Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Dentists extract millions of teeth each year, mostly because of disease. But sometimes a healthy tooth is removed to gain a more favorable, long-term dental health outcome.
An example of this is extracting teeth for the sake of orthodontic treatment. This is often beneficial when treating bite problems caused by crowding, a condition in which not enough space on the jaw exists to accommodate all of the teeth coming in. When this happens, the limited space can force teeth out of their proper alignment.
Crowding also complicates correcting the bite problem with braces: As with the eruption phase, there's no available room for orthodontic movement. One solution that may arise after a detailed examination is to open up space on the jaw by removing some of the teeth.
Planning this kind of tooth extrication requires careful forethought with the end in mind—ultimately, the dental providers involved want the resulting appearance after braces to look as natural as possible. For that reason, dentists usually choose teeth for extraction that are outside of the "smile zone" (the teeth visible while smiling) like premolars and molars.
Additionally, dentists are concerned about bone loss after extracting the teeth. Bone often diminishes around empty tooth sockets, especially if those sockets were damaged during extraction. This loss in bone can weaken the jaw structure and cause significant problems while moving teeth with braces.
To avoid this, dentists take great care during tooth removal not to damage the socket. Additionally, they may place a bone graft within the socket immediately after removing the tooth, especially if the space will remain vacant for a significant period of time. A bone graft serves as a scaffold upon which new bone cells can form and accumulate.
After the extractions, the orthodontist may then proceed with correcting the bite. Patients may also need some form of prosthetic teeth to fill in the spaces while wearing braces. Often prosthetic teeth can be incorporated with the braces for a more natural look. After braces, any remaining gaps may require further restoration, either with dentures, bridges or, later in adulthood, dental implants.
Complex bite problems like crowding pose unique challenges in correcting them. But using techniques like tooth extraction can help achieve a successful and satisfactory outcome.
If you would like more information on treatments for bite problems, 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 “Tooth Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”
Losing teeth can make it more difficult to eat, not to mention the effect it can have on your smile. But that could be just the beginning of your problems. Missing teeth can contribute to extensive bone loss within your jaws and face. Here's why.
Bone is like any other living tissue—cells develop, function and eventually die, and new cells take their place. Forces generated during chewing stimulate this new growth, helping the jawbone maintain its normal volume and density.
But you lose this stimulus when you lose teeth. This can cause a slowdown in bone cell regrowth that can eventually diminish bone volume. And it can happen relatively quickly: you could lose a quarter or more of jawbone width around a missing tooth within a year.
As this loss continues, especially in cases of multiple missing teeth, the bone can eventually erode to its base level. This loss of dental function can make chewing more difficult, place more pressure on the remaining teeth and adversely affect facial appearance. It could also prevent an implant restoration to replace missing teeth.
Dentures and other forms of dental restoration can replace missing teeth, but not the chewing stimulus. Dentures in particular will accelerate bone loss, because they can irritate the bony gum ridges they rest upon.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can slow or even stop bone loss. Implants consist of a metal post, typically made of titanium, imbedded into the jawbone at the site of the missing tooth with a life-like crown attached. Titanium also has a strong affinity with bone so that bone cells naturally grow and adhere to the implant's surface. This can produce enough growth to slow, stop or even reverse bone loss.
This effect may also work when implants are combined with other restorations, including dentures. These enhanced dentures no longer rest on the gums, but connect to implants. This adds support and takes the pressure off of the bony ridge, as well as contributes to better bone health.
If you've lost a tooth, it's important to either replace it promptly or have a bone graft installed to help forestall any bone loss in the interim. And when it's time to replace those missing teeth, dental implants could provide you not only a life-like solution, but a way to protect your bone health.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth.”
Parents will do just about anything to relieve their children's discomfort when they're in pain. When a toddler is suffering through a teething episode, it's tempting to turn to a topical numbing ointment to soothe their gums.
But there can be a hidden danger for kids if you use certain over-the-counter products used by adults for gum or teeth pain. Many of these topical ointments contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. While it's relatively safe for adults, benzocaine can be hazardous for infants and young children.
Studies have found that benzocaine contributes to a disease called methemoglobinemia, in which a protein in the blood called methemoglobin increases to abnormal levels. Too much of this protein inhibits the transport of oxygen throughout the body. For young children, this can cause shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness. In extreme cases, it could lead to seizures, coma or even death.
Parents are urged to avoid using any product containing benzocaine to ease gum or teething pain in children. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends providing a child a chilled (not frozen) teething ring, pacifier or a damp clean cloth to chew on. The chewing action helps relieve gum swelling pressure and the cold will help numb the pain. Massaging the gums with a clean finger may also help.
If the pain persists, parents should consult a doctor or pharmacist about giving their child pain medication. Drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (never aspirin) administered in the proper dosage for a child's age can help ease teething discomfort. Medications should always be given orally—you should never rub substances like aspirin or alcohol directly on the gums, which can further irritate already inflamed tissues.
Teething episodes come and go during a child's early dental development—they are like storms that swell and abate before they finally pass. Except when accompanied by fever or diarrhea, there's no need for concern. Your main goal is to help ease their discomfort as much—and as safely—as possible.
Since his breakout role as Dr. Doug Ross in the 90's TV drama ER, George Clooney has enjoyed a blockbuster career as an award-winning actor, director and producer. He's still going strong, as seen in the recent film The Midnight Sky, which Clooney directed and starred in. This sci-fi drama set a record as the most-watched movie on Netflix for the first five days after its late December release. And although now well into middle age, Clooney still possesses a winsome charm epitomized by his devil-may-care smile.
But he didn't always have his enigmatic grin. Early on, his struggles pursuing his burgeoning acting career triggered a stressful habit of grinding his teeth. This took a toll, as his teeth began to look worn and yellowed, giving his smile—and him—a prematurely aged appearance.
Clooney's not alone. For many of us, our fast-paced lives have created undue stress that we struggle to manage. This pent-up stress has to go somewhere, and for a number of individuals it's expressed through involuntary grinding or gritting of the teeth. This may not only lead to serious dental problems, but it can also diminish an otherwise attractive smile.
There are ways to minimize teeth grinding, the most important of which is to address the underlying stress fueling the habit. It's possible to get a handle on stress through professional counseling, biofeedback therapy, meditation or other relaxation techniques. You can also reduce the habit's effects with a custom-made oral device that prevents the teeth from making solid contact during a grinding episode.
But what if teeth grinding has already taken a toll on your teeth making them look worn down? Do what Clooney did—put a new “face” on your teeth with dental veneers. These thin layers of porcelain are bonded to teeth to mask all sorts of blemishes, including chips, heavy staining and, yes, teeth that appear shortened due to accelerated wearing. And they're custom-designed and fashioned to blend seamlessly with other teeth to transform your smile. Although they're not indestructible, they're quite durable and can last for years.
Veneers can correct many mild to moderate dental defects, but if your teeth are in worse shape, porcelain crowns may be the answer. A crown, which bonds to a prepared tooth to completely cover it, allows you the advantage of keeping your natural tooth while still enhancing its appearance.
Although different in degree, both veneers and crowns require permanently altering the teeth, such that they will require a dental restoration from then on. But if you're looking for an effective way to transform your worn or otherwise distressed teeth into a beautiful smile, it's a sound investment.
Just like George Clooney, your smile is an important part of who you are. We can help you make it as appealing as possible with veneers or other dental enhancements. Call us today to get started on the path to a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information about dental veneers and other smile enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers.”
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