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It wasn’t just a cavity…

Regular dental care is important for more than just a pretty smile.

Thanks Doctor Obvious!– But let’s review one reason why.

When I was seeing patients recently, I treated a few young kids with jaw pain and swelling. In highly dramatic fashion, many non-medical people like to quickly diagnose kids who appear this way as the mumps and they rush right in, forgetting that with the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine we don’t see a lot of mumps in young kids (we ARE starting to see it in college kids as immunity wanes…but I digress). What I saw were a couple of school aged children who had never been to a dentist. Ever. Two kids had such terrible cavities (known as dental caries- 25 cent word!) that their teeth had nearly rotted out of position. This leads to a free entry point for bacteria to get inside the body and then to a painful soft tissue infection called cellulitis. We’ve talked about cellulitis here before, so I’ll be brief about that.

Remember that cellulitis is what happens when germs invade the surface layers of the skin and cause infection.

Usually it’s the bacteria that naturally live on our skin and in our mouths all the time that cause the infection. Antibiotics are required to treat cellulitis, and sometimes it can worsen into an abscess, or a collection of infected material, grossly but accurately referred to as “pus.” When this happens, an incision has to be made into the abscess, wherever it is (gah!) and the infected cloudy fluid has to be drained. Here’s the happy ending: then you get better. But I’m not gonna lie — it’s no fun.

What these kids had was a cellulitis in their cheek/jaw area

that was the result of bacteria migrating from the mouth through the rotten, cavity filled teeth. They both had significant discomfort and difficulty eating. I knew exactly what was going on the minute I walked into the exam room due to the classic appearance of one sided jaw swelling without any sign of trauma.  . Fortunately, neither of them required incision and drainage and both will do well after a course of antibiotics and a week’s worth of a soft diet. And a visit to the dentist. In other good news for them, their cavities were in their primary (baby) teeth, so that while they will likely need to be extracted, that won’t be too big a deal because their permanent teeth will come in in time.

So. Moral of this story?

Make sure you and your kids are getting routine dental hygiene and checkups.

Shout-out to my dental colleagues out there! Their gig is so much more than prevention and plans for orthodontia. I saw something on my twitter feed talking about the importance of making sure vaccines are up to date at the start of the school year, and seeing that post plus these patients over the weekend made me want to chime in about it being a good time to make sure your and your kids’ teeth are in order too.

And now Doctor Obvious can say: your smile is worth it.

Keep reading: Back to School Belly Achin’