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 month of February gets its name from the ancient spring cleansing ritual called “Februa.” So perhaps it’s appropriate that February is now celebrated as National Children’s Dental Health Month. Having a healthy mouth starts with good oral hygiene—a practice that’s important for everyone, but especially for kids, because the healthy habits they develop in childhood can keep their teeth and gums in good condition for life. How can you help your kids achieve the best oral health? We’re glad you asked. Here are five tips:
Brush and floss daily
Sure, you knew that already. But did you know that for effective cleaning, your kids should brush for two full minutes, twice a day? And despite reports you may have heard, the American Dental Association maintains that using an interdental cleaner (like floss) is essential part of good oral hygiene: It’s the best way to clean decay-causing bacteria from tooth surfaces that your brush just can’t reach.
Limit snacking to around mealtimes
If you allow kids to have sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes. That way, the teeth aren’t constantly bathed in substances that can feed harmful bacteria. It also gives the healthful saliva a chance to neutralize acids that can attack the tooth’s protective enamel coating.
Avoid soda and other sugary, acidic drinks
That includes so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks, which often contain extremely high levels of sugar. These beverages, along with diet sodas and some fruit juices, may also be highly acidic, and can damage teeth. What’s the best drink for your kids’ health? Plain old refreshing water!
Pay attention to baby teeth
Sure, in a few years, those teeth will be gone. But in the mean time, they have an important job to do: They not only contribute to proper speech, eating and appearance, but also hold a space for the permanent teeth that will follow them. If they are lost too early, problems with permanent teeth may follow.
Get regular checkups
Routine office visits are the best way to monitor your child’s dental health and development, prevent disease, and solve minor problems before they get bigger. Plus, we can address any questions you may have about oral hygiene and a range of other topics. So if we haven’t seen your child lately, maybe February is a good time for a visit.
If you have questions about your child’s oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Transforming your smile doesn’t necessarily require complex treatments like orthodontics, dental implants or porcelain veneers. Sometimes a little brightness can mean all the difference in the world.
Bleaching (or teeth whitening) is a proven method for dealing with tooth discoloration and staining. Nearly all whitening products, whether home or professional, contain the bleaching agent carbamide peroxide or its breakdown product hydrogen peroxide. These agents effectively diminish staining deep within a tooth (intrinsic) or on the enamel surface (extrinsic), although intrinsic staining will require a more invasive office procedure.
If you have extrinsic staining you have three basic options: dental office bleaching, a retail home kit or a kit purchased from a dentist. Again, you’ll find the same basic bleaching agents in each of these versions. The difference will be the concentration: home kits contain about 10% agent by volume, while the office application will be a much higher range of 15% to 35% (which may also employ specialized lights or lasers to increase the bleaching effect). As a result, an office bleaching may take only a visit or two to achieve the desired brightness while a home kit about two or three weeks.
Whitening is a more economical route for smile enhancement of otherwise sound teeth than other measures. But there are other considerations you should weigh before undergoing a procedure. Whitening isn’t a permanent fix — the brightness will diminish over time, optimally six months to a year in what dentists call the “fade rate.” You can slow this process by avoiding or limiting foods and habits that cause staining.
If you have other dental work — crowns, bridgework or fillings — it may be difficult to achieve a tint level that matches these restorations, especially at home. And while whitening is relatively safe (as long as you’re using your kit as directed), you may experience tooth sensitivity, gum irritation or other minor oral side effects.
Before you decide on whitening, visit us first for a complete dental examination. From there we can advise you on whether whitening is a good smile enhancement choice for you.
If you would like more information on teeth whitening, 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 “Teeth Whitening.”
As dentists, we often see other mouth problems besides those with teeth and gums. One of the most common is cracking around the corners of the mouth. Although usually not serious, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Medically known as angular cheilitis (literally “an inflammation of the angles of the lip”), it’s also called perleche, derived from the French lecher, “to lick.” The latter moniker aptly describes the tendency of sufferers to compulsively lick the sores to relieve irritation, which actually can make things worse.
Perleche has a number of possible causes, mostly from in or around the mouth (although systemic diseases or medications can cause it on rare occasions). It’s often found among younger people who drool during sleep or older people with deep wrinkles along the sides of the mouth that increase the chances of dryness and cracking. Long-term wind or cold exposure, ill-fitting dentures or a lack of back teeth (which help support facial structure) may also contribute to the condition.
Patients with perleche can also develop yeast infections from a strain called candida albicans. The infection can spread through the whole mouth, significantly increasing the chances of physical discomfort.
