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.”
Untreated tooth decay can destroy your teeth; prompt action as soon as its diagnosed will help prevent that undesirable outcome. And even if decay has advanced into the tooth's pulp and root canals, there's still a good chance we can stop it with a root canal treatment. Using this procedure, we can clean out the infection and refill the tooth's interior space with a special filling to protect it from further infection.
Although root canal treatments have gained an unwarranted reputation for pain, they rarely cause even the mildest discomfort. More importantly, they work, which is why they're the go-to treatment dentists use for advanced decay.
But sometimes a unique dental situation might make performing a root canal extremely difficult—possibly even doing more harm than good. For example, trying to access the interior of a tooth with a crown restoration might require removing the crown, which could further weaken or damage the tooth. In other cases, the root canals might have become calcified due to trauma or aging and become too narrow to access.
Even so, we may still be able to save a tooth through a minor surgical procedure called an apicoectomy. Rather than access the diseased area through the tooth crown as with a root canal treatment, an apicoectomy makes access to the infected tissue at the root end.
An apicoectomy also differs from a root canal treatment in that we'll need to surgically go through the gum tissue. After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, we'll make a small incision through the gums at the level of the infection. After removing any infected tissue, we would then fill the space with a small filling to prevent re-infection. We then close the incised gum tissues with sutures and allow them to heal.
With the help of fiber optic lighting and surgical microscopes, endodontists (specialists in interior tooth problems) can perform an apicoectomy quickly and with very little trauma at the surgical sight. If you undergo an apicoectomy, you should be back to normal activity in a day or two at the most. And like its sister procedure the root canal, an apicoectomy could help preserve your teeth for many years to come.
If you would like more information on this and other treatments for tooth decay, 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
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.”
You have a lot of options for replacing missing teeth, from state-of-the-art dental implants to affordable, but effective partial dentures. But if the teeth in question have been missing for a while, you may first have to undergo orthodontic treatment. Here's why.
While they may feel rigid and firm in the jawbone, teeth are actually held in place by periodontal (gum) ligaments. These elastic tissues lie between the teeth and the bone and attach to both with tiny filaments. This mechanism allows the teeth to incrementally move over time in response to biting pressures or other environmental factors.
When a tooth goes missing the teeth on either side of the space naturally move or "drift" into it to help close the gap. This natural occurrence can reduce the space for a restoration if it has gone on for some time. To make room for a new prosthetic (false) tooth, we may have to move the drifted teeth back to where they belong.
If you're thinking metal braces, that is an option—but not the only one. Clear aligners are another way to move teeth if the bite problem (malocclusion) isn't too severe. Aligners are a series of custom-made, clear, plastic trays worn over the teeth. The patient wears each tray, slightly smaller than the previous one in the series, for about two weeks before changing to the next one. The reduction in size gradually moves teeth to their intended target position.
Many adults prefer clear aligners because they're nearly invisible and don't stand out like metal braces. They're removable, so you can take them out for cleaning or for special occasions. And, we can also attach a prosthetic tooth to the tray that temporarily covers the missing tooth space.
Whichever orthodontic treatment you choose, once completed we can then proceed with restoration to permanently replace your missing teeth. While it can be a long process, the end result is a beautiful smile that could last for years to come.
If you would like more information on your dental restoration options, 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 “Straightening a Smile before Replacing Lost Teeth.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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