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.”
There’s one sure thing about tooth decay: you can’t ignore it. In fact, the best outcomes result from finding it early and treating it before it enters the pulp in the center of the tooth, often a filling or similar treatment.
If it does advance to the pulp, you may need a root canal treatment to save the tooth. This is a moderately invasive procedure where we access the pulp and root canals, tiny passageways leading to the root and supporting bone. We then remove all the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling. Later we’ll crown the tooth for added protection against future infection or fracture of the tooth.
But there’s also another less-invasive method than a root canal called pulp capping. It’s only appropriate to use, however, if the pulp has become exposed or almost exposed by decay, but hasn’t yet shown signs of disease.
Pulp capping can be either direct or indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the healthy pulp has been exposed by the disease process. We first isolate the tooth from the rest of the mouth to prevent contamination and then proceed to remove all of the tooth’s decayed dentin structure. We then apply a biocompatible material directly over the pulp to protect it from further decay and to facilitate healing. We then restore the tooth, usually with a filling, to its proper function and life-like appearance.
When the pulp is threatened by decay but not yet exposed, we may then use the indirect method. In this approach we first remove most of the decayed dentin, but leave a small amount next to the pulp to keep it covered. We then treat this remaining dentin with a material to help it heal and re-mineralize, followed by a temporary filling of the tooth. A few months later we’ll remove this filling and inspect the treated dentin. If it has regenerated sufficiently, we remove any remaining decay and permanently restore the tooth.
As we said, pulp capping is only used with patients with deep decay whose pulp tissue is healthy. But when we can use it we can avoid some of the permanent alterations that often come with a root canal treatment and still save the tooth.
If you would like more information on treatments for 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that May Save a Decayed Tooth.”
If there’s one essential tool for protecting your dental health, it’s the humble toothbrush. The basic manual brush with a long, slender handle and short-bristled head is still effective when used skillfully. The market, though, is full of choices, all of them touting their brand as the best.
So how do you choose? You can cut through any marketing hype with a few simple guidelines.
First, understand what you’re trying to accomplish with brushing: removing dental plaque, that thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces that’s the main cause of dental disease. Brushing also stimulates gum tissue and helps reduce inflammation.
With that in mind, you’ll first want to consider the texture of a toothbrush’s bristles, whether they’re stiff (hard) or more pliable (soft). You might think the firmer the better for removing plaque, but actually a soft-bristled brush is just as effective in this regard. Stiffer bristles could also damage the gums over the long term.
Speaking of bristles, look for those that have rounded tips. In a 2016 study, less rounded tips increased gum recession in the study’s participants by 30%. You should also look for toothbrushes with different bristle heights: longer bristles at the end can be more effective cleaning back teeth.
As far as size and shape, choose a brush that seems right and comfortable for you when you hold it. For children or people with dexterity problems, a handle with a large grip area can make the toothbrush easier to hold and use.
And look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance, something you may have seen on some toothpaste brands. It means the toothbrush in question has undergone independent testing and meets the ADA’s standards for effectiveness. That doesn’t mean a particular brush without the seal is sub-standard—when in doubt ask your dentist on their recommendation.
Even a quality toothbrush is only as effective as your skill in using it. Your dental provider can help, giving you tips and training for getting the most out of your brush. With practice, you and your toothbrush can effectively remove disease-causing plaque and help keep your smile beautiful and healthy.
If you would like more information on what to look for in a toothbrush, 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 “Sizing up Toothbrushes.”
Your risk for periodontal (gum) disease increases if you’re not brushing or flossing effectively. You can also have a higher risk if you’ve inherited thinner gum tissues from your parents. But there’s one other risk factor for gum disease that’s just as significant: if you have a smoking habit.
According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a little more than sixty percent of smokers develop gum disease in their lifetime at double the risk of non-smokers. And it’s not just cigarettes—any form of tobacco use (including smokeless) or even e-cigarettes increases the risk for gum disease.
Smoking alters the oral environment to make it friendlier for disease-causing bacteria. Some chemicals released in tobacco can damage gum tissues, which can cause them to gradually detach from the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss, which smokers are three times more likely to experience than non-smokers.
Smoking may also hide the early signs of gum disease like red, swollen or bleeding gums. But because the nicotine in tobacco restricts the blood supply to gum tissue, the gums of a smoker with gum disease may look healthy. But it’s a camouflage, which could delay prompt treatment that could prevent further damage.
Finally because tobacco can inhibit the body’s production of antibodies to fight infection, smoking may slow the healing process after gum disease treatment. This also means tobacco users have a higher risk of a repeat infection, something known as refractory periodontitis. This can create a cycle of treatment and re-infection that can significantly increase dental care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can substantially lower your risk of gum disease and its complications by quitting any kind of tobacco habit. As it leaves your system, your body will respond much quicker to heal itself. And quitting will definitely increase your chances of preventing gum disease in the first place.
Quitting, though, can be difficult, so it’s best not to go it alone. Talk with your doctor about ways to kick the habit; you may also benefit from the encouragement of family and friends, as well as support groups of others trying to quit too. To learn more about quitting tobacco visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
If you would like more information on how smoking can affect your oral 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Multi-platinum recording artist Janet Jackson has long been known for her dazzling smile. And yet, Jackson admitted to InStyle Magazine that her trademark smile was once a major source of insecurity. The entertainer said, “To me, I looked like the Joker!” It was only after age 30 that the pop icon came to accept her unique look.
Jackson is not alone. A study commissioned by the American Association of Orthodontists found that more than one third of U.S. adults are dissatisfied with their smile. But there’s good news—modern dentistry can correct many flaws that can keep you from loving your smile, whether you’re unhappy with the color, size, or shape of your teeth. Here are some popular treatments:
Professional teeth whitening: Sometimes a professional teeth whitening will give you the boost you need. In-office whitening can dramatically brighten your smile in just one visit.
Tooth-colored fillings: If you have silver-colored fillings on teeth that show when you smile, consider replacing them with unnoticeable tooth-colored fillings.
Dental bonding: If you have chipped, cracked, or misshapen teeth, cosmetic bonding may be the fix you’re looking for. In this procedure, tooth colored material is applied to the tooth’s surface, sculpted into the desired shape, hardened with a special light, and polished for a smooth finish.
Porcelain veneers: Dental veneers provide a natural-looking, long-lasting solution to many dental problems. These very thin shells fit over your teeth, essentially replacing your tooth enamel to give you the smile you desire.
Replacement teeth: Is a missing tooth affecting your self-confidence? There are several options for replacing missing teeth, from a removable partial denture to a traditional fixed bridge to a state-of-the-art implant-supported replacement tooth. Removable partial dentures are an inexpensive way to replace one or more missing teeth, but they are less stable than non-removable options. Dental bridges, as the name implies, span the gap where a tooth is missing by attaching an artificial tooth to the teeth on either side of the space. In this procedure, the teeth on both sides of the gap must be filed down in order to support the bridgework. Dental implants, considered the gold standard in tooth replacement technology, anchor long-lasting, lifelike replacements that function like natural teeth.
After coming to embrace her smile, Jackson asserted, “Beautiful comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors." If you don’t feel that your smile expresses the beauty you have inside, call our office to schedule a consultation. It’s possible to love your smile. We can help.
For more information, read Dear Doctor magazine article “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
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