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.”
Porcelain veneers are one of the best ways to transform your teeth’s appearance with only a small amount of tooth preparation. But even that small amount could leave a veneered tooth permanently altered.
As the name implies, veneers are thin layers of custom-designed porcelain bonded to the outside of a tooth to cover defects. They’re usually ideal for minor chipping, staining or even slight tooth misalignments. But although they’re thin—often just a millimeter or so in thickness—they can still make a tooth appear or feel bulky.
To reduce this extra width, we usually need to remove some of the tooth’s surface enamel. Since enamel doesn’t replenish itself, this alteration could mean the tooth will require a restoration from then on.
But now, you may be able to take advantage of new advances in this popular restoration: No-Prep or Minimal Prep veneers that involve little to no tooth alteration. In most cases they’re simply bonded to the teeth with only slight enamel reshaping.
Because of their ultra-thinness, No-Prep veneers (usually between 0.3 to 0.5 mm, as thin as a contact lens) are bonded directly to teeth that are practically untouched beforehand. A Minimal Prep veneer usually requires only enamel reshaping with an abrasive tool before it’s placed. And unlike traditional veneers, they can often be removed if needed to return the teeth to their original form without another restoration.
These new veneers are best for people with small teeth, often from wear due to teeth grinding, narrow smiles (the side teeth aren’t visible while smiling), or slightly misshapen teeth like underdeveloped teeth that can appear peg-shaped. But people with oversized teeth, some malocclusions (bad bites) or similar dental situations may still require enamel removal to avoid bulkiness even with ultra-thin veneers.
If you don’t have those kinds of issues and your teeth are reasonably healthy, we can apply No-Prep or Minimal Prep veneers in as few as two appointments. The result could be life-changing as you gain a new smile you’re more than happy to share.
If you would like more information on no-prep veneers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “No-Prep Porcelain Veneers.”
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
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