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.”
Wearing orthodontic braces brings challenges to daily life. During treatment a patient will need to avoid certain foods and habits, take more time to brush and floss properly, and may endure occasional discomfort. But the effect of metal braces on appearance can be especially difficult, especially for peer-conscious teens.
Clear aligners, though, offer an alternative to braces that could make some of these challenges easier, particularly with your appearance. Aligners are clear plastic trays that fit over the teeth to move them. They can be removed by the wearer for easier brushing and flossing or for special occasions. Best of all, they're much less noticeable than metal braces.
Clear aligners were developed thanks to advances in digital technology. An orthodontist uses a computer application incorporating the data from photographs, x-rays or CT scans of a patient's teeth and jaws to produce a series of clear plastic trays. The patient then wears each tray for about two weeks before changing to the next tray in the sequence.
The trays apply pressure much like metal braces to gradually move teeth to the desired position on the jaw. Each tray is slightly smaller in size than the previous tray in the sequence, so that the progression of tooth movement continues with each succeeding tray. The treatment time is about the same as with conventional braces.
This new orthodontic tool works well for many common bite problems, but until recently they've been limited in scope. But new designs in trays and attachments called buttons added to teeth to provide more leverage have greatly increased their use for more complex bite issues.
Clear aligners also have one other disadvantage, ironically due to one of their principal benefits, removability. Although they can be taken out, they must be worn consistently to achieve results. Some younger patients may not have the maturity level and discipline to responsibly wear their aligners as they should.
That's one issue you'll need to discuss with your orthodontist if you're considering clear aligners for your teen. But if they can maintain wearing consistency, and they have a bite problem that can be corrected with aligners, both you and your teen may find this choice more agreeable and attractive than braces.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
Losing permanent teeth is never good — unlike primary teeth, no natural replacements wait in the wings. But the good news is you have a number of options for replacing them with life-like prosthetic (false) teeth.
Today's premier choice is dental implants, preferred by dentists and patients alike for their durability and life-likeness. But because of their cost when replacing multiple teeth, many people opt for traditional dentures. And now dentures are easier to wear and maintain thanks to new, advanced materials and designs.
Still, there's one major area where implants have the definite edge over dentures — long-term bone health. Older bone cells die and dissolve (resorb), replaced then by newly formed cells. Teeth help perpetuate this cycle through the forces generated when we chew that travel through the roots to stimulate the formation of new bone.
But because this stimulation through a tooth ends when it's lost, new bone beneath the empty socket may not keep up with the resorption rate of older bone. As a result, you could lose as much as a quarter of normal bone width in just the first year after losing a tooth.
This bone loss will continue to accumulate even if you wear dentures, which can't replicate the bone growth stimulation of natural teeth. What's more, the constant pressure on the bony ridge of the gums can accelerate bone loss. Eventually, the firm, comfortable fit you first had with your dentures will become looser and less comfortable with the shrinking bone volume.
Implants, on the other hand, can stop bone loss and may even reverse it. This is because the titanium metal of an implant has a special affinity with bone cells that readily grow and adhere to it. This creates the anchorage responsible for the implant's durability, but it's also healthy for the bone.
Of course, this doesn't have to be a binary choice between the two restorations thanks to a new hybrid advancement that combines implants with dentures. We can install as few as two implants to support a removable denture. You'll enjoy greater stability, fit and durability with your dentures, while also improving bone health through the implants.
So before you decide on a dental restoration, be sure to discuss with us your implant options. Your oral health and appearance could benefit immensely.
If you would like more information on dental restoration, 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 “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
You probably know practicing healthy dietary and lifestyle habits can help prevent tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But good habits could also lower your risk for a more dangerous type of disease — oral cancer.
There are several risk factors for oral cancer, including those you can't do much about like your genetic makeup or unknown elements in the environment. But there are factors you can influence with your actions.
You're probably familiar with the links between tobacco use (both smoked and smokeless) and oral cancer. But excessive alcohol use could also increase your risk, as can risky sexual behavior that could expose you to human papilloma virus (HPV) 16.
And what you eat — or don't eat — could also influence your cancer risk. Research over the last half century has uncovered a link between diet and cancer. Cancer development seems to begin with damage to DNA, the genetic material that “tells” each of our cells what it is and what it does in the body. Substances called carcinogens found in the environment — including the foods we eat — can damage our DNA and open the door for cancer to development.
But some foods also contain elements that protect our DNA from carcinogenic damage. Some of these are known as antioxidants, which protect cells from unstable molecules called free radicals. You'll find antioxidants, as well as other protective substances like fiber, vitamins and lycopene in plant-based foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
Eating a plant-based diet also means you'll eat fewer foods that contribute to the rise of free radicals like saturated fat, animal protein and nitrates (a chemical that occurs in some food processing). A healthy diet, along with quitting tobacco use and moderating alcohol consumption, will help not only preventing decay or gum disease, it will also drastically lower your risk for oral cancer.
If you would like more information on oral cancer prevention, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
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