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.”
For generations, dentures have helped people avoid the dire consequences of total teeth loss. Now, implant technology is making them even better.
Composed of life-like prosthetic teeth fixed within a plastic or resin gum-colored base, dentures are manufactured to fit an individual patient’s mouth for maximum fit, comfort and performance. But dentures also have a critical drawback—they can’t stop bone loss in the jaw.
Bone is constantly regenerating as older cells dissolve and then are replaced by newer cells. In the jawbone, the forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the bone and help stimulate this new cell growth. When teeth are missing, though, the bone doesn’t receive this stimulus and may not regenerate at a healthy rate, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can’t transmit this chewing stimulus to the bone. In fact, the pressure they produce as they rest on top of the gums may actually accelerate bone loss. Over time then, a denture’s once secure and comfortable fit becomes loose.
In the past, most patients with loose dentures have had them relined with new dental material to improve fit, or have new dentures created to conform to the changed contours of the jaws. But implant technology now offers another alternative.
Implants are in essence a tooth root replacement. Dentists surgically implant a titanium metal post directly into the jawbone that naturally attracts bone cells to grow and adhere to it over time (a process called osseointegration). This not only creates a secure and lasting hold, it can also stop or even reverse bone loss.
Most people know implants as single tooth replacements with a porcelain crown attached to the titanium post. But a few strategically placed implants can also support either removable or fixed dentures. Removable dentures (also called overdentures) usually need only 3 or 4 implants on the top jaw and 2 on the bottom jaw for support through built-in connectors in the dentures that attach to the implants. A fixed bridge may require 4-6 implants to which they are permanently attached.
There are pros and cons for each of these options and they’re both more expensive than traditional dentures. In the long run, though, implant-supported dentures could be more beneficial for your bone health and hold their fit longer.
Facing extensive dental treatment can be stressful—and even more so when you realize what it will cost. It’s a hard fact of life, but some dental work can be expensive.
The good news, though, is that it’s possible to keep your costs at a manageable level, even with limited finances. And your best first step is to become proactive with dental care now, before problems appear or get worse.
There are good reasons for making room in your budget for regular dental cleanings and checkups: for one, dental cleanings coupled with your own daily hygiene help keep bacterial plaque, the main cause of dental disease, from causing gum disease or damage to the tooth surfaces. And seeing us regularly makes it more likely we’ll detect a problem before it inflicts too much harm.
Regular visits are also important for establishing a relationship with us. As we become more familiar with you and your own individual risk factors for dental problems, we can then develop a treatment strategy to minimize those risks or take action to decrease their impact.
The latter point has direct bearing on the financial side of your care. It’s tempting to postpone a recommended treatment for a mild to moderate issue because of the expense. But receiving treatment now could save you from major expense later.
Perhaps, though, you’re actually facing that major expense now and the full weight of what it will cost is bearing down. Even in this situation, you may actually find there are less expensive ways to deal with the problem, at least temporarily until you can afford a more permanent solution.
For example, if you’ve lost a tooth or have had it extracted, you may be able to opt for a partial denture or similar less costly restoration—at least for the time being. Eventually, when you’re prepared financially, you can replace it with a dental implant or another permanent restoration. In the meantime, you’re able to regain a reasonable level of dental health.
The key is to invest in your teeth and gums now whatever their state of health. The efforts you make today could save you from a greater health and financial burden tomorrow.
March is national nutrition month—a good time to look at the connection between diet and oral health. You probably know that sugar is a major culprit in dental problems. This is because bacteria feed on sugars and create acid that can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Avoiding sugary foods and drinks as much as possible is a good rule of thumb, but there are some food choices that actually benefit your oral health. Here are nutrition tips that will help keep your smile healthy for life:
Say cheese. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium and phosphorus to build teeth and strengthen the supporting bone. And cheese neutralizes acid in the mouth to help fight cavities and gum disease.
Choose lean proteins. Lean meats, poultry, fish, milk and eggs help strengthen teeth. They are rich in protein and phosphorous, which is essential for building strong bones and teeth.
Eat a rainbow. Fruits and vegetables provide many key nutrients, including vitamins necessary for healing, bone strength, and healthy gums. Besides being nutritious, fruits and veggies scrub your teeth while you chew and stimulate the production of saliva, which is necessary for neutralizing acid and rebuilding enamel.
Nibble on nuts. Nuts contain protein, fiber and healthy fats. They also contain essential vitamins and minerals to keep teeth strong and gums healthy. Further, chewing nuts stimulates saliva production, lowering the risk of tooth decay.
Go for the grains. Studies have shown that eating too many refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sweet bakery items can lead to chronic inflammation, which is a factor in gum disease, heart disease, stroke and other conditions. In contrast, eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains may reduce inflammation in the body.
What you put in your body can play a big role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease, so choose foods that provide the right building blocks for optimal dental and overall health.
During his former career as a professional footballer (that's a soccer star to U.S. sports fans) David Beckham was known for his skill at “bending” a soccer ball. His ability to make the ball curve in mid-flight — to avoid a defender or score a goal — led scores of kids to try to “bend it like Beckham.” But just recently, while enjoying a vacation in Canada with his family, “Becks” tried snowboarding for the first time — and in the process, broke one of his front teeth.
Some fans worried that the missing tooth could be a “red card” for Beckham's current modeling career… but fortunately, he headed straight to the dental office as soon as he arrived back in England. Exactly what kind of treatment is needed for a broken tooth? It all depends where the break is and how badly the tooth is damaged.
For a minor crack or chip, cosmetic bonding may offer a quick and effective solution. In this procedure, a composite resin, in a color custom-made to match the tooth, is applied in liquid form and cured (hardened) with a special light. Several layers of bonding material can be applied to re-construct a larger area of missing tooth, and chips that have been saved can sometimes be reattached as well.
When more tooth structure is missing, dental veneers may be the preferred restorative option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells that are bonded to the front surface of the teeth. They can not only correct small chips or cracks, but can also improve the color, spacing, and shape of your teeth.
But if the damage exposes the soft inner pulp of the tooth, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. In this procedure, the inflamed or infected pulp tissue is removed and the tooth sealed against re-infection; if a root canal is not done when needed, the tooth will have an increased risk for extraction in the future. Following a root canal, a tooth is often restored with a crown (cap), which can look good and function well for many years.
Sometimes, a tooth may be knocked completely out of its socket; or, a severely damaged tooth may need to be extracted (removed). In either situation, the best option for restoration is a dental implant. Here, a tiny screw-like device made of titanium metal is inserted into the jaw bone in a minor surgical procedure. Over time, it fuses with the living bone to form a solid anchorage. A lifelike crown is attached, which provides aesthetic appeal and full function for the replacement tooth.
So how's Beckham holding up? According to sources, “David is a trooper and didn't make a fuss. He took it all in his stride." Maybe next time he hits the slopes, he'll heed the advice of dental experts and wear a custom-made mouthguard…
If you have questions about restoring damaged teeth, please contact our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Trauma and Nerve Damage to Teeth” and “Children's Dental Concerns and Injuries.”
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