Posts for: April, 2021
Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen died last fall after a long battle with oral cancer, another in a long line of performers, athletes, politicians and other well-known personalities with this serious form of cancer. But household names like Van Halen are just the tip of the iceberg: Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
Although not as common as other malignancies (around 2.5% of total cancers), oral cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at a dismal 57%. Part of the reason for this has been the longstanding difficulty detecting it in its earlier stages: Early signs are easy to miss or mistake for a benign sore. As a result, it's often diagnosed after advancing significantly, complicating treatment efforts.
To improve survivability, the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to better educate people on this deadly disease. Here are 3 things you can do to prevent oral cancer or improve your survival odds if you encounter it.
Know your individual risk factors. Some risk factors for oral cancer are out of your control—for example, your risk may be higher if you're a male over 40, or if you're African-American. But there are also factors you can control like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption or a poor diet, all of which can elevate your cancer risk. You can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes for factors you can control and prioritizing cancer screening if you have factors that you can't.
Pay attention to oral “oddities.” A small mouth sore or patch of odd-looking skin may be nothing—or it may be the beginning of oral cancer. If you do notice something unusual, especially if it seems to linger beyond a couple of weeks, have us examine it as soon as possible. If it does appear suspicious, you may need to undergo a biopsy, a cancer analysis of the suspected tissue. If it is cancerous, an early diagnosis could improve your outcome.
Visit your dentist regularly. There's more to semi-annual dental visits than teeth cleaning. Regular dental visits are an important component in your “early warning system” for oral cancer—we may notice something suspicious during your regular visit, often before you do. If you're older or have other risk factors for oral cancer, we can expand your regular exam to include a comprehensive cancer screening.
Oral cancer is a serious matter. But taking steps to prevent it and staying alert to its warning signs can help you overcome it.
A scoop of ice cream is one of life's little pleasures. But for one in three Americans, it could be something altogether different—an excruciating pain when cold ice cream meets teeth. This short but painful experience that can happen when dental nerves encounter hot or cold temperatures is called tooth sensitivity.
A look at tooth anatomy will help explain why. Teeth are mainly composed of outer enamel, a layer of nerves and blood vessels within the tooth called the pulp, and dentin, a porous layer in between. The pulp nerves pick up temperature and pressure sensations from outside the teeth through a network of tiny passageways (tubules) in the dentin. Enamel muffles these sensations before traveling the tubules, which prevents overstimulation of the nerves.
This careful balance can be disrupted, however, if the enamel becomes eroded by acid from foods or beverages, or as a byproduct of bacteria. This exposes the underlying dentin to the full brunt of outward sensations, which can then impact the nerves and cause them to overreact.
This hyper-sensitivity can also occur around the tooth roots, but for a different reason. Because the gums primarily protect this area rather than enamel, the roots can become hyper-sensitive if they lose gum coverage, a condition known as gum recession caused mainly by gum disease or over-aggressive hygiene.
Besides using dental products that block nerve sensation, reducing sensitivity largely depends on addressing the underlying cause. If gum disease, the focus is on removing plaque, a bacterial film on dental surfaces that causes and sustains the disease. Stopping an infection allows the gums to heal and hopefully regain their original teeth coverage. More advanced cases, though, may require grafting surgery to foster gum regeneration.
If the cause is enamel erosion or other results of decay or trauma, we can utilize a number of treatments depending on the extent of tooth damage including cavity filling, root canal therapy or crowning. As a last resort, we may need to remove a tooth that's beyond reasonable repair.
If you've begun to experience sensitive teeth, it's important that you see us as soon as possible. The earlier we can diagnose the cause, the less invasive we can be with treatments to ease or even stop this most unpleasant experience.
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.”
In recent years, dental implants have helped traditional bridgework take a giant leap forward. A few strategically placed implants can provide the highest support and stability we can currently achieve for this well-known dental restoration.
Implants derive this stability from the bone in which they're imbedded. Once surgically installed, the bone around a metal implant begins to grow and adhere to its titanium surface. Over time, this creates a strong anchor that firmly holds the implant in place.
But the implants' stability can be threatened if the gums around them become diseased. Gum disease, a bacterial infection caused mainly by dental plaque, can advance silently below the gum surface until it ultimately infects the bone. This can cause significant bone loss around an implant, which can weaken it to the point of failure.
To avoid this scenario, it's important to prevent gum disease by flossing daily to remove accumulated dental plaque between the implant-supported bridge and the gums, particularly around the implants. This kind of flossing around bridgework is more difficult than flossing between teeth, but it can be done with the help of a device called a floss threader.
A floss threader is a small plastic hand tool with a loop on one end and a stiffened edge on the other (similar to a sewing needle). You begin by threading about 18" of dental floss through the loop, and then work the other end of the threader between the bridge and gums to the other side.
With the floss threaded between the bridge and gums, you can now remove it from the threader, grasp each end, and floss around the sides of each implant you can reach. You'll then need to repeat the process by removing the floss, rethreading it in the threader and inserting it into the next section between implants, continuing to floss until you've accessed each side of each implant.
You can also use pre-packaged floss thread sections with a stiffened end to facilitate threading. But whichever product you use, it's important to perform this task each day to prevent a gum infection that could rob you of your implant-supported bridge.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene practices with dental work, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”