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Heath Q&A

Posted August 08, 2012 in Advice Column, West Des Moines

Q:What is glaucoma?

A: “Do I have to do the ‘air puff test?’ ” “My mother has glaucoma; does that mean I will get glaucoma?” These are common questions I hear frequently as an optometrist.

Glaucoma is a progressive loss of the 1.5 million cells that make up the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the pathway for information from the eyes to the brain. Therefore, if the optic nerve loses enough cells, the result is permanent vision loss. In severe cases, glaucoma can lead to total darkness blindness.

One risk factor associated with glaucoma is high intraocular pressures. Intraocular pressures are measured in a variety of ways; most easily with the “air puff test.” Having high intraocular pressures does not equal glaucoma, and normal pressures do not mean you can’t have the disease. In fact, recent studies show that intraocular pressures are normal in 30 – 50 percent of newly-diagnosed cases of glaucoma. Other risk factors for glaucoma include: age (older than 45), family history, black racial ancestry, history of injury to the eye and corticosteroid use.

Fortunately, glaucoma is often a slow progressing, treatable disease. If caught early, glaucoma is usually successfully treated with daily eye drops, and vision loss is often avoided. The unfortunate news is that glaucoma has virtually no symptoms until major vision loss has occurred. It is estimated that more than one million Americans currently have glaucoma without knowing it. Regular comprehensive eye exams are the only way to ensure you don’t have glaucoma or allow for early detection.

Information provided by Dr. Thomas Augustin, Vision Park Family Eye Care, 640 S. 50th St. Suite 2180, West Des Moines, 225-8667.

Q:What is an oral pathologist?

A: An oral pathologist is a dentist who has gone on for further education and specializes in studying tissue from the mouth and teeth to diagnose disease and prescribe treatment. Oral pathology is one of numerous areas of specialty that some dentists choose to enter after completing their basic dental education. An oral pathologist is also called an oral maxillofacial pathologist.

When a general dentist comes across a condition in your mouth, he or she may choose to remove a piece of tissue — called taking a biopsy — and send it to an oral pathologist for examination. It is the job of the oral pathologist to determine if the tissue sample is cancerous or infectious.

All dentists go through four years of dental school, earning a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM). There is no difference in the degrees. Most dentists then go on for post-graduate training, either in a residency program at a hospital or in further education to become a dental specialist. Talk with your dentist about the various areas of specialty that are available to you if you need them.

Information provided by Des Moines Dental Group, 708 First Ave S., 967-6611.

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