the long term, this can cause significant damage to teeth and supporting gums and bone.
This particular kind of damage is known as occlusal trauma (meaning injury from the bite). In its primary form, the habit itself over time can injure and inflame the jaw joints leading to soreness, swelling and dysfunction. The teeth themselves can wear down at a much faster rate than what normally occurs with aging. And although less common but even more serious, the periodontal ligaments holding teeth in place to the bone can stretch and weaken, causing the teeth to become loose and increasing the potential for tooth loss.
There are a number of techniques and approaches for treating excessive biting habits, but they all have a common aim — to reduce the amount of force generated by the habit and the associated problems that result. A custom occlusal guard, often worn while sleeping, helps lessen the force by keeping the teeth from making solid contact with each other. Tissue soreness and swelling can be relieved with anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. In cases where stress is a main driver, behavioral therapy and counseling may also be helpful.
Biting forces are also an issue for patients with periodontal (gum) disease. In this case even biting forces within normal ranges can cause damage because the diseased gums and bone have already been weakened. If gum disease is a factor, the first priority is to treat the disease by removing built up plaque. Plaque is the thin film of bacteria and food remnant that’s both the cause and continuing growth of the infection, as well as tartar (calculus) from all tooth and gum surfaces.
A thorough dental exam will reveal whether a tooth grinding habit is playing a role in your teeth and gum problems or if it’s magnifying the damage of gum disease. In either case, there are appropriate steps to stop the damage before it leads to tooth loss.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding or other biting habits, 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 “Loose Teeth.”
Your regular dental checkups should periodically include an important screening for oral cancer, especially as you grow older. Although oral cancers make up less than 3% of all other types, they’re among the most deadly with a 58% survival rate after five years.
Besides hereditary factors, oral cancer is strongly linked to tobacco use, alcohol abuse or diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a greater concern as we age: 90% of new cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40, heightening the need for regular screenings. These screenings become all the more important because many early sores or lesions can mimic other conditions like canker sores — without early detection, the disease could already be in advanced stages when it’s diagnosed.
An oral screening for cancer involves both sight and touch. We’ll first look for any suspicious lesions and red or white patches in the soft tissues of the face, neck, lips and mouth. We’ll then feel for any abnormal lumps on the mouth floor, the sides of the neck and in gland locations. We’ll also examine all sides of the tongue including underneath, as well as the tissues lining the back of your throat.
If we notice anything that’s concerning we may then perform a biopsy by removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue and have it examined microscopically for the presence of cancer cells. We may also remove any lesions deemed pre-cancerous as an added precaution against possible cancer development.
The American Cancer Society recommends an oral cancer screening annually for people forty years or older and every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 39. Even better, we recommend all adults undergo a screening every year. This, along with ending tobacco use and other lifestyle and dietary changes, will greatly improve your chances of remaining free of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on detecting and treating oral cancer, 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 “Oral Cancer.”