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 a destructive oral disease, which along with periodontal (gum) disease is most responsible for tooth loss. And as you age, your disease risk goes up.
One form of decay older people often experience is root cavities. Unlike those occurring in the visible crown, root cavities often occur below the gum line and are especially destructive to tooth structure.
That's because, unlike the crown protected by ultra-hard enamel, the roots are covered by a thin, mineralized material called cementum. Although cementum offers some protection, it can't compare with the decay-resistant capacity of enamel.
The roots also depend on gum coverage for protection. But unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or recede, usually due to gum disease or over-aggressive brushing, and expose some of the root surface. With only the cementum to protect them, the roots can become highly susceptible to decay. If a cavity forms here, it can rapidly advance into the tooth's interior, the pulp, weakening the tooth and increasing its risk of loss.
To stop the decay, we must treat root cavities much like we do with crown cavities: by removing any decayed structure and then filling the cavity. But root cavities are often more difficult to access depending on how far below the gum line they extend. We may need to perform minor gum surgery to expose the cavity to treat it.
But as with any form of tooth decay, the best strategy is to prevent root cavities in the first place. Your first line of defense is a daily hygiene habit of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque, the main cause for tooth decay. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year (or more, if recommended) for more thorough cleanings and checkups. Your dentist can also recommend or prescribe preventive rinses, or apply fluoride to at-risk tooth surfaces to strengthen them.
You should also be on the lookout for any signs of gum disease. If you see swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist as soon as possible. Stopping possible gum recession will further reduce your risk of root cavities.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of tooth decay, 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay Near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
Probably a day doesn’t go by that you don’t encounter advertising for dental implants. And for good reason: implants have taken the world of dentistry by storm.
Since their inception over thirty years ago, implants have rocketed ahead of more conventional tooth replacements to become the premier choice among both dentists and patients. But what is an implant—and why are these state-of-the-art dental devices so popular?
Resemblance to natural teeth. More than any other type of dental restoration, dental implants mimic both the appearance and function of natural teeth. Just as teeth have two main parts—the roots beneath the gum surface and the visible crown—so implants have a similar construction. At their heart, implants are root replacements by way of a titanium metal post imbedded in the jawbone. To this we can permanently attach a life-like porcelain crown or even another form of restoration (more about that in a moment).
Durability. Implant materials and unique design foster a long-term success rate after ten years in the 95-plus percentile. They achieve this longevity primarily due to the use of titanium as the primary metal in the implant post. Because bone has an affinity for titanium, it will grow and adhere to the post over time to create a well-anchored hold. With proper maintenance and care implants can last for decades, making them a wise, cost-effective investment.
Added stability for other restorations. While most people associate implants with single tooth replacements, the technology has a much broader reach. For example, just a few strategically-placed implants can support a removable denture, giving this traditional restoration much more security and stability. What’s more, it can help stop bone loss, one of the main drawbacks of conventional dentures. In like fashion, implants can support a fixed bridge, eliminating the need to permanently alter adjacent teeth often used to support a conventional bridge.
With continuing advances, implant technology is becoming increasingly useful for a variety of restorative situations. Depending on your individual tooth-loss situation, dental implants could put the form and function back in your smile for many years to come.
If you would like more information on dental implant restorations, 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: Your Best Option for Replacing Teeth.”
It may begin as an itching or burning feeling on your skin, followed by numbness or sensitivity to touch. But then you develop a painful red rash that forms crusty lesions. Fever and fatigue may follow.
These are the common symptoms for a form of chicken pox called shingles, a contagious disease from the human herpes group of viruses. While anyone can contract the shingles virus, it most often lies dormant in a person’s nervous system for decades after an earlier bout of chicken pox. It then breaks out (sometimes repeatedly), usually in patients over fifty.
A shingles outbreak can be miserable. It could also affect your dental care, especially if you have a rash on your face and neck. Here are 3 things you should do if you have shingles in regard to your dental care and overall health.
Tell your dentist you have shingles. A shingles outbreak is highly contagious in its early stages and can spread from direct contact with blisters or through airborne secretions from the infected person’s respiratory system. Even a simple teeth cleaning (especially with an ultrasonic device) at this stage could spread the virus to staff and other patients. So inform your dentist if your appointment coincides with an outbreak—it may be necessary to re-schedule your visit.
Start antiviral treatment as soon as possible. If you’re diagnosed with shingles, more than likely your doctor or dentist will recommend immediate antiviral treatment (typically acyclovir or famciclovir) within 3 days of symptom onset. This can help speed up healing, alleviate pain and possibly prevent more serious complications.
Get the shingles vaccine. Of course, you don’t have to wait for shingles to occur—there is an effective vaccine that could help prevent an outbreak. If you’ve had chicken pox (over 90% of American adults have) or you’re over sixty with or without previous chicken pox, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends you get vaccinated.
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
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