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.”
Twice a year dental cleanings are an important aspect of optimal oral health. But if you’re not brushing and flossing every day, your dental visits could change from regular maintenance to teeth rescue missions.
These two hygiene tasks don’t take long—a single trip with floss around each tooth and a couple of minutes of brushing at least twice a day—but you’ll need to perform them effectively to get the most out of them. Not to worry, though: with a little practice and helpful advice from us, this small investment in time and effort could save your teeth—and your money.
The first thing to know, though, is the reason behind brushing and flossing: to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque that can build up daily on teeth. Bacteria produce acid, which at elevated levels can erode enamel and lead to decay; and some bacterial strains can cause periodontal (gum) disease. These infections could ultimately lead to gum recession, bone deterioration and tooth loss.
Daily brushing and flossing lowers your risk of this occurring. It’s your preference in what order you do them, but for now let’s start with flossing.
There are a number of techniques—and tools—for effective flossing. If you’re using thread floss, simply cut off about 18 inches and wrap each end around the middle finger from each hand. Use the remaining fingers to create a small amount of floss between the two best fingers for a particular area of the mouth and gently pull the floss in between the tooth gap. Form a “C” shape around one of the tooth sides and rub up and down until you hear a squeak (which you’ll only hear if you use un-waxed floss). Now, repeat the action with the adjacent tooth, then move to the next and each succeeding gap and do the same until you’ve cleaned each side of each tooth.
When brushing, hold your toothbrush gently like a paintbrush or pencil at about a 45-degree angle with just a small amount of toothpaste on the end bristles. All it takes is a gentle scrubbing or wiggling motion and the abrasives and detergents in the toothpaste will do the rest. Just make sure you fully brush all your teeth and gum surfaces, which should take about two minutes.
Along with regular dental visits and a low-sugar diet to discourage bacterial growth, brushing and flossing will help you avoid disease and enjoy the best oral health possible.
If you would like more information on keeping your teeth and gums clean, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
“No man is an island….” So wrote the poet John Donne four centuries ago. And while he meant the unity of humanity, the metaphor could equally apply to the interdependence of the various parts of the human body, including the mouth. According to recent scientific research, your mouth isn’t an “island” either.
Much of this research has focused on periodontal (gum) disease, an infection most often caused by bacterial plaque that triggers inflammation in the gum tissues. Although an important part of the body’s defenses, if the inflammation becomes chronic it can damage the gums and weaken their attachment to the teeth. Supporting bone may also deteriorate leading eventually to tooth loss.
Avoiding that outcome is good reason alone for treating and controlling gum disease. But there’s another reason—the possible effect the infection may have on the rest of the body, especially if you have one or more systemic health issues. It may be possible for bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the diseased gum tissues to affect other parts of the body or possibly make other inflammatory conditions worse.
One such condition is diabetes, a disease which affects nearly one person in ten. Normally the hormone insulin helps turn dietary sugars into energy for the body’s cells. But with diabetes either the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the available insulin can’t metabolize sugar effectively. The disease can cause or complicate many other serious health situations.
There appears to be some links between diabetes and gum disease, including that they both fuel chronic inflammation. This may explain why diabetics with uncontrolled gum disease also often have poor blood sugar levels. Conversely, diabetics often have an exaggerated inflammatory response to gum disease bacteria compared to someone without diabetes.
The good news, though, is that bringing systemic diseases like diabetes under control may have a positive effect on the treatment of gum disease. It may also mean that properly treating gum disease could also help you manage not only diabetes, but also other conditions like cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, or rheumatoid arthritis. Taking care of your teeth and gums may not only bring greater health to your mouth, but to the rest of your body as well.
If you would like more information on treating dental diseases like 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
You don’t have to be a dental professional to appreciate a beautiful smile. Likewise, you’ll also know when something’s not quite right with one.
Such can be the case when a tooth fails to erupt properly, causing most or all of the crown to remain below the gum line, a condition known as impaction. Upper canines (or “eyeteeth,” for their location in the arch under the eyes) are especially susceptible to impaction: located on either side of the lateral incisors, which are on either side of the central incisors (the two center front teeth).
The upper canines are important both for function and appearance. Working with their lower counterparts they help cut through food as we chew, so you lose some of that efficiency when they don’t erupt properly. Impacted teeth are susceptible to abscesses and cysts, and can impinge upon and damage the roots of other teeth. And just as importantly, their absence also disrupts the smile as nearby teeth tend to move or “drift” toward the open space.
Rather than remove the impacted canines as is often done with back teeth, it may be more advantageous for both function and appearance to “coax” them into full eruption. This requires first pinpointing their exact location below the gums using x-rays or cone beam 3-D imaging.
If the teeth are in reasonably good position we must first prepare them for orthodontic treatment by surgically exposing the crown from the gums and bonding a small bracket to it. We then attach a small gold chain to the bracket that extends outside of the gums when we suture them back into place. The chain is attached to orthodontic hardware that exerts pressure on the impacted tooth for several months to “pull” it out into the arch.
This procedure has the best chance of success if undertaken before the end of jaw development in early adulthood. Otherwise, it may be better to remove the impacted canines and replace them with dental implants, followed by orthodontic treatment of other teeth to restore their proper position and bite relationships. In either case, your impacted upper canines don’t have to be a problem — we can restore both your mouth function and your smile.
If you would like more information on impacted teeth and treatment options, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
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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