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.”
If you wince in pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold, you’re not alone: tooth sensitivity afflicts one in three Americans. To understand what’s possibly going on, let’s look first at tooth anatomy.
Teeth are mainly composed of three layers: an outer protective enamel that covers the upper crown, a middle layer called dentin and an inner pulp. The dentin is composed of small tubules that transmit outer temperature and pressure sensations to nerves in the pulp.
The enamel serves as a “muffler,” damping sensations to protect the nerves from overload. In the root area, the gums and a thin material called cementum covering the roots also help muffle sensation.
But sometimes teeth can lose this muffling effect and the nerves encounter the full brunt of the sensations. The most common reason is gum recession, usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease. The gums have shrunk back or “receded,” and after a short while the cementum covering will also be lost, exposing the dentin in the root area.
Another problem is enamel erosion caused by mouth acid. Chronic high acidity, often caused by bacterial growth or acidic foods and beverages, can dissolve the enamel’s mineral content, causing decay and exposure as well of the underlying dentin.
To avoid future tooth sensitivity, it pays to prevent these two dental problems. The most important thing you can do is practice daily brushing and flossing to reduce bacterial plaque and see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and checkups.
But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you’ll first need an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If it’s related to gum disease, immediate treatment could help stop or even reverse any gum recession. To address enamel erosion, your dentist may be able to protect and strengthen your teeth with sealants and topical fluoride.
There are also things you and your dentist can do to reduce your symptoms. One is for you to use hygiene products with fluoride, which can take the edge off of sensitivity, or potassium, which helps reduce nerve activity. Your dentist can further reduce nerve sensitivity by blocking the tubules with sealants and bonding agents.
Tooth sensitivity is an irritating problem in itself; more importantly, though, it’s often a warning of something else seriously wrong that needs attention. If you’re feeling a little sensitive in the teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, 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 “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”
You depend on your family dentist for most of your oral care. There are some situations, though, that are best handled by a specialist. If you or a family member has a deeply decayed tooth, for example, it might be in your long-term interest to see an endodontist.
From the Greek words, endo ("within") and odont ("tooth"), endodontics focuses on dental care involving a tooth's interior layers, including the pulp, root canals and roots. While general dentists can treat many endodontic problems, an endodontist has the advanced equipment and techniques to handle more complex cases.
The majority of an endodontist's work involves teeth inwardly affected by tooth decay. The infection has moved beyond the initial cavity created in the enamel and dentin layers and advanced into the pulp and root canals. The roots and underlying bone are in danger of infection, which can endanger the tooth's survival.
The most common treatment is root canal therapy, in which all of the infected tissue is removed from the pulp and root canals. Afterward, the empty spaces are filled and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent future infection. General dentists can perform this treatment, primarily with teeth having a single root and less intricate root canal networks. But teeth with multiple roots are a more challenging root canal procedure.
Teeth with multiple roots may have several root canals needing treatment, many of which can be quite small. An endodontist uses a surgical microscope and other specialized equipment, as well as advanced techniques, to ensure all of these inner passageways are disinfected and filled. Additionally, an endodontist is often preferred for previously root-canaled teeth that have been re-infected or conditions that can't be addressed by a traditional root canal procedure.
While your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for a problem tooth, you don't have to wait. You can make an appointment if you think your condition warrants it. Check out the American Association of Endodontists webpage www.aae.org/find for a list of endodontists in your area.
Advanced tooth decay can put your dental health at risk. But an endodontist might be the best choice to overcome that threat and save your tooth.
If you would like more information on endodontic dentistry, 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 “Why See an Endodontist?”
The smiley face: It’s been around forever. Except it hasn’t—someone created it. No, not Forrest Gump (but good guess!), but graphic artist Harvey Ball in 1963 to help boost employee morale at an insurance company. Do you know what else Harvey Ball came up with? World Smile Day: Beginning in 1999, Ball began promoting the first Friday in October as a day to encourage smiles and acts of kindness. But there’s no need to limit smiles to one day. We hope you treat every day as World Smile Day—to make your corner of the world a little brighter.
What can you do to show your support? Well to begin with, smile—a lot. And also do things to make other people smile. We don’t want you to hold back because you’re not completely satisfied with your smile. If you’d like to get that wonderful smile of yours in better shape, here are some ideas:
Have your teeth professionally cleaned. Having your teeth cleaned at the dental office is one of the best things you can do to prevent dental disease. Dental plaque makes your teeth look dull and dingy and can lead to gum disease and cavities. A professional cleaning to rid your teeth of any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) with a follow-up polish can help your teeth look great!
Brighten up your smile. You can turn up the brightness volume on your teeth with a tooth whitening application. There are whitening products you can buy over the counter, but for best results see your dentist for a professional whitening. Dentists can better control the degree of brightness and their professional-grade solutions often last longer.
Upgrade your teeth’s appearance. You may have a great looking smile—except for that chip, discoloration or slight gap between a couple of teeth. There are a number of ways, many quite affordable, to improve your teeth’s appearance. Your dentist can bond color-matched composite resin to your teeth to “fill in” chips or other blemishes. And a veneer, a thin layer of porcelain bonded to the face of a tooth, can mask mild to moderate dental blemishes.
There are other “smile changers” like orthodontics, crowns or dental implants that are a bit more extensive. Depending on your needs and expectations, these can give you a “smile makeover” that will get you ready for future World Smile Days.
In the meantime, talk to us about how you can perk up your smile. An attractive smile is much easier to share with the world.
If you would like more information about smile enhancements, please contact us to schedule a consultation.
Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.
Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.
Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:
- If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
- If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
- If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
- If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.
What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!
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