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.”
“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.”
We often don't realize how important something is until it's gone. Like saliva: you're usually not aware that it's cleaning the mouth, neutralizing mouth acid or helping with digestion. But that could change if your saliva flow drops below normal: your health may soon suffer with your mouth taking the brunt.
In particular, reduced saliva flow increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Both diseases are linked to oral bacteria. While many of the myriad strains in the mouth are beneficial, a few bacteria can infect and inflame gum tissues. Bacteria also produce acid, which can soften and erode enamel and make the teeth more susceptible to decay.
Saliva inhibits bacteria in a number of ways. It first clears the mouth of leftover food so not as much stays behind to form bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. You still need to brush and floss daily to remove plaque, but it's less effective without saliva's cleansing action. Saliva also contains antibodies that destroy disease-causing bacteria and other organisms, which keeps their populations in the mouth low.
One of saliva's most important functions, though, is buffering acid. The mouth's ideal pH level is neutral, but many foods we eat can cause it to become more acidic.Â Even a slight acidic rise after eating can soften the minerals in enamel. But saliva goes to work immediately and usually restores normal pH within a half hour to an hour. It also aids in re-mineralizing the enamel.
For these reasons, it's important for you to find out the cause of chronic dry mouth and treat it. If it's a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor about an alternative, or drink more water before and after you take your dose. Certain products can also stimulate saliva flow, like chewing gum with xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener that has dental health-protecting properties too.
Although you often don't notice this unsung bodily fluid swishing in your mouth, it's important that you take care of it. Keeping your saliva flowing will help ensure better oral health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to health, 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
You may be familiar with a dental implant used to replace a single tooth — but implant technology can do much more. Implants can also support other restorations including total teeth replacement on a jaw.
The reason they're so versatile is because implants replace the tooth root as well as the visible crown. We use a metal post, usually made of titanium, which we surgically implant in the jawbone as a root substitute. Because of a special affinity with titanium, bone around the implant grows and adheres to it and creates a durable bond.
With a single tooth replacement (the implant's original purpose when they were introduced in the 1980s) we attach a life-like porcelain crown to the individual titanium post. But with their continuing development we've adapted implants for other applications, like using a few strategically-placed implants as a stable platform for removable dentures or fixed bridges.
We're now able to use implants to support a full prosthetic (false) dental arch. Though similar in appearance to a removable denture, this particular prosthesis is permanently joined to the supporting implants with retaining screws.
Of course, the application requires careful pre-planning, which includes making sure you have enough healthy bone to support the implants. We'll also need to determine how many implants you'll need (usually four to six for this application) and create a surgical guide to place them in the best location for supporting the prosthesis. A dental technician will then create the prosthesis to match your jaw ridge contours and facial structure.
Using implants this way has a benefit other types of restorations can't provide: they may help stop future bone loss. The jawbone life cycle depends on stimulation from the attached tooth as you bite and chew — stimulation that ends when you lose the tooth. Traditional dentures and other restorations can't replicate that stimulation. Implants, on the other hand, directly encourage bone growth and can stop gradual bone loss.
If you need some form of total teeth replacement, consider one supported by implants. You may find they'll provide an excellent long-term solution to both function and appearance.
During his former career as a professional footballer (that's a soccer star to U.S. sports fans) David Beckham was known for his skill at “bending” a soccer ball. His ability to make the ball curve in mid-flight — to avoid a defender or score a goal — led scores of kids to try to “bend it like Beckham.” But just recently, while enjoying a vacation in Canada with his family, “Becks” tried snowboarding for the first time — and in the process, broke one of his front teeth.
Some fans worried that the missing tooth could be a “red card” for Beckham's current modeling career… but fortunately, he headed straight to the dental office as soon as he arrived back in England. Exactly what kind of treatment is needed for a broken tooth? It all depends where the break is and how badly the tooth is damaged.
For a minor crack or chip, cosmetic bonding may offer a quick and effective solution. In this procedure, a composite resin, in a color custom-made to match the tooth, is applied in liquid form and cured (hardened) with a special light. Several layers of bonding material can be applied to re-construct a larger area of missing tooth, and chips that have been saved can sometimes be reattached as well.
When more tooth structure is missing, dental veneers may be the preferred restorative option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that are bonded to the front surface of the teeth. They can not only correct small chips or cracks, but can also improve the color, spacing, and shape of your teeth.
But if the damage exposes the soft inner pulp of the tooth, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. In this procedure, the inflamed or infected pulp tissue is removed and the tooth sealed against re-infection; if a root canal is not done when needed, the tooth will have an increased risk for extraction in the future. Following a root canal, a tooth is often restored with a crown (cap), which can look good and function well for many years.
Sometimes, a tooth may be knocked completely out of its socket; or, a severely damaged tooth may need to be extracted (removed). In either situation, the best option for restoration is a dental implant. Here, a tiny screw-like device made of titanium metal is inserted into the jaw bone in a minor surgical procedure. Over time, it fuses with the living bone to form a solid anchorage. A lifelike crown is attached, which provides aesthetic appeal and full function for the replacement tooth.
So how's Beckham holding up? According to sources, “David is a trooper and didn't make a fuss. He took it all in his stride." Maybe next time he hits the slopes, he'll heed the advice of dental experts and wear a custom-made mouthguard…
If you have questions about restoring damaged teeth, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Children's Dental Concerns and Injuries.”
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