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.”
It's a “change” moment when your child leaves home to attend college for the first time. For many, it's the first time to truly be on their own. While that new autonomy can be exhilarating, it does require self-responsibility to avoid some nasty pitfalls that might snare them.
So, before you bid them adieu at the dorm, be sure to give them some good, old-fashioned parental advice. And that includes teeth and gum care: While it may not seem as urgent as other potential issues, failing to maintain oral health could eventually affect the rest of their health.
The most important thing they can do mouth-wise is to brush and floss every day—and see a dentist at least twice a year. Daily oral hygiene keeps plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease, from accumulating.
There are other habits that foster good oral health—like eating a well-balanced diet. Encourage them to eat “real” food: less on processed items and more on fresh fruits and vegetables. That includes keeping added sugar to a minimum—not only for good overall health, but to also deprive disease-causing oral bacteria of a favorite food source. And tell them to go easy on the sodas, sports and energy drinks loaded with acid that can damage enamel.
Don't forget to mention lifestyle practices that are best avoided. Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption can make the mouth more susceptible to diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. And even if oral piercings are all the rage on campus, any hardware worn in the mouth could cause chipped teeth and contribute to gum recession.
And if you've already had the “talk” with them, you should still review the facts of life one more time. There just happens to be a connection with this particular subject and their mouth—unsafe sexual practices could leave them vulnerable to the human papilloma virus (HPV16) that could increase their oral cancer risk.
College is both an exciting and challenging time. If your new student follows these timely oral care tips, they can avoid teeth and gum problems that could linger for years to come.
If you would like more information helping your college-bound student maintain good 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
Braces are a common experience among teens and pre-teens. And although the treatment can be a major financial undertaking, more and more families pursue it to help their child attain a straighter, more attractive smile.
But orthodontics isn’t first and foremost a cosmetic treatment. Although an improved appearance is a benefit, the main reason for treatment is therapeutic—it can improve your child’s current and future dental health.
The teeth’s relationship to the jaws and gums makes moving them possible. Rather than simply being fixed within their jawbone socket, teeth are actually held in place by a strong, elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the teeth and jawbone and attaches to both with tiny extending fibers. This attachment secures the teeth in place.
But the ligament also has a dynamic quality—it can reshape itself when necessary and allow teeth to move gradually into new positions. This is most necessary during the early years of mouth and jaw development, but it can also occur throughout life. Orthodontics takes advantage of this mechanism by applying precise pressure to the teeth in the direction of desired movement. The periodontal ligament does the rest by reshaping and allowing the teeth to move in response to this pressure.
The result is straighter teeth and a more normal bite. With the teeth now where they should be, it’s also easier to clean them of disease-causing dental plaque, whereas misaligned teeth are more prone to plaque accumulation that can be difficult to remove. And because the whole mouth including teeth are involved when we talk, teeth positioned in a more normal bite will improve speech.
Orthodontics is a long-term process, often encompassing more than the actual time wearing braces. Both orthodontists and pediatric dentists recommend a bite evaluation by an orthodontist around the age of 6. If it does appear an abnormal bite is forming, it may be possible to intervene and stop or at least slow the development. This could have a more positive impact on any future treatment.
Braces and other treatments can make a difference in your child’s self-image and social relationships. But the main beneficiary will be their dental health.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Moving Teeth With Orthodontics.”
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
To anyone immersed in the “X-Men Universe” Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine, a role he played in seven movies. But there’s more to this Australian actor than mutant bone claws and mutton chops that would make Elvis envious. Jackman has also starred in over 20 non-superhero films, including Les Misérables, for which he won a Golden Globe. He is also a Tony award-winning Broadway performer—with a winning smile.
With his famed character Logan/Wolverine fading in the rearview mirror, Jackman has returned to his musical roots. He will play Harold Hill in the Broadway revival of The Music Man, set to open in Fall 2020. And since May 2019 he’s been on world tour with Hugh Jackman: The Man. The Music. The Show., featuring Jackman and a supporting cast performing songs from favorite shows and films, including Les Misérables and the 2017 hit The Greatest Showman.
The Show, with 90 planned stops throughout Europe, North America and Oceania, is a decidedly different “universe” from the X-Men. As Wolverine, Jackman could get away with a scruffier look. But performing as Jean Valjean or the bigger-than-life P.T. Barnum, he has to bring a vastly different look to the role, which brings us to Jackman’s teeth…
Once upon a time, Jackman’s teeth were an unflattering gray—definitely not a good look for stage or film. So with the help of his dentist, Jackman set about upgrading his smile with teeth whitening. Teeth whitening is a great way to take a dull, stained smile and turn up the volume on its brightness—and attractiveness—a notch or two. A dentist applies a bleaching solution that stays in contact with the teeth for a few minutes. The process is often aided by special lighting.
A professional application is especially desirable if, like Jackman, you want “Goldilocks” brightness: not too little, not too much, but just right for you. Dentists can precisely control the tint level to get a brighter but more naturally looking white. Of course, you can also get a dazzling “Hollywood” smile if you so desire.
And although the effect of teeth whitening isn’t permanent, a dental application can last a while, depending on how well you manage foods and beverages that stain teeth. With a touchup now and then, you may be able to keep your brighter smile for years before undergoing the full procedure again.
One important note, though: This technique only works with outer enamel staining. If the discoloration originates from within the tooth, the bleaching agent will have to be placed internally, requiring access to the inside of the tooth. An alternative would be porcelain veneers to mask the discoloration, an option that also works when there is ultra-heavy enamel staining.
If you’re tired of your dull smile, talk with us about putting some pizzazz back into it. Teeth whitening could be your way to get a smile worthy of Broadway.
If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Whitening Traumatized Teeth.”
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