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.”
Although periodontal (gum) disease starts with the gums, the teeth may ultimately suffer. An infection can damage the gum attachment and supporting bone to the point that an affected tooth could be lost.
The main cause for gum disease is dental plaque, a bacterial biofilm that accumulates on teeth due to ineffective oral hygiene. But there can be other contributing factors that make you more susceptible to an infection. Smoking tobacco is one of the most harmful as more than half of smokers develop gum disease at some point in their life. If you’re a heavy smoker, you have double the risk of gum disease than a non-smoker.
There are several reasons why smoking increases the risk of gum disease. For one, smoking reduces the body’s production of antibodies. This diminishes the body’s ability to fight oral infections and aid healing. As a smoker, your body can’t respond adequately enough to the rapid spread of a gum infection.
Another reason for the increased risk with smoking are the chemicals in tobacco that damage the connectivity of gum tissues to teeth that keep them anchored in place. The heavier the smoking habit, the worse this particular damage is to the gums. This can accelerate the disease and make it more likely you’ll lose affected teeth.
Smoking can also interfere with getting a prompt diagnosis of gum disease because the nicotine in tobacco reduces the blood supply to the gums. Usually a person with an infection may first notice their gums are reddened or swollen, and bleed easily. Smoking, however, can give a false impression of health because it prevents the infected gum tissues from becoming swollen and are less likely to bleed. As a result, you may learn you have the disease much later rather than sooner, allowing the infection to inflict more damage.
There are ways to reduce your disease risk if you smoke. The top way: Kick the smoking habit. With time, the effects of smoking on your mouth and body will diminish, and you’ll be better able to fight infection.
You should also practice daily brushing and flossing to keep plaque at bay, followed by regular dental cleanings to remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (tartar) deposits. You should also see your dentist at the first sign of trouble with your gums.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
While wearing braces is the path to a healthier and more attractive smile, it can be a difficult journey. One of your biggest challenges will be keeping your teeth clean to avoid a higher risk of tooth decay.
Tooth decay starts with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Daily brushing and flossing clear this accumulation. But the hardware of braces makes it difficult to access all tooth surfaces, and can even become a haven for plaque.
One sign in particular of tooth decay while wearing braces is the appearance of chalk-like spots on the teeth known as white spot lesions (WSLs). WSLs occur because the minerals in the enamel beneath them have begun to break down in response to decay. The spots can eventually cause both structural and cosmetic problems for a tooth.
The best approach to WSLs is to prevent them from developing in the first place. You'll need to be extra vigilant with daily oral hygiene while wearing braces to reduce plaque buildup. To help with the increased difficulty you might consider using a special toothbrush designed to maneuver more closely around orthodontic hardware. You may also find using a water flosser to be a lot easier than flossing thread.
Preventing tooth decay and WSLs also includes what you eat or drink to reduce the effects of enamel de-mineralization. The bacteria that cause decay thrive on sugar, so limit your intake of sweetened foods and beverages. And to avoid excessive demineralization cut back on acidic foods as well.
If despite your best preventive efforts WSLs still form, we can take steps to minimize any damage. For one, we can give your enamel a boost with fluoride applications or other remineralization substances. We can also inject a tooth-colored resin beneath the surface of a WSL that will make it less noticeable.
With any of these and other treatments, though, the sooner we can treat the WSL the better the outcome. Practicing good hygiene and dietary habits, as well as keeping an eye out for any WSL formations, will do the most to protect your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on preventing dental disease while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
It’s common for kids to be less than enthusiastic about visiting the dentist. For some, though, it’s even more of a challenge: A child with extreme anxiety and fear during dental visits could interfere with them receiving the dental care they need. The impact could even extend into adulthood.
Recognizing the need to reduce this high anxiety, dentistry has used a number of pharmacological tools for many years that relax a child during dental care. Sedatives have often been the only choice for reducing anxiety, especially during extensive procedures and treatments. But now there’s a promising new approach in dentistry that doesn’t depend on drugs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic method used for decades to treat depression, phobias and eating disorders, has been investigated recently as a possible approach for relieving children’s dental anxiety. During CBT, trained therapists use specific behavioral techniques to help patients develop mental and emotional strategies for dealing with stress.
During the usual course of CBT therapy, a therapist meets in counseling sessions with patients weekly over several months to help them change their routine thinking or behavior surrounding a stressful issue. Initially, the therapist guides the patient toward understanding the underlying causes for their negative reaction to the issue. They then work with the patient to devise an objective way to test whether those emotions and beliefs about the issue are true.
Using this effective method for changing behavioral and emotional responses for dental anxiety has had encouraging results from initial research. One study found CBT successfully reduced dental anxiety among a majority of a group of European children ages 9 through 16 who participated in the method.
CBT isn’t an overnight cure, often requires a number of months to achieve results. But for children who suffer from extreme fear of professional dental care, this drug-free method may provide long-term benefits that extend well past their childhood years.
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
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