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.”
What does spring mean to you? The season officially starts on March 20th, but depending where you live you might start seeing the signs earlier or later. We often think of spring as a time of new beginnings—when the first green buds appear and the earth wakes up from its winter sleep. Spring is also a great time to break out of those old winter routines and make positive changes in your life; for example, learning to manage stress, improving sleep habits and getting more exercise. To those worthy aims, we'd like to add one more suggestion: This spring, make it a goal to improve your oral hygiene!
Maintaining good oral hygiene often results in fewer cavities, reduced gum disease and better checkups at the dental office. But for some people it can mean a lot more. A growing body of research points to a connection between oral health and overall health—especially when it comes to systemic (whole-body) diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and others. In many instances, improving oral health can lead to better management of these diseases.
So how do you start improving your oral hygiene? Glad you asked! Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, AND floss once a day—every day! Use a soft-bristled toothbrush for gentle, effective cleaning.
- Limit between-meal snacks to give your mouth a chance to neutralize the acids that can cause tooth decay.
- Stay away from sweetened and acidic drinks like soda (even diet), so-called "sports" and "energy" drinks, and other foods and beverages with a high sugar content.
- Drink plenty of water to increase production of healthful saliva and keep your whole body properly hydrated.
- Visit the dental office regularly for checkups and professional cleanings. This is essential for good oral hygiene. A professional cleaning can remove hardened plaque deposits that can't be cleaned effectively at home. A thorough dental exam can find and resolve small problems before they become big headaches (or toothaches)—and even help prevent them from happening!
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best way to keep your smile healthy for your whole life. And having a bright, healthy smile is a great way to greet the new season!
If you have questions about oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall,” and “10 Tips For Daily Oral Care at Home.”
There’s only one way to effectively halt the progressive damage of periodontal (gum) disease — completely remove the bacterial plaque and hardened deposits (calculus) from above and below the gum line that are causing the infection. Although we can accomplish this in most cases with hand instruments called scalers, ultra-sonic equipment or both, some cases may require periodontal surgery to access and clean deeper “pockets” of infection.
As this damaging disease progresses, the supporting bone dissolves and the gum tissues will begin to detach from a tooth, leaving an open space known as a “periodontal pocket.” Besides plaque and calculus pus may also form as a result of the infection. All of this material must be removed from the pocket before healing and, hopefully, tissue reattachment can begin.
Shallow pockets near the gum line are usually accessed and cleaned with hand instruments. But deeper pockets (5 millimeters or greater in depth) may require a surgical procedure to completely clean the area also allowing for regenerative procedures to be done to regain attachment. This will reduce the depth of the periodontal pockets that will make them more accessible for future cleanings and maintenance. Flap surgery is a common type of such a procedure: a small opening (similar to the flap of a letter envelope) is surgically created in the gum tissue to expose the area of infection around the tooth root and bone.
There are also other types of periodontal surgery for repairing and stimulating regeneration of damaged gum tissues. Using grafts or other enhancements, these plastic surgical techniques are especially useful where gum tissues have receded above the natural gum line, leaving more of the underlying tooth below the enamel exposed to disease. These procedures have become more effective in recent years with the development of specialized technologies called “barrier membranes” and biologic growth factors. These materials have allowed bone grafts to be more successful as this technology is engineered for targeted tissue growth and repair, and then dissolve at an appropriate point in the regeneration process.
Periodontal surgery isn’t appropriate for every situation. Still, these procedures do play an important role for many patients to put a halt to the damage caused by gum disease.
If you would like more information on surgical procedures for gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Surgery: Where Art Meets Science.”
The braces are finally off! But to keep your new, straighter smile you'll need to wear a retainer for some time. That's because the same structural mechanism used to move your teeth could undo what we've just accomplished.
That mechanism resides in an elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament that lies between the teeth and the bone and attaches to both with tiny fibers. While the ligament holds the teeth securely in place, it also allows for slight movement in response to bite changes. Braces "pull" the teeth in the desired new direction, and the ligament responds.
But with that pressure gone after the braces' removal, a kind of "muscle memory" can set in that moves the teeth back towards their original positions. A retainer, a dental appliance worn on the teeth, exerts just enough pressure to "retain" or keep the teeth from regressing.
Retainers are effective, but the most common type has a feature that poses potential problems: it can be removed by the wearer. Because of this, less disciplined patients might be tempted not to wear their retainer as directed. There's also a higher risk of losing one and incurring additional cost to replace it.
But there is another type, the bonded retainer, which stays permanently in the mouth until removed by an orthodontist. It's composed of a thin piece of metal that's firmly attached to the back of the teeth with dental composite material. Not only does a bonded retainer solve the problems mentioned before, it also can't be seen from the outside like a removable retainer.
A bonded retainer does have one disadvantage: because it can't be removed, it can obstruct the teeth during brushing and flossing and require more effort. You won't have as much difficulty with a removable retainer keeping teeth and gums clean. You can overcome this disadvantage, though, with specialized tools like a water flosser or a floss threader to make hygiene easier.
To choose which type of retainer is best for you or your family member, have a talk with your orthodontist. And if you choose a bonded retainer and later have it removed, be sure to switch immediately to a removable one if your orthodontist advises. With either retainer, you'll be able to preserve that hard-earned smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers: What are the Pros and Cons.”
When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?
For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.
Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:
- It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
- A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
- Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!
Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!
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