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.”
While gum recession is a common occurrence related to aging, it’s not just an “old person’s disease.” It can happen to anyone, even someone with a relatively healthy mouth. And this detachment and shrinking back of the gums from the teeth may not be a minor problem—your dental health is definitely at risk.
Here then are 4 things you should know about gum recession, and what you can do about it.
The most common cause: periodontal (gum) disease. A bacterial infection triggered by built-up dental plaque, gum disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth that leads to recession. To help prevent it, clean away plaque with daily brushing and flossing and visit a dentist regularly for more thorough plaque removal. If you already have gum disease, prompt treatment could stop the infection and reduce any resulting damage including recession.
…But not the only one. There are other factors that contribute to recession besides disease. In fact, it could be the result of “too much of a good thing”—brushing too hard and too frequently can damage the gums and lead to recession. You might also be more susceptible to recession if you’ve inherited thin gum tissues from your parents. Thin gums are at increased risk of recession from both disease and over-aggressive hygiene.
Best outcomes result from treating gum disease and/or recession early. The earlier we detect and treat a gum problem, the better the outcome. See your dentist as soon as possible if you see abnormalities like swollen or bleeding gums or teeth that appear larger than before. Depending on your condition there are a number of treatment options like plaque removal or techniques to protect exposed teeth and improve appearance.
Grafting surgery could regenerate lost gum tissue. While with mild cases of gum recession the gums may respond well to treatment and actually rejuvenate on their own, that might not be possible with advanced recession. We may, however, still be able to restore lost tissue through grafting. Using one of a number of techniques, a graft of donor tissue can foster new replacement growth. It’s a meticulous micro-surgical approach, but it could be a viable answer to extreme gum recession.
If you would like more information on gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”
A root canal treatment is a highly effective way to save a deeply decayed tooth. Sometimes, though, complications make it difficult or even impossible to perform the traditional procedure. In those cases, we may need to use a different option.
Tooth decay becomes an imminent threat to a tooth's survival if it works its way into the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. It's only a short advancement from there into the roots by way of the root canals.
In a typical root canal treatment, we access the pulp by drilling a small hole in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back side of a front tooth. We remove all the tissue within the pulp and fill it and the root canals with a special filling to prevent re-infection. After sealing the access hole, we cap the tooth with a crown to further protect it.
Although root canal treatments have a high success rate, re-infection can still occur. Often, a second root canal will save the tooth from the new infection.
In some cases, though, using the traditional procedure might do more harm than good. It's possible we may find extra canals previously undetected branching out from the primary canal at the root end. Canals can calcify and narrow, making them extremely difficult to fill. Subsequent dental work may also prove troublesome: we would have to take the restoration apart, which could further weaken the tooth.
The alternative is a procedure known as an apicoectomy. Instead of accessing the pulp through the crown, we access the root end through the gum tissue. We then focus on removing infected tissue at the tooth's root end, along with a tiny amount of the root tip. We then place a small filling at the end of the root canal (essentially plugging it up) to prevent further infection. We may also perform grafting to encourage bone growth in any voids left by the procedure.
Endodontists, specialists in root canals, have the advanced training and specialized equipment to perform an apicoectomy. With their expertise, they may be able to save your tooth with this specialized procedure when a root canal treatment won't work.
If you would like more information on options for treating decayed teeth, 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
Just like other parts of your physical body, teeth naturally wear as we get older. Just the effect from chewing during hundreds of thousands of meals in a lifetime can take its toll.
But there are some factors that can make tooth wear worse. By addressing them promptly should they arise, you can keep age-related tooth wear to a minimum.
Here are 3 areas to watch for to avoid excessive tooth wear.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are most responsible for not only the loss of teeth but for compromising tooth health overall. But the good news is they’re largely preventable through proper oral hygiene practices to remove bacterial plaque, the main trigger for these diseases. Prompt treatment when they do occur can also minimize any damage and help your teeth and gums stay strong and healthy.
Your bite. Also known as occlusion, the bite refers to how the upper and lower teeth align with each other when you bite down. When they don’t align properly, regular chewing and biting can create abnormally high forces in the teeth and cause them to wear unevenly and more rapidly. Correcting the bite through orthodontic treatment won’t just improve your smile, it can improve bite function and decrease accelerated tooth wear.
Bruxism. This is a general term describing habits like teeth clenching and grinding in which the teeth forcefully contact each other beyond normal parameters. There are a number of causes for bruxism, but for adults it’s typically related to stress. Over time, bruxism can accelerate tooth wear and cause other problems like TMD. There are a number of ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of bruxism like relaxation techniques or a night guard worn during sleep that prevents the teeth from making forceful contact.
If you suspect you’re experiencing any of these factors, see us for a full examination. We’ll then be able to discuss your condition, the potential impact on tooth wear, and what we can do to protect your teeth.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth as you age, 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 and Why Teeth Wear.”
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
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