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.”
In many parts of the country, summer is often a synonym for "blast furnace" and can be downright hot and miserable. If you find yourself in such a climate, it's imperative that you drink plenty of water to beat both the heat and heat-related injuries. Your teeth and gums are another reason to keep hydrated during those hot summer months.
Your body needs water to produce all that saliva swishing around in your mouth. When you have less water available in your system, the production of this important bodily fluid can go down—and this can increase your risk of dental disease. That's because saliva performs a number of tasks that enhance dental health. It helps rinse the mouth of excess food particles after eating that could become a prime food source for disease-causing bacteria. It also contains antibodies that serve as the first line of defense against harmful microorganisms entering through the mouth.
Perhaps saliva's most important role, though, is protecting and strengthening enamel, the teeth's outer "armor" against disease. Although the strongest substance in the body, enamel has one principal foe: oral acid. If the mouth's normally neutral pH becomes too acidic, the minerals in enamel begin to soften and dissolve. In response, saliva neutralizes acid and re-mineralizes softened enamel.
Without a healthy salivary flow protecting the mouth in these different ways, the teeth and gums are vulnerable to assault from bacteria and acid. As they gain the upper hand, the risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can skyrocket. Keeping yourself adequately hydrated ensures your body can produce an ample flow of saliva.
By the way, summer heat isn't the only cause for reduced saliva: Certain prescription medications may also interfere with its production. Chemotherapy and radiation, if targeting cancer near the head or neck, can damage salivary glands and impact flow as well.
If you have reduced saliva from medication you're taking, talk to your doctor about switching to an alternative prescription that doesn't affect saliva production. If you're undergoing cancer treatment, be extra vigilant about your oral hygiene practice and regular dental visits. And as with summer heat, be sure you're drinking plenty of water to help offset these other effects.
Even when it's hot, summertime should be a time for fun and relaxation. Don't let the heat ruin it—for your health or your smile.
Root canal therapy is the unsung "hero" of dentistry. Although often falsely maligned as an unpleasant experience, millions of decayed teeth have been saved thanks to this routine treatment.
But although root canal therapy can save your tooth, we can't guarantee it won't be affected by another infection. There are other factors to consider how long a treated tooth will remain healthy.
Root canal therapy stops and limits the damage from tooth decay that has infected the inner pulp and root canals. A dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist) drills into the tooth to gain access to the pulp. They remove the diseased pulp tissue and then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a specialized filling called gutta percha. The tooth is then sealed and later crowned to protect it against future fracture or infection.
The probability of that occurring may depend on when a dentist performs the root canal in the disease progression—and the earlier the better. If decay has already infected the underlying bone, the tooth's long-term prognosis even with root canal therapy could be dim. That's why you should see a dentist as soon as possible for any tooth pain, even if it goes away.
The type of tooth could impact long-term health. Teeth with single roots are usually easier to treat. But those with multiple roots and an intricate root canal network can be more difficult to treat, and require specialized equipment and techniques.
Age can also impact root canal therapy longevity. The older a root canal-treated tooth is, the more brittle and susceptible to fracture it can become, which can pose complications. That's why we typically place crowns on treated teeth to protect them from both future infection and undue stress created while biting and chewing.
To help mitigate these possible factors, you should see your dentist regularly for checkups and at the first sign of pain or other abnormalities for the earliest treatment possible. And for more complex tooth issues, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist to perform your root canal. With early intervention and attentive care, your root canaled tooth could enjoy many years of life.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Pediatricians and dentists alike recommend beginning your child's regular dental visits at an earlier age rather than later. Most say children's first visits should happen around their first birthday.
Some may question whether that's necessary given the state of a child's dental development at that age. At that stage they normally have only a few primary teeth, which will eventually give way to their permanent set soon enough.
But regular dental visits can make a positive difference even at that early age. Here are 3 oral health areas that could benefit from seeing the dentist by Age One.
Protecting primary teeth from decay. It's true that primary teeth don't last long when compared to a normal lifespan. But during their short tenure, they do play a critical role in a child's health and development. Not only do they provide a child dental function for eating, speaking and smiling, they also preserve the space for the permanent teeth that will succeed them. Without them, permanent teeth can erupt out of position to form a poor bite (or malocclusion). That's why early dental care to prevent and treat decay in primary teeth helps them remain for as long as they should.
Detecting developing malocclusions. A malocclusion doesn't form overnight—there can be subtle signs of its development during early childhood. A dentist, especially a pediatric dentist or orthodontist, can often detect those signs before the malocclusion fully develops (one reason why every child should have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6). With early detection, an orthodontist can use interventional techniques that will lessen or even stop a malocclusion from forming. As a result, later orthodontic treatment may not be as extensive—or expensive—as it could have been.
Developing a healthy dentist-patient relationship. Dental anxiety is a real problem for many adults—in some cases it can be so severe they avoid professional dental care altogether. The roots of that dental fear often go back to unpleasant experiences during childhood. Starting dental visits when a child is very young appears to minimize the development of dental anxiety. A young child, especially visiting a "kid-friendly" dental clinic, will more likely view dental care as a routine part of life and will less likely be afraid.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why It's Important for Your Baby.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.