Posts for category: Oral Health
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.”
Proponents of legalized marijuana have won phenomenal gains over the last decade. Despite the federal government's continuing criminalization of the drug, several states including California, Colorado and Massachusetts, have voted to legalize its recreational use.
Most people are aware of the social and political controversies the marijuana legalization movement stirs. But there's another side to this roiling issue: the health effects of marijuana, particularly for your teeth and gums. What may be lost beneath the more exciting headlines about ballot initiatives is the growing evidence that habitual marijuana use may increase the risk and severity of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. The spreading infection triggers inflammation, a normal bodily response to disease that's ordinarily beneficial. But if the inflammation becomes chronic it weakens the gums' attachment to the teeth. This can create voids or periodontal pockets of infection around the teeth. The disease can eventually damage the underlying bone, which could accelerate tooth loss.
Poor oral hygiene is the biggest factor for an increased risk of gum disease; thinner gum tissue (an inherited condition or related to poor tooth position) is another factor, as well as lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption. Add marijuana to the list: there's now some evidence that its use increases the risk for more severe periodontal pockets if the disease occurs.
In a recent study, researchers with the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine reviewed statistics on the care for nearly 2,000 adult patients; a quarter of those in the study were frequent marijuana users. The marijuana users proportionately had deeper periodontal pocket occurrences than the rest of the patients in the study that didn't use the drug.
The study doesn't say that marijuana causes periodontal (gum) disease. But it does suggest that marijuana use might increase its severity. As with other substances and practices in our society, marijuana use comes with a caveat: it may be legal where you live, but it may not necessarily be good for your health.
If you would like more information on the effects of marijuana use on your oral 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 “As More States Legalize Marijuana, Link to Gum Disease is a Concern.”
We all know that a child's baby teeth don't last forever. So if those little teeth develop problems, like severe decay, chips or cracks, it doesn't much matter—right? Wrong! National Children's Dental Health Month, observed in February, is the perfect occasion to remember why baby teeth need the same meticulous care as adult teeth:
- Baby teeth perform the exact same jobs adult teeth do, only in little mouths. Without healthy teeth, a child can't eat comfortably, speak properly or smile with confidence. Given that the last baby tooth doesn't fall out until around age 12, children need to rely on these "temporary" teeth for a long time!
- While there often are no symptoms of early tooth decay, badly decayed baby teeth can become painful—and the problem may get worse quickly. Untreated tooth decay can lead to suffering and expense that could have been avoided with relatively simply dental treatment.
- Baby teeth help guide adult teeth into the right position. Each baby tooth helps hold the right amount of space open for the next tooth that will grow in. When a baby tooth is lost before the permanent replacement is ready to grow in, orthodontic problems can result.
As you can see, good dental health has a big impact on a child's quality of life and health—in both the present and the future. That's why it's important to treat childhood dental disease and injuries promptly and properly. Regular dental exams are the best way to keep on top of your child's dental health. If a cavity is discovered at a routine exam, prompt treatment can keep the decay from spreading to the root canals.
If your child plays sports, ask us about a custom-made mouthguard. This small device can protect your child's teeth from serious injury. And if a baby tooth does get knocked out, let us know. It may be best to fit your child with a very small dental device called a space maintainer, which will hold that empty space open until the permanent tooth beneath it grows in.
If you would like more information about children's dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Canker sores, known medically as aphthous ulcers, are fairly common among people. Lasting for about a week or so, these mouth sores are usually more irritating than painful. But about a quarter of the population, especially women, frequently suffer from an acute form that doesn't often respond well to over-the-counter remedies.
A typical canker sore is usually round with a yellow-gray center ringed by a reddened "halo." They can be preceded by tingling or painful sensations at the site a few hours or so before breaking out. Recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS) is the more severe form of canker sore, often with outbreaks of multiple painful sores. While the more common sore is usually less than a centimeter in diameter, RAS sores are often much larger.
Canker sores often arise during periods of stress or anxiety, and seem to be connected with eating certain acidic foods like tomato sauce, citrus fruits or spicy dishes. RAS also seems to be related to underlying systemic conditions like vitamin deficiencies, anemia or digestive disorders. Besides managing diet and stress, people with regular canker sores and milder cases of RAS can often find relief with non-prescription numbing agents often found in stores and pharmacies.
For more severe RAS, though, you may need the help of your dentist or physician with treatments like prescription steroids or other medications that come in gel or rinse form or through injections. The goal of any treatment approach is to decrease pain severity and shorten healing times after an outbreak.
While most mouth sores, including RAS, aren't dangerous to your health, you should still take any sore seriously. You should especially seek medical evaluation if a sore doesn't heal after a couple of weeks, if they seem to come more frequently and are more severe, or if you don't seem to ever be without a sore in your mouth. These could indicate a serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
One thing's for sure: there are ways to ease your suffering if you have frequent bouts with regular canker sores or even RAS. Talk to your dentist about ways to minimize your discomfort from these irritating mouth sores.
If you would like more information on aphthous ulcers or canker sores, 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 “Mouth Sores.”
In the battle against tooth decay, fluoride is an important weapon. Since the discovery of its dental health benefits a century ago, fluoride has been credited with saving countless teeth.
But over its history in dental care, this natural-occurring chemical has also had its share of controversy with concerns raised from time to time on potential health dangers. These run the gamut from “conspiracy theory” speculations to credible research like a 2006 National Research Council study that suggested a possible increased risk of bone fracture or cancer from over-consumption of fluoride.
Even so, there is actually little evidence or even record of incidence for such dire consequences. The only definitive health effect from fluoride found after decades of copious research is a condition called fluorosis, a permanent staining effect on the teeth. Fluorosis poses a cosmetic problem but does not harm the health of the teeth.
Moderation in fluoride use seems to be the key to gaining its health benefits while avoiding fluorosis. One influential fluoride researcher, Dr. Steven Levy, estimates 0.05-0.07 milligrams of fluoride per one kilogram of body weight (about a tenth the weight of a grain of salt for every two pounds) is sufficient to gain the optimum dental benefit from fluoride.
The real question then is whether your family’s current consumption of fluoride is within this range. That will depend on a number of factors, including whether your local water utility adds fluoride to your drinking water supply and how much. You may also be ingesting fluoride through processed foods, juices and even some bottled waters. And you can encounter fluoride in dental care including toothpastes and clinical treatments.
One way to moderate your family’s fluoride intake is to be sure all your family members are using the correct amount of fluoride toothpaste for their age while brushing. Infants need only a slight smear on the end of the brush, while older children can brush adequately with just a pea-sized amount. For other tips and advice, talk to your dentist about your family’s fluoride intake and how you might adjust it.
Even with the possibility of fluorosis, fluoride still provides an incredible benefit in preventing tooth decay. By understanding fluoride and keeping your intake within normal ranges you can maximize its benefit for healthier teeth and minimize the fluorosis risk.
If you would like more information on the role of fluoride in dental 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”