Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
The big day you've waited for all your life is just around the corner — your wedding day! And to make that day as special as possible you've been working on making yourself more attractive.
In all your preparations, don't forget your smile. There are many ways to make it shine, some requiring little time or effort. A professional dental cleaning and polishing, for example, can do wonders for brightening your smile. If you have above normal staining, you can also undergo professional whitening to remove stains and enhance your teeth's natural color.
Some problems, though, like chipped, slightly misaligned or heavily stained teeth may require more than a cleaning or whitening session. In these cases, you might consider covering these less attractive teeth with porcelain veneers to transform their appearance. As the name implies, veneers are a thin layer of tooth-colored, translucent porcelain custom designed for you and bonded permanently to the visible tooth.
While veneers can significantly change your smile, it can't fix every appearance problem. Some teeth require more extensive dental work, like a porcelain crown that completely covers a tooth, or dental implants to replace missing teeth. In more complex situations you may want to look at orthodontics to repair an unattractive bite, or plastic surgery to change the look of a gummy smile.
Keep in mind, though, many of such treatments take time: installing dental implants can take months and some orthodontic treatments, years. As soon as you can, you should discuss your smile appearance with your dentist and what can be done to enhance it in the time you have.
With the help of your dentist, orthodontist or other specialist, you can change your smile. And that, along with all your other preparations, will help make that once in a lifetime day even more special.
If you would like more information on undergoing a smile makeover, 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 “Planning Your Wedding Day Smile.”
We often don't realize how important something is until it's gone. Like saliva: you're usually not aware that it's cleaning the mouth, neutralizing mouth acid or helping with digestion. But that could change if your saliva flow drops below normal: your health may soon suffer with your mouth taking the brunt.
In particular, reduced saliva flow increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Both diseases are linked to oral bacteria. While many of the myriad strains in the mouth are beneficial, a few bacteria can infect and inflame gum tissues. Bacteria also produce acid, which can soften and erode enamel and make the teeth more susceptible to decay.
Saliva inhibits bacteria in a number of ways. It first clears the mouth of leftover food so not as much stays behind to form bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. You still need to brush and floss daily to remove plaque, but it's less effective without saliva's cleansing action. Saliva also contains antibodies that destroy disease-causing bacteria and other organisms, which keeps their populations in the mouth low.
One of saliva's most important functions, though, is buffering acid. The mouth's ideal pH level is neutral, but many foods we eat can cause it to become more acidic.Â Even a slight acidic rise after eating can soften the minerals in enamel. But saliva goes to work immediately and usually restores normal pH within a half hour to an hour. It also aids in re-mineralizing the enamel.
For these reasons, it's important for you to find out the cause of chronic dry mouth and treat it. If it's a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor about an alternative, or drink more water before and after you take your dose. Certain products can also stimulate saliva flow, like chewing gum with xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener that has dental health-protecting properties too.
Although you often don't notice this unsung bodily fluid swishing in your mouth, it's important that you take care of it. Keeping your saliva flowing will help ensure better oral health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to health, 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
Athletes in contact sports are at significant risk for traumatic injury to their teeth and mouth. It’s estimated 600,000 emergency room visits each year involve a sports-related dental injury.
Athletic mouthguards have become the premier safeguard against sports-related oral injuries. First worn by professional boxers in the 1920s, mouthguards are now required for use by various sports associations and leagues — from amateur youth to professional — for a number of sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for example, requires their use during play for hockey, lacrosse, field hockey and football. The American Dental Association recommends mouthguards for 29 sports or exercise activities.
But do mouthguards actually prevent injury? To answer that question in a scientific manner, the Journal of Sports Medicine published an evidence-based report in 2007 on mouthguard effectiveness for preventing or reducing the severity of oral-facial injuries and concussions. While the report objectively analyzed many of the problems and issues associated with mouthguards (like materials, design and durability), it concluded the risk of an oral-facial injury was nearly two times greater without the wearing of a mouthguard.
That being said, most dentists and other professionals in sports safety would advise not all mouthguards are alike. The stock, “off the shelf” mouthguard found in many retail stores with limited size offerings is the least expensive, but also least protective, of mouthguard types. Mouth-formed or “boil-and-bite” protectors, which are softened in boiling water and then bit down on by the player to form the fit, are better than the stock version — however, they often don’t cover all of the player’s back teeth.
The best option is a custom-designed guard made by a dentist for the individual patient. Although relatively expensive (costs range in the hundreds, compared with $25 or less for a stock guard), they provide the highest recognized level of mouth protection.
The bottom line: a mouthguard is a must-wear part of any uniform for any sport that involves contact or high velocity objects of play. If you or a family member is a contact sport athlete, it’s essential you protect your teeth and mouth with a custom-fit, high quality mouthguard.
If you would like more information on mouthguards, 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 “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
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