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.”
Canker sores, known medically as aphthous ulcers, are fairly common among people. Lasting for about a week or so, these mouth sores are usually more irritating than painful. But about a quarter of the population, especially women, frequently suffer from an acute form that doesn't often respond well to over-the-counter remedies.
A typical canker sore is usually round with a yellow-gray center ringed by a reddened "halo." They can be preceded by tingling or painful sensations at the site a few hours or so before breaking out. Recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS) is the more severe form of canker sore, often with outbreaks of multiple painful sores. While the more common sore is usually less than a centimeter in diameter, RAS sores are often much larger.
Canker sores often arise during periods of stress or anxiety, and seem to be connected with eating certain acidic foods like tomato sauce, citrus fruits or spicy dishes. RAS also seems to be related to underlying systemic conditions like vitamin deficiencies, anemia or digestive disorders. Besides managing diet and stress, people with regular canker sores and milder cases of RAS can often find relief with non-prescription numbing agents often found in stores and pharmacies.
For more severe RAS, though, you may need the help of your dentist or physician with treatments like prescription steroids or other medications that come in gel or rinse form or through injections. The goal of any treatment approach is to decrease pain severity and shorten healing times after an outbreak.
While most mouth sores, including RAS, aren't dangerous to your health, you should still take any sore seriously. You should especially seek medical evaluation if a sore doesn't heal after a couple of weeks, if they seem to come more frequently and are more severe, or if you don't seem to ever be without a sore in your mouth. These could indicate a serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
One thing's for sure: there are ways to ease your suffering if you have frequent bouts with regular canker sores or even RAS. Talk to your dentist about ways to minimize your discomfort from these irritating mouth sores.
If you would like more information on aphthous ulcers or canker sores, 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 “Mouth Sores.”
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.”
Besides attractively showcasing your teeth, your gums protect your teeth and underlying bone from bacteria and abrasive food particles. Sometimes, though, the gums can pull back or recede from the teeth, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to damage and disease.
Here are 4 things that could contribute to gum recession—and what you can do about them.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This family of aggressive gum infections is by far the most common cause for recession. Triggered mainly by bacterial plaque, gum disease can cause the gums to detach and then recede from the teeth. To prevent gum disease, you should practice daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist at least twice a year to thoroughly remove plaque. And see your dentist as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment at the first sign of red, swollen or bleeding gums.
Tooth position. While a tooth normally erupts surrounded by bone, sometimes it erupts out of correct alignment and is therefore outside the bony housing and protective gum tissue. Orthodontic treatment to move teeth to better positions can correct this problem, as well as stimulate the gum tissues around the involved teeth to thicken and become more resistant to recession.
Thin gum tissues. Thin gum tissues, a quality you inherit from your parents, are more susceptible to wear and tear and so more likely to recede. If you have thin gum tissues you'll need to stay on high alert for any signs of disease or problems. And you should also be mindful of our next common cause, which is….
Overaggressive hygiene. While it seems counterintuitive, brushing doesn't require a lot of "elbow grease" to remove plaque. A gentle scrubbing motion over all your tooth surfaces is usually sufficient. On the other hand, applying too much force (or brushing too often) can damage your gums over time and cause them to recede. And as we alluded to before, this is especially problematic for people with thinner gum tissues. So brush gently but thoroughly to protect your gums.
If you would like more information on treating 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.”
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
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