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.”
Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the world, nearly as prevalent as the common cold. It’s also one of the two major dental diseases—the other being periodontal (gum) disease—most responsible for tooth and bone loss.
Tooth decay begins with high levels of acid, the byproduct of oral bacteria feeding on food remnants like sugar. Acid can erode tooth enamel, leading to a cavity that will require removal of decayed material around it and then a filling.
Sometimes, though, decay can spread deeper into the tooth reaching all the way to its core: the pulp with its bundle of nerves and blood vessels. From there it can travel through the root canals to the bone. The continuing damage could eventually lead to the loss of the infected tooth.
If decay reaches the tooth interior, the best course of action is usually a root canal treatment. In this procedure we access the pulp through the crown, the visible part of the tooth, to remove all of the diseased and dead tissue in the pulp chamber.
We then reshape it and the root canals to receive a filling. The filling is normally a substance called gutta percha that’s easily manipulated to conform to the shape of the root canals and pulp chamber. After filling we seal the access hole and later cap the tooth with a crown to protect it from re-infection.
Root canal treatments have literally saved millions of teeth. Unfortunately, they’ve gained an undeserved reputation for pain. But root canals don’t cause pain—they relieve the pain caused by tooth decay. More importantly, your tooth can gain a new lease on life.
But we’ll need to act promptly. If you experience any kind of tooth pain (even if it goes away) you should see us as soon as possible for an examination. Depending on the level of decay and the type of tooth involved, we may be able to perform the procedure in our office. Some cases, though, may have complications that require the skills, procedures and equipment of an endodontist, a specialist in root canal treatment.
So, don’t delay and allow tooth decay to go too far. Your tooth’s survival could hang in the balance.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
February marks National Children's Dental Health Month. It’s important for children to form daily oral hygiene habits early, but how do you get little ones to take care of their teeth? Try these tips:
Describe your actions. When children are too young to brush on their own, gently brush their teeth for them, narrating as you go so they learn what toothbrushing entails. For example, “Brush, brush, brush, but not too hard,” or “Smile big. Let’s get the front teeth. Now let’s get the teeth in the very back.”
Make learning fun. Around age 3, children can start learning to brush their own teeth. To model proper technique, play follow the leader as you and your child brush teeth side by side, making sure to get all tooth surfaces. Then you both can swish and spit. After brushing together, brush your child’s teeth again to make sure hard-to-reach surfaces are clean. Note that children generally need help brushing until at least age 6.
Encourage ownership and pride. Children feel more invested in their oral health when they get to pick out their own supplies, such as a toothbrush with their favorite character and toothpaste in a kid-friendly flavor. To boost pride in a job well done, reward your child with a sticker or star after they brush their teeth.
Keep your child brushing for two minutes. According to the American Dental Association, toothbrushing should be a two-minute task. To pass the time, play a favorite song or download a tooth-brushing app designed to keep kids brushing the recommended two minutes. For increased motivation, electric toothbrushes for children often have a built-in two-minute timer as well as appealing characters, lights and sounds.
And don’t forget one more key to a lifetime of good oral health—regular dental visits. If you have questions about your child’s dental hygiene or if it’s time to schedule a dental visit, please contact our office. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
There’s a lot to like about dental implants for replacing missing teeth. Not only are they life-like, but because they replace the root they also function much like a natural tooth. They also have another unique benefit: a track record for long-lasting durability. It’s estimated more than 95% of implants survive at least ten years, with a potential longevity of more than 40 years.
But even with this impressive record, we should still look at the few that didn’t and determine the reasons why they failed. We’ll soon find that a great number of those reasons will have to do with both oral and general health.
For example, implants rely on adequate bone structure for support. Over time bone cells grow and adhere to the implant’s titanium surface to create the durable hold responsible for their longevity. But if conditions like periodontal (gum) disease have damaged the bone, there might not be enough to support an implant.
We may be able to address this inadequacy at the outset with a bone graft to encourage growth, gaining enough perhaps to eventually support an implant. But if bone loss is too extensive, it may be necessary to opt for a different type of restoration.
Slower healing conditions caused by diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis or compromised immune systems can also impact implant success. If healing is impeded after placement surgery the implant may not integrate well with the bone. An infection that existed before surgery or resulted afterward could also have much the same effect.
Oral diseases, especially gum disease, can contribute to later implant failures. Although the implant’s materials won’t be affected by the infection, the surrounding gum tissues and bone can. An infection can quickly develop into a condition known as peri-implantitis that can weaken these supporting structures and cause the implant to loosen and give way. That’s why prompt treatment of gum disease is vital for an affected implant.
The bottom line: maintaining good oral and general health, or improving it, can help keep your implant out of the failure column. Perform daily brushing and flossing (even after you receive your implant) and see your dentist regularly to help stop dental disease. Don’t delay treatment for gum disease or other dental conditions. And seek medical care to bring any systemic diseases like diabetes under control.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method that Rarely Fails.”
What's an actor's most important feature? According to Vivica A. Fox, whose most recent big-screen role was in Independence Day: Resurgence, it's what you see right up front.
"On screen, your smile and your eyes are the most inviting things that bring the audience in" she said. "Especially if you play the hot chick."
But like lots of people, Vivica reached a point where she felt her smile needed a little help in order to look its best. That's when she turned to a popular cosmetic dental treatment.
"I got veneers years ago," Ms. Fox told Dear Doctor magazine in a recent interview, "just because I had some gapping that probably only I noticed."
What exactly are dental veneers? Essentially, they are thin shells of lustrous porcelain that are permanently attached to the front surfaces of the teeth. Tough, lifelike and stain-resistant, they can cover up a number of defects in your smile — including stains, chips, cracks, and even minor spacing irregularities like the ones Vivica had.
Veneers have become the treatment of choice for Hollywood celebs — and lots of regular folks too — for many reasons. Unlike some treatments that can take many months, it takes just a few appointments to have veneers placed on your teeth. Because they are custom made just for you, they allow you to decide how bright you want your smile to be: anywhere from a natural pearly hue to a brilliant "Hollywood white." Best of all, they are easy to maintain, and can last for many years with only routine care.
To place traditional veneers, it's necessary to prepare the tooth by removing a small amount (a millimeter or two) of its enamel surface. This keeps it from feeling too big — but it also means the treatment can't be reversed, so once you get veneers, you'll always have them. In certain situations, "no-prep" or minimal-prep veneers, which require little or no removal of tooth enamel, may be an option for some people.
Veneers aren't the only way to create a better smile: Teeth whitening, crowns or orthodontic work may also be an alternative. But for many, veneers are the preferred option. What does Vivica think of hers?
"I love my veneers!" she declared, noting that they have held up well for over a decade.
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