This month marks the 20th annual observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, over 50,000 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 10,000 people died from the disease. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only around 57%, making it more deadly than many other types of cancer. But if oral cancer is caught and treated early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 80%. This is one reason why regular dental checkups are so important—we can be your best ally in detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it often develops without pain or obvious symptoms. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment, but signs of the disease frequently go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced. Fortunately, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to recognize signs of oral cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. Oral cancer can appear on any surface of the mouth and throat, with the tongue being the most common site, particularly along the sides, followed by the floor of the mouth. As part of a regular dental exam, we examine these surfaces for even subtle signs of the disease.
Screenings performed at the dental office are the best way to detect oral cancer, but between dental visits it's a good idea to check your own mouth for any of the following: white or red patches, lumps, hard spots, spots that bleed easily or sores that don't heal. Let us know if any of these symptoms don't go away on their own within two or three weeks.
Using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for oral cancer, especially in combination with alcohol consumption. Although the majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 55, the fastest growing segment of new diagnoses are among young people due to the rise in cases of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in young adults.
A routine dental visit can do much more than preventing and treating tooth decay and gum disease—it might even save your life! If you have questions about oral cancer or are concerned about possible symptoms, call us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Although not high on the glamour scale, saliva is nonetheless an important ingredient in a healthy life. This "multi-tasker" fluid helps break down your food for better digestion and supplies antibodies to thwart threatening microorganisms coming in through the mouth.
But perhaps its most important role is to neutralize mouth acid that can erode tooth enamel. Without this buffering action, you're at much greater risk for tooth decay and possible tooth loss.
That's why chronic dry mouth is much more than just an unpleasant feeling. If you're not producing enough saliva, your risk for developing tooth decay (and periodontal disease too) skyrocket.
Here are 3 things you can do to avoid dry mouth and promote healthier saliva flow.
Watch what goes in your mouth. Some foods, beverages and other substances can interfere with saliva production. Caffeine in coffee, sodas and other beverages can cause your body to lose water needed to produce adequate saliva. So can alcohol, which can also further irritate dry tissues. And any type of tobacco use can decrease saliva production and heighten the dry mouth effect, another good reason to kick the habit.
Drink more water. Water is the main ingredient