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.”
A root canal treatment is a common procedure performed by dentists and endodontists (specialists for inner tooth problems). If you're about to undergo this tooth-saving procedure, here's what you need to know.
The goal of a root canal treatment is to stop tooth decay within a tooth's interior and minimize any damage to the tooth and underlying bone. This is done by accessing the tooth's pulp and root canals (tiny passageways traveling through the tooth roots to the bone) by drilling into the biting surface of a back tooth or the "tongue" side of a front tooth.
First, though, we numb the tooth and surrounding area with local anesthesia so you won't feel any pain during the procedure. We'll also place a small sheet of vinyl or rubber called a dental dam that isolates the affected tooth from other teeth to minimize the spread of infection.
After gaining access inside the tooth we use special instruments to remove all of the diseased tissue, often with the help of a dental microscope to view the interior of tiny root canals. Once the pulp and root canals have been cleared, we'll flush the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution.
After any required reshaping, we'll fill the pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling called gutta-percha. This rubberlike, biocompatible substance conforms easily to the shape of these inner tooth structures. The filling preserves the tooth from future infection, with the added protection of adhesive cement to seal it in.
Afterward, you may have a few days of soreness that's often manageable with mild pain relievers. You'll return for a follow-up visit and possibly a more permanent filling for the access hole. It's also likely you'll receive a permanent crown for the tooth to restore it and further protect it from future fracture.
Without this vital treatment, you could very well lose your tooth to the ravages of decay. The time and any minor discomfort you may experience are well worth the outcome.
If you would like more information on treating 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 Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
February is National Children's Dental Health month, sponsored annually by the American Dental Association. As important as good oral health is to a child's overall health and development, tooth decay tops the list as the most common chronic childhood disease. In fact, over 40% of children ages 2-11 have had cavities in their baby teeth.
If unchecked, tooth decay can have a profound impact on a child's quality of life. The good news is that tooth decay is preventable, and often reversible if detected early. Here are some things you can do to set your child on the path to good dental health for life:
Get your child in the habit of brushing and flossing every day. Cavity prevention starts at home, so teach your child to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste—but use only a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice before age 3, and a pea-sized amount from ages 3-6. Introduce dental floss into the routine when you notice that your child's teeth are starting to fit closely together. Children generally need help brushing until age 6 or 7 and flossing until around age 10.
Encourage tooth-healthy eating habits. Provide your child with a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Stay away from sugary snacks and beverages, especially between meals. If children drink juice, they should do so with meals rather than sipping juice throughout the day or at bedtime. Even 100% juice has natural sugars and can be acidic, which can harm teeth with prolonged exposure.
Establish a dental home early. Tooth decay isn't always easy to spot with the naked eye, so regular dental visits should start no later than a baby's first birthday. We can check the development of your child's teeth and spot any issues of concern. The earlier tooth decay is caught, the less damage it can do. Even if there are no dental problems, establishing a dental home early on will help your little one feel comfortable at the dental office.
Ask about preventive dental treatments. Fluoride varnishes or rinses are frequently recommended to help prevent cavities, particularly for children at higher risk of getting cavities. Dental sealants, another preventive treatment, are a coating commonly applied to molars to seal out tooth decay. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, children ages 6-11 with dental sealants have nearly three times fewer cavities than children who do not have sealants.
The key to healthy smiles for life is to start your child at a young age with good habits at home and regular dental visits. If you have questions about your child's dental health, call us 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Like other aspects of our lives, aging can take a toll on our smile. Over a lifetime the effects of disease, teeth wearing and the foods we eat can cause our teeth and gums to look unattractive.
Here are 3 of the most common age-related dental problems and how we can help you "turn back the clock" on each one.
Discoloration. Teeth can dull and grow darker over time. And not just from what we eat or drink—age-related structural changes in the tooth can also cause discoloration. We can often alleviate external staining temporarily with teeth whitening. If the staining is heavy or it originates inside the tooth, then we can install life-like porcelain veneers or crowns to cover the discoloration. We can also use composite dental materials to alter the color of one darkened tooth so that it doesn't stand out from the rest of your teeth.
Wearing. Our teeth naturally wear down over time. If the wearing is excessive, though, teeth can look shorter and less youthful. Again, we can use veneers or crowns to change a tooth's outward appearance and make them look longer. We can also employ enamel contouring and reshaping that smoothes out sharper edges caused by wearing to give your teeth a softer, more youthful look.
Receding gums. On the other end of the spectrum, gums that have shrunk back or receded from the teeth can make them look much larger and unattractive. Our first step is to treat any gum disease present—the most common cause of recession—which often helps the tissues to regenerate. If your case is more advanced, though, you may also need grafting surgery to restore lost gum tissue. Using in-depth microsurgical techniques, surgeons attach grafted gum tissue at the recession site. Over time new tissue will grow, restoring adequate gum coverage.
You can also improve your appearance at any age with orthodontics. Besides a more attractive smile, properly aligned teeth tend to wear more slowly and evenly. This and proper daily oral hygiene and regular dental care can keep your teeth looking younger even in your later years.
If you would like more information on gaining a more youthful smile, 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 “How Your Dentist can help you Look Younger.”
Let’s say you’re traveling to Italy to surprise your girlfriend, who is competing in an alpine ski race… and when you lower the scarf that’s covering your face, you reveal to the assembled paparazzi that one of your front teeth is missing. What will you do about this dental dilemma?
Sound far-fetched? It recently happened to one of the most recognized figures in sports — Tiger Woods. There’s still some uncertainty about exactly how this tooth was taken out: Was it a collision with a cameraman, as Woods’ agent reported… or did Woods already have some problems with the tooth, as others have speculated? We still don’t know for sure, but the big question is: What happens next?
Fortunately, contemporary dentistry offers several good solutions for the problem of missing teeth. Which one is best? It depends on each individual’s particular situation.
Let’s say that the visible part of the tooth (the crown) has been damaged by a dental trauma (such as a collision or a blow to the face), but the tooth still has healthy roots. In this case, it’s often possible to keep the roots and replace the tooth above the gum line with a crown restoration (also called a cap). Crowns are generally made to order in a dental lab, and are placed on a prepared tooth in a procedure that requires two office visits: one to prepare the tooth for restoration and to make a model of the mouth and the second to place the custom-manufactured crown and complete the restoration. However, in some cases, crowns can be made on special machinery right in the dental office, and placed during the same visit.
But what happens if the root isn’t viable — for example, if the tooth is deeply fractured, or completely knocked out and unable to be successfully re-implanted?
In that case, a dental implant is probably the best option for tooth replacement. An implant consists of a screw-like post of titanium metal that is inserted into the jawbone during a minor surgical procedure. Titanium has a unique property: It can fuse with living bone tissue, allowing it to act as a secure anchor for the replacement tooth system. The crown of the implant is similar to the one mentioned above, except that it’s made to attach to the titanium implant instead of the natural tooth.
Dental implants look, function and “feel” just like natural teeth — and with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Although they may be initially expensive, their quality and longevity makes them a good value over the long term. A less-costly alternative is traditional bridgework — but this method requires some dental work on the adjacent, healthy teeth; plus, it isn’t expected to last as long as an implant, and it may make the teeth more prone to problems down the road.
What will the acclaimed golfer do? No doubt Tiger’s dentist will help him make the right tooth-replacement decision.
If you have a gap in your grin — whatever the cause — contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation, and find out which tooth-replacement system is right for you. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Crowns & Bridgework.”
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