Dr. Athena S. Papas

Dr. Athena S. Papas is at the forefront of research into a common drug side effect that can lead to devastating oral- health problems. She documents the causes and consequences of dry mouth, known medically as xerostomia, which is listed as a side effect of nearly 500 drugs. Without saliva, which flushes cavity-causing bacteria from the mouth, bacteria multiply rapidly, causing decay, and putting dry-mouth sufferers at risk for fungal infections, gum disease and nutrition problems. Papas, professor of oral medicine and co-head of the Division of Geriatric Dentistry at the School of Dental Medicine, has examined the processes by which the condition undermines a healthy mouth as well as the effectiveness of preventative treatments, from saliva-inducing medications to remineralizing rinses. According to Papas, the need for such research is gaining with the increasing use of prescription drugs that may cause dry mouth, particularly those for depression, anxiety and hypertension. Antihistamines, the new stop-smoking drug Zyban and some acne medications also cause dry mouth. "Without scientific evidence about the disease mechanisms and preventative measures," she says, "the medical and dental community is less able to help patients take effective action. Unless we do large population studies that show dry mouth causes these problems, then education about the consequences and warnings about the dental risks will not be comprehensive enough, and communication to doctors, dentists and patients will be lacking. The prescribing doctor needs to be aware and must explain to patients that dry mouth is a side effect that puts them at risk for dental decay." Papas' studies have tested a variety of other interventions, including remineralizing toothpaste, and fluoride and antibacterial varnishes. For 20 years, Papas' patients lacking saliva have also successfully prevented decay and disease by following her directions using Caphasol and fluoride and sticking to a rigorous regimen of intervention. Linda Hall







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