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.”
Your gums play an important role in dental function and health. Not only do they help anchor teeth in the jaw, the gums also protect tooth roots from disease.
But you can lose that protective covering if your gums recede or shrink back from the teeth. An exposed tooth is more susceptible to decay, and more sensitive to temperature and pressure.
Here are 4 causes for gum recession and what you can do about them.
Gum disease. The most common cause for gum recession is a bacterial infection called periodontal (gum) disease that most often arises from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on teeth. Gum disease in turn weakens the gums causes them to recede. You can reduce your risk for a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing plaque.
Genetics. The thickness of your gum tissues is a genetic trait you inherit from your parents. People born with thinner gums tend to be more susceptible to recession through toothbrush abrasion, wear or injury. If you have thinner tissues, you’ll need to be diligent about oral hygiene and dental visits, and pay close attention to your gum health.
Tooth eruption. Teeth normally erupt from the center of a bony housing that protects the root. If a tooth erupts or moves outside of this housing, it can expose the root and cause little to no gum tissue around the tooth. Moving the tooth orthodontically to its proper position could help thicken gum tissue and make them more resistant to recession.
Aggressive hygiene. While hard scrubbing may work with other cleaning activities, it’s the wrong approach for cleaning teeth. Too much force applied while brushing can eventually result in gum damage that leads to recession and tooth wear. So, “Easy does it”: Let the gentle, mechanical action of the toothbrush bristles and toothpaste abrasives do the work of plaque removal.
While we can often repair gum recession through gum disease treatment or grafting surgery, it’s much better to prevent it from happening. So, be sure you practice daily brushing and flossing with the proper technique to remove disease-causing plaque. And see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups to make sure your gums stay healthy.
If you would like more information on proper gum care, 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.”
There’s one sure thing about tooth decay: you can’t ignore it. In fact, the best outcomes result from finding it early and treating it before it enters the pulp in the center of the tooth, often a filling or similar treatment.
If it does advance to the pulp, you may need a root canal treatment to save the tooth. This is a moderately invasive procedure where we access the pulp and root canals, tiny passageways leading to the root and supporting bone. We then remove all the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling. Later we’ll crown the tooth for added protection against future infection or fracture of the tooth.
But there’s also another less-invasive method than a root canal called pulp capping. It’s only appropriate to use, however, if the pulp has become exposed or almost exposed by decay, but hasn’t yet shown signs of disease.
Pulp capping can be either direct or indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the healthy pulp has been exposed by the disease process. We first isolate the tooth from the rest of the mouth to prevent contamination and then proceed to remove all of the tooth’s decayed dentin structure. We then apply a biocompatible material directly over the pulp to protect it from further decay and to facilitate healing. We then restore the tooth, usually with a filling, to its proper function and life-like appearance.
When the pulp is threatened by decay but not yet exposed, we may then use the indirect method. In this approach we first remove most of the decayed dentin, but leave a small amount next to the pulp to keep it covered. We then treat this remaining dentin with a material to help it heal and re-mineralize, followed by a temporary filling of the tooth. A few months later we’ll remove this filling and inspect the treated dentin. If it has regenerated sufficiently, we remove any remaining decay and permanently restore the tooth.
As we said, pulp capping is only used with patients with deep decay whose pulp tissue is healthy. But when we can use it we can avoid some of the permanent alterations that often come with a root canal treatment and still save the tooth.
If you would like more information on treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that May Save a Decayed Tooth.”
After living with braces for a couple of years, the “big reveal” finally happens and you see your new smile for the first time. But then you’re told you have to wear another mouth appliance—around the clock to start and then just at night. After all the new smile excitement, wearing a retainer can be a little anticlimactic.
But this part of your orthodontic treatment is as important as the earlier tooth movement phase. That’s because your new “forever smile” doesn’t necessarily come with a “forever” guaranty. In fact, your teeth could quickly begin moving back to where they were before braces if you don’t wear a retainer.
The reason why is because of a tough but elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament. This ligament lies between the teeth and the jawbone, attaching to both through tiny extending fibers. The periodontal ligament actually does most of the anchoring work to hold your teeth in place.
The ligament is also why we’re able to move your teeth to different positions: As braces apply pressure to the teeth and jaw in the direction of desired movement, the ligament remodels itself to allow the teeth to take up these new positions.
The tissues involved, though, still retain a kind of “memory” of where the teeth used to be. This creates an immediate tendency for the teeth to revert to these old positions. To prevent this, we use a retainer that when worn keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they’ve stabilized and the old tissue “memory” fades.
There are different types of retainers, some removable and some fixed in place. Choosing the best one for a particular patient will depend on the complexity of the bite treatment, the patient’s age and level of self-responsibility and the preferences of the orthodontist. Whichever type of retainer you eventually use, it’s important you wear it to preserve all of the time and effort that went into transforming your smile.
Wearing a retainer might not be high on your “exciting things to do” list. But it’s the best way to guarantee you’ll enjoy your new smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on keeping your new smile after braces, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Chipped a tooth? Don't beat yourself up—this type of dental injury is quite common. In fact, you probably have a favorite celebrity who has chipped one or more of their teeth. The list is fairly long.
Some chipped a tooth away from the limelight, such as Tom Cruise (a hockey puck to the face as a teen), Jim Carrey (roughhousing on the playground) and Paul McCartney (a sudden stop with a moped). Others, though, chipped a tooth while “on the job.” Taylor Swift, Hillary Duff and Jennifer Lopez have all chipped a tooth on stage with a microphone. And chipped teeth seem to be an occupational hazard among professional athletes like former NFL star, Jerry Rice.
Since smiles are an indispensable asset to high-profile celebrities, you can be sure these stars have had those chipped teeth restored. The good news is the same procedures they've undergone are readily available for anyone. The two most common restorations for chipped teeth are dental bonding and veneers.
The least invasive way to fix a chipped tooth is bonding with a material known as composite resin. With this technique, resin is first mixed to match the tooth color and then applied to the chipped area or applied in layers of color to get just the right look. After a bit of shaping, curing and adjustment, we're done—you can walk out with a restored tooth in one visit.
Bonding works well with slight to moderate chips, but it could be less durable when there is more extensive damage. For that, you may want to consider porcelain veneers. Veneers are thin wafers of dental porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to mask blemishes like stains, slight gaps or, yes, chips. Veneers can be so lifelike that you won't be able to tell the veneered tooth from your other teeth. They are fashioned to match the color and shape of an individual's teeth. Because of the time and design detail involved, veneers are more expensive than bonding, yet still within an affordable range for many.
Teeth require some alteration before applying traditional veneers because otherwise the teeth can appear bulky when the veneer is bonded to the existing tooth. To compensate, we remove a little of the tooth enamel. Because this loss is permanent, you'll need to wear veneers or have some other form of restoration for the tooth from then on. For many people, though, that's a small price to pay for a smile without chips.
Your first step to repairing a chipped tooth is to come in for an examination. From there, we'll recommend the best option for your situation. And regardless of which, bonding or veneers, we can change your smile for the better.
If you would like more information about restoring injured teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Porcelain Veneers: Strength and Beauty as Never Before.”
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