Posts for: December, 2018
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.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
We’ve developed a number of effective treatments for periodontal (gum) disease. Depending on how far and deep a patient’s infection has advanced, treatment can be quite invasive and even require surgery. The more invasive, the longer and more uncomfortable the healing process can be.
But using a medical laser could make that less so. Although its use for gum disease treatment is still in its infancy, the latest observations from the field seem to show patients undergoing laser treatment may have less tissue trauma and bleeding, less discomfort after the procedure and quicker healing times.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection mostly caused by dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that build up on teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. The infection can advance deep below the gum line, weakening gum attachment to teeth and destroying supporting bone. Ultimately the affected teeth can be lost.
Traditionally, the only way to stop the disease is to manually remove plaque buildup on teeth and gum surfaces, which is continuing to sustain the infection, with special hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment. Because it’s important to remove as much plaque and diseased tissue as possible, we may need to perform a surgical procedure called flap surgery to move some of the gum tissues out of the way to get to these deeper areas. As with any surgery, this can create tissue trauma that may cause discomfort during the healing process.
Our new alternative is to use an Nd:YAG medical laser in a procedure known as Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure or LANAP. With light energy delivered through a small fiber no more than the width of three human hairs, the laser can pinpoint diseased tissue and destroy bacteria through intense heat. Because of the laser beam’s tiny width and pulsing action, healthy tissue is at less risk for trauma than with the traditional treatment.
Coupled with other techniques, LANAP procedures could remove as much infected tissue and plaque as traditional methods, but with less healthy tissue trauma. In the future, then, patients with advanced gum disease undergoing laser treatment could have less bleeding and discomfort and faster healing times.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “Treating Gum Disease with Lasers.”