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.”
One of the most important aspects of social interaction is smiling, showing others we’re confident and outgoing. Â Many people, though, are hesitant to use this important social skill because their teeth are unattractive.
But even the most unattractive teeth can be dramatically transformed through cosmetic dentistry. Here are 5 prominent ways we can restore beauty to your problem teeth.
Enamel shaping. Sometimes teeth can have an irregular shape that makes them stand out like a sore thumb. With this “sculpting” technique, we remove very small amounts of enamel, the outer protective layer of a tooth, which improves the tooth’s overall shape without harming it.
Bonding. Recent developments in acrylics now make it easier to repair chipped, broken or decayed teeth with minimal preparation. The acrylic material can be molded to resemble a natural tooth and colored to precisely match its shade and that of neighboring teeth. It’s then bonded to the tooth with a durability that can last through years of daily biting and chewing.
Veneers. These thin layers of dental porcelain are bonded to teeth to cover minor defects. Otherwise healthy teeth that are slightly chipped, stained or a bit out of alignment can get a more attractive “face” that’s durable and lasting.
Crowns and Bridgework. Sometimes teeth are too heavily decayed or lost altogether to use bonding or veneers. With porcelain dental restorations that have a strong inner core and an outer life-like appearance, we can completely cover an individual damaged tooth with a custom-made crown or replace one or more missing teeth with fixed bridgework.
Dental Implants. Introduced over thirty years ago, implants are a popular tooth replacement choice. Â Its inner titanium post is surgically inserted into the jaw where bone cells grow and adhere to it to form a strong, lasting bond. Implants can be used for single teeth or as supports for fixed bridgework or removable dentures.
Regardless of your teeth’s appearance problems, cosmetic dentistry has a solution. The first step is a comprehensive examination — from there we can advise you on the best options for turning your embarrassing smile into a more beautiful and confident one.
If you would like more information on the various techniques for smile transformation, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
While it doesn’t garner the star power of blood, saliva is still an important bodily fluid. A true multi-tasker, saliva contributes in many ways to the function and health of the body, from stronger teeth to more efficient digestion.
Here are six ways saliva helps your mouth and body function properly and stay healthy.
The mouth’s natural cleanser. Bacteria are responsible for much of the dental disease that plagues us, particularly tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva clears the mouth of food remnants, bacteria’s primary feeding source, after we eat. This leaves a cleaner mouth and fewer bacteria to cause infection.
The immune system’s partner. Saliva contains an antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA) that attacks disease-causing microorganisms. Along with secreting other antibacterial agents like lactoferrin and lyzozyme that curb the growth and development of bacteria, saliva serves as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens entering through the mouth.
Acid neutralizer. The optimal oral environment is a neutral pH of 7. Many of our foods and beverages, though, are highly acidic, which can raise the mouth’s acid level. The acidic environment causes the minerals in tooth enamel to soften and dissolve (a process called de-mineralization). Saliva restores the balance by neutralizing any remaining acid after we eat (a process that takes about 30 to 60 minutes).
Mineral replacer. Even under normal conditions, enamel will de-mineralize to some extent whenever the mouth becomes acidic. Saliva restores some of the enamel’s lost minerals like calcium and phosphate while it’s neutralizing acid. If fluoride is also present in saliva from fluoridated drinking water or toothpaste, it too is absorbed by the enamel making it stronger and more resistant to acid attacks.
Digestion enhancer. Saliva lubricates the mouth while we eat, making it easier for us to chew (and taste) our food. Saliva also releases the enzyme amylase as we chew to break down starches before the food enters our stomach. The end result is more efficient and comfortable digestion.
The wave of the future in diagnostics. Like blood and urine, saliva contains genetic and disease markers that could tell a physician if a patient has a certain condition. Since collecting a saliva sample is much easier than with these other bodily fluids, diagnosing disease with saliva will become more prevalent as more calibrated devices reach the market.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in the body, 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.”
Every year dentists place over 5 million dental implants for lost teeth, often removing the problem tooth and installing the implant at the same time. But getting a “tooth in a day” depends on a number of health factors, especially whether or not there’s adequate bone available for the implant. Otherwise, the implant’s placement accuracy and success could be compromised.
Bone loss can be a similar problem when a tooth has been missing for a long period of time. If this describes your situation, you may have already lost substantial bone in your jaw. To understand why, we need to know a little about bone’s growth cycle.
When bone cells reach the end of their useful life, they’re absorbed into the body by a process called resorption. New cells then form to take the older cells’ place in a continuous cycle that keeps the bone healthy and strong. Forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this growth. But when a tooth is missing, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus. As a result, the bone may not replace itself at a healthy rate and diminish over time.
In extreme cases, we may need to consider some other dental restoration other than an implant. But if the bone loss isn’t too severe, we may be able to help increase it through bone grafting. We insert safe bone grafting material prepared in a lab directly into the jaw through a minor surgical procedure. The graft then acts like a scaffold for bone cells to form and grow upon. In a few months enough new bone may have formed to support an implant.
Bone grafting can also be used if you’re having a tooth removed to preserve the bone even if you’re not yet ready to obtain an implant. By placing a bone graft immediately after extraction, it’s possible to retain the bone for up to ten years—enough time to decide on your options for permanent restoration.
Whatever your situation, it’s important that you visit us as soon as possible for a complete examination. Afterward we can assess your options and hopefully come up with a treatment strategy that will eventually include smile-transforming dental implants.
For anyone else, having a tooth accidentally knocked out while practicing a dance routine would be a very big deal. But not for Dancing With The Stars contestant Noah Galloway. Galloway, an Iraq War veteran and a double amputee, took a kick to the face from his partner during a recent practice session, which knocked out a front tooth. As his horrified partner looked on, Galloway picked the missing tooth up from the floor, rinsed out his mouth, and quickly assessed his injury. “No big deal,” he told a cameraman capturing the scene.
Of course, not everyone would have the training — or the presence of mind — to do what Galloway did in that situation. But if you’re facing a serious dental trauma, such as a knocked out tooth, minutes count. Would you know what to do under those circumstances? Here’s a basic guide.
If a permanent tooth is completely knocked out of its socket, you need to act quickly. Once the injured person is stable, recover the tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid grasping it by its roots! Next, if possible, place the tooth back in its socket in the jaw, making sure it is facing the correct way. Hold it in place with a damp cloth or gauze, and rush to the dental office, or to the emergency room if it’s after hours or if there appear to be other injuries.
If it isn’t possible to put the tooth back, you can place it between the cheek and gum, or in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva, or in the special tooth-preserving liquid found in some first-aid kits. Either way, the sooner medical attention is received, the better the chances that the tooth can be saved.
When a tooth is loosened or displaced but not knocked out, you should receive dental attention within six hours of the accident. In the meantime, you can rinse the mouth with water and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen) to ease pain. A cold pack temporarily applied to the outside of the face can also help relieve discomfort.
When teeth are broken or chipped, you have up to 12 hours to get dental treatment.Â Follow the guidelines above for pain relief, but don’t forget to come in to the office even if the pain isn’t severe. Of course, if you experience bleeding that can’t be controlled after five minutes, dizziness, loss of consciousness or intense pain, seek emergency medical help right away.
And as for Noah Galloway:Â In an interview a few days later, he showed off his new smile, with the temporary bridge his dentist provided… and he even continued to dance with the same partner!
If you would like more information about dental trauma, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma & Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
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