Dental Care And Chronic Illness

I am terrified of the dentist!!! I have a wonderful care provider who is gentle and kind but having to go see him, even for a cleaning, requires medication for anxiety. I was there recently for a cleaning, the right side one week and the left side the next

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Here I am, high on Ativan, with my warm blankie and a bolster under my knees for comfort. You can see my look of trepidation!

And now to work!

Dental Care and Chronic Pain

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Despite my fear, I do this because it’s good for my health. It can be painful in several ways, though. It reminded me how even “normal” things like the dentist aren’t easy when you live with Chronic Pain.

Here are a few tips to make your next visit easier. 

General Thoughts

Get comfy!

Ask for a blanket and something for under your knees to help you feel more comfortable in the chair. Most dental offices are happy to provide these items. If there are headsets available, use one, or bring your own music to help keep you distracted. 

Use sedation if necessary. 

I use Ativan to help relieve my anxiety and it works wonders. It helps me stay relaxed during the visit and then conveniently helps me forget the visit when it’s over. You do need someone to drive you there and back again, but that’s a small price to pay for not being stressed out!

Keep regular appointments

By going for regular appointments, you lessen the amount of work that needs to be done at each cleaning and you catch any other problems sooner rather than later. Follow the schedule set by your dentist. 

Maintain your oral health at home

Take care of your oral health at home with regular brushing, using a brush designed for your requirements (soft or medium bristles, spinning or regular, etc.). Use mouthwash to help protect your teeth and if you suffer from dry mouth (often a problem for those who live with Sjogren’s Syndrome), use a product designed to keep your mouth moist. 

Floss your teeth with every brushing. It’s important to remove plaque that builds up and flossing is the best way of controlling this. 

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Limit Starchy and Sugary food and drinks

These items can lead to decay so it’s important that you limit them or use them in moderation to preserve your dental health. 

Talk to your dentist about mouth pain

If you are experiencing any type of mouth or jaw pain, talk to your dentist to see if you are developing TMJ (temporomandibular joint). This painful condition can be treated in various ways including medication, a mouth guard or possibly surgery. 

Be Aware Of Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease can have serious effects on your health. If you notice that you have any of the symptoms of gum disease, call your doctor or dentist.

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums.
  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing.
  • Gums that are pulling away from the teeth.
  • Sores or colored patches in the mouth.
  • Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.

Special Health Considerations*

Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that affects your body’s ability to process sugar. It can be managed with treatment. Left untreated, it can cause many kinds of problems, including some in your mouth. These include:

  • Less saliva. This can make your mouth feel very dry.
  • More cavities. Saliva is needed to protect your teeth from cavities.
  • Gum disease. Your gums can become inflamed and bleed.
  • Slow healing. Cold sores or cuts in your mouth may take longer to heal.
  • Infections. You are more likely to get an infection in your mouth.

If you have poor oral health, you are more likely to get diabetes. Gum disease is an infection. Infections cause blood sugar to rise. If you have gum disease and don’t treat it, your blood sugar could increase. This can raise your risk of developing diabetes.

Cardiovascular problems

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Your mouth contains hundreds of different kinds of bacteria. A healthy mouth has the ability to fight off the bad bacteria that cause disease. But when you have gum disease, an infection, or another problem in your mouth, you lose that ability to fight off those germs.

Many studies show an association between gum disease (also called periodontal disease) and cardiovascular disease. The bacteria in your mouth can cause certain types of infection and inflammation. This research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and even stroke could be related to these types.

Another cardiovascular condition linked to oral health is endocarditis. This is an infection in your heart. It is usually caused by bacteria in the bloodstream that attach to weakened areas of the heart. These bacteria could come from your mouth, if your mouth’s normal defenses are down.

Cancer

More than one-third of cancer patients experience problems with their mouth. Cancer and its treatment methods can weaken the body’s immune system. This makes you more likely to get an infection, especially if you have unhealthy gums. They also can cause side effects that affect your mouth. These include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Sensitive gums
  • Jaw pain

HIV/AIDS

HIV and AIDS also weaken your immune system. That puts you more at risk of infections or other oral problems. It is common for people with HIV/AIDS to develop issues in their mouths, including:

  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Thrush (yeast infection of the mouth)
  • White lesions on the tongue
  • Serious gum disease and infection
  • Mouth ulcers

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis causes your bones to become weaker and more brittle. This could lead to bone loss in your teeth. You could eventually lose teeth because as they become weak and break. In addition, some medicines that treat osteoporosis can cause problems in the bones of the jaw.

Sexually transmitted infections

A number of different sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause symptoms in your mouth. These include:

  • HPV (human papillomavirus) – Some strains can cause warts in the mouth or throat. Other strains can cause head and neck cancers. These can be hard to detect. They usually develop at the base of the tongue, the tonsils, or the back of the throat.
  • Herpes – Herpes simplex virus type 1 causes cold sores and other mouth lesions. Type 2 usually causes blisters in the genitals. But both types can be passed between the genitals and mouth. So type 2 could also cause painful blisters in or around the mouth.
  • Gonorrhea – This bacterial infection can cause soreness and burning in your throat. Sometimes you may see white spots in your mouth, as well.
  • Syphilis – In its primary (first) stage, you may get sores (chancres) on your lips, tongue, or other places inside your mouth. The sores may go away, even if left untreated. But you will still have the infection and can spread it.

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Preterm birth

Severe gum disease has been linked to preterm labor and low birth weight in babies. Research suggests that oral bacteria can affect the placenta and interfere with the growth and development of the baby. It also shows that a severe oral infection could trigger labor too early. This could cause the baby to be born prematurely.

Hip Replacement

It is often advised that anyone who has had a hip replacement undergo a course of antibiotics prior to having dental work done. This is to prevent bacteria from entering the blood stream, which can cause problems such as infection with your hip replacement. Talk to your dentist to see what they advise. 

Conclusion

Oral Health Care is important for everyone, but is especially critical if you live with Chronic Illness. See your dentist as recommended and don’t be afraid to call if you notice problems. If you are someone like myself who has a fear of the dentist, ask about solutions such as Ativan, or IV Sedation to make your appointment easier. Don’t let fear put you off from having the mouth and smile of your dreams! Remember…

There Is Always Hope

Resources and Related:


Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com.  She also writes for The Mighty, PainResource.com and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC. She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie. 


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Need a few tips on how to survive the dentist with chronic pain and anxiety? The Zebra Pit had them! You'll also find condition specific care tips for a wide range of conditions in this post and some great resources where you can find out more.
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2 thoughts on “Dental Care And Chronic Illness

  1. You’ve done brilliant sharing this – I don’t think I’d let anyone take a photo of me in a dentist’s chair, where I’m usually in tears before my bum even hits the seat! A really good point about asking for sedation; I’d also add, if you’re not happy or confident with the dentist, ask to change. I wish I had done this before, and regretted not asking for someone else (as they then went on to do a botch job of a filling that resulted in me being unable to open my mouth for 2 weeks). I was also told ‘we don’t do sedation and I’m not putting anything on to numb your gum either, it’s not necessary’. We’re patients who also get a say in our treatment. Really good points on other issues that can tie in to dental care too, like osteoporosis. I have osteopenia so I’m due another dental xray soon to check things out. The dentist is evil, but as you say Pamela, it’s also very important and there are ways to hopefully make the experience a little less awful.
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Pamela! I hate going to the dentist too, but there I am, every 6 months, getting my cleaning. With all the connections they’ve made between oral health and our general health, not going isn’t an option for me. I chose my dentist office because their card said, “We cater to cowards.” I knew I’d found the right one!😊

    Like

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