Treating perleche often involves topical ointments with inflammation-reducing steroids and zinc oxide, which has antifungal properties, to provide an environmental barrier during the healing process. If a yeast infection occurs, we may treat it with oral or topical antifungal medication like Nystatin for the whole mouth and chlorhexidine rinses, which has antibacterial properties.
It also helps to adopt a few preventive measures that can minimize the occurrence of perleche. If you wear dentures, for example, cleaning them often (including, if necessary, with chlorhexidine) and leaving them out at night reduces bacterial and fungal growth. We can also see if your dentures are fitting properly. Replacing missing teeth provides better facial support and could minimize wrinkling around the mouth. And, of course, keeping up daily brushing and flossing helps ensure a healthy and disease-free mouth.
If you’re experiencing cracked mouth corners, let us know at your next appointment. With our help and of other medical professionals we may be able to give you relief from this irritating condition.
If you would like more information on gaining relief from angular cheilitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
Once upon a time, celebrities tried hard to maintain the appearance of red-carpet glamour at all times. That meant keeping the more mundane aspects of their lives out of the spotlight: things like shopping, walking the dog and having oral surgery, for example.
That was then. Today, you can find plenty of celebs posting pictures from the dentist on social media. Take Julianne Hough, for example: In 2011 and 2013, she tweeted from the dental office. Then, not long ago, she shared a video taken after her wisdom teeth were removed in December 2016. In it, the 28-year-old actress and dancer cracked jokes and sang a loopy rendition of a Christmas carol, her mouth filled with gauze. Clearly, she was feeling relaxed and comfortable!
Lots of us enjoy seeing the human side of celebrities. But as dentists, we’re also glad when posts such as these help demystify a procedure that could be scary for some people.
Like having a root canal, the thought of extracting wisdom teeth (also called third molars) makes some folks shudder. Yet this routine procedure is performed more often than any other type of oral surgery. Why? Because wisdom teeth, which usually begin to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums) around age 17-25, have the potential to cause serious problems in the mouth. When these molars lack enough space to fully erupt in their normal positions, they are said to be “impacted.”
One potential problem with impacted wisdom teeth is crowding. Many people don’t have enough space in the jaw to accommodate another set of molars; when their wisdom teeth come in, other teeth can be damaged. Impacted wisdom teeth may also have an increased potential to cause periodontal disease, bacterial infection, and other issues.
Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed; after a complete examination, including x-rays and/or other diagnostic imaging, a recommendation will be made based on each individual’s situation. It may involve continued monitoring of the situation, orthodontics or extraction.
Wisdom tooth extraction is usually done right in the office, often with a type of anesthesia called “conscious sedation.”Â Here, the patient is able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli (such as verbal directions), but remains free from pain. For people who are especially apprehensive about dental procedures, anti-anxiety mediation may also be given. After the procedure, prescription or over-the-counter pain medication may be used for a few days. If you feel like singing a few bars, as Julianne did, it’s up to you.
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
There are usually two moments when primary (“baby”) teeth generate excitement in your family: when you first notice them in your child’s mouth, and when they come out (and are headed for a rendezvous with the “tooth fairy”!).
Between these two moments, you might not give them much thought. But you should—although primary teeth don’t last long, they play a pivotal role in the replacing permanent teeth’s long-term health.
This is because a primary tooth is a kind of guide for the permanent one under development in the gums. It serves first as a “space saver,” preventing nearby teeth from drifting into where the permanent tooth would properly erupt; and, it provides a pathway for the permanent tooth to travel during eruption. If it’s lost prematurely (from injury or, more likely, disease) the permanent tooth may erupt out of position because the other teeth have crowded the space.
That’s why we try to make every reasonable effort to save a problem primary tooth. If decay, for example, has advanced deep within the tooth pulp, we may perform a modified root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and seal the remaining pulp from further infection. In some circumstances we may cap the tooth with a stainless steel crown (or possibly a white crown alternative) to protect the remaining structure of the tooth.
Of course, even the best efforts can fall short. If the tooth must be removed, we would then consider preserving the empty space with a space maintainer. This orthodontic device usually takes the form of a metal band that’s cemented to a tooth on one side of the empty space with a stiff wire loop soldered to it that crosses the space to rest against the tooth on the other side. The wire loop prevents other teeth from crowding in, effectively “maintaining” the space for the permanent tooth.
Regular dental visits, plus your child’s daily brushing and flossing, are also crucial in preventing primary teeth from an “early departure.” Keeping them for their full lifespan will help prevent problems that could impact your child’s dental health future.
If you would like more information on the right care approach for primary teeth, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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