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.”
Your gums play an important role in dental function and health. Not only do they help anchor teeth in the jaw, the gums also protect tooth roots from disease.
But you can lose that protective covering if your gums recede or shrink back from the teeth. An exposed tooth is more susceptible to decay, and more sensitive to temperature and pressure.
Here are 4 causes for gum recession and what you can do about them.
Gum disease. The most common cause for gum recession is a bacterial infection called periodontal (gum) disease that most often arises from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on teeth. Gum disease in turn weakens the gums causes them to recede. You can reduce your risk for a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing plaque.
Genetics. The thickness of your gum tissues is a genetic trait you inherit from your parents. People born with thinner gums tend to be more susceptible to recession through toothbrush abrasion, wear or injury. If you have thinner tissues, you’ll need to be diligent about oral hygiene and dental visits, and pay close attention to your gum health.
Tooth eruption. Teeth normally erupt from the center of a bony housing that protects the root. If a tooth erupts or moves outside of this housing, it can expose the root and cause little to no gum tissue around the tooth. Moving the tooth orthodontically to its proper position could help thicken gum tissue and make them more resistant to recession.
Aggressive hygiene. While hard scrubbing may work with other cleaning activities, it’s the wrong approach for cleaning teeth. Too much force applied while brushing can eventually result in gum damage that leads to recession and tooth wear. So, “Easy does it”: Let the gentle, mechanical action of the toothbrush bristles and toothpaste abrasives do the work of plaque removal.
While we can often repair gum recession through gum disease treatment or grafting surgery, it’s much better to prevent it from happening. So, be sure you practice daily brushing and flossing with the proper technique to remove disease-causing plaque. And see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups to make sure your gums stay healthy.
If you would like more information on proper gum care, 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 “Gum Recession.”
Bonjour! Hola! Shalom! December is National Learn a Foreign Language Month, and learning to say “Hello” in different tongues is a good place to start. You could then move on to another set of wonderful words like sonrisa, lächeln and sourire, the Spanish, German and French words for “smile.”
But then again, smiling itself doesn’t need a translation—it’s common to every culture on earth. It’s one of our best assets for interacting with people, both at home and abroad. So, make sure your smile is the best it can be by taking care of the “stars of the show”: your teeth and gums.
Here are a few tips for keeping your teeth and gums healthy and your “international” smile attractive.
Brush and floss daily. It takes just 5 minutes a day to perform one of the most important things you can do for your long-term oral health. Brushing and flossing clean away dental plaque, a sticky bacterial film that causes tooth decay and gum disease. A daily oral hygiene practice helps keep your teeth shiny and clean and your gums a healthy shade of pink.
Get regular dental cleanings. Even the most diligent hygiene habit may not clear away all plaque deposits, which can then harden into a calcified form called calculus. Also known as tartar, calculus is an ideal haven for disease-causing bacteria—and it can’t be removed by brushing and flossing alone. Dental cleanings at least twice a year remove stubborn plaque and calculus, further reducing your disease risk.
Don’t ignore dental problems. While your dentist will check your mouth for disease during your regular cleanings, you should also be on the lookout for signs of problems between visits. Watch for odd spots on the teeth and swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you see any abnormalities like these, don’t ignore it; make an exam appointment as soon as possible. The sooner we identify and begin treating a potential dental issue, the less your oral health—and your smile—will suffer.
Consider cosmetic improvements. Keeping teeth clean and healthy is one thing, but what can you do about existing dental blemishes that detract from your smile? Fortunately, there are numerous ways to cosmetically enhance teeth and gums, and many are quite affordable. Teeth whitening can brighten up yellow, dingy teeth; bonding can repair minor chips and other tooth defects; and veneers and other restorations can mask tooth chips, stains or misalignments.
Like the ability to speak another language, a confident, joyful smile can open doors to new cultures, places and friends. Let us partner with you to make your smile as attractive as possible.
If you would like more information about improving and maintaining your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
One in 700 babies are born each year with a cleft lip, a cleft palate or both. Besides its devastating emotional and social impact, this common birth defect can also jeopardize a child's long-term health. Fortunately, incredible progress has occurred in the last half century repairing cleft defects. Today's children with these birth defects often enter adulthood with a normal appearance and better overall health.
A cleft is a gap in the mouth or face that typically forms during early pregnancy. It often affects the upper lip, the soft and hard palates, the nose or (rarely) the cheek and eye areas. Clefts can form in one or more structures, on one side of the face or on both. Why they form isn't fully understood, but they seem connected to a mother's vitamin deficiencies or to mother-fetus exposure to toxic substances or infections.
Before the 1950s there was little that could be done to repair clefts. That changed with a monumental discovery by Dr. Ralph Millard, a U.S. Navy surgeon stationed in Korea: Reviewing cleft photos, Dr. Millard realized the “missing” tissue wasn't missing—only misplaced. He developed the first technique to utilize this misplaced tissue to repair the cleft.
Today, skilled surgical teams have improved on Dr. Millard's efforts to not only repair the clefts but also restore balance and symmetry to the face. These teams are composed of various oral and dental specialties, including general dentists who care for the patient's teeth and prevent disease during the long repair process.
Cleft repairs are usually done in stages, beginning with initial lip repair around 3-6 months of age and, if necessary, palate repair around 6-12 months. Depending on the nature and degree of the cleft, subsequent surgeries might be needed throughout childhood to “polish” the original repairs, as well as cosmetic dental work like implants, crowns or bridgework.
In addition to the surgical team's skill and artistry, cleft repair also requires courage, strength and perseverance from patients and their parents, and support from extended family and friends. The end result, though, can be truly amazing and well worth the challenging road to get there.
If you would like more information on repairing cleft birth defects, 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 “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate.”
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
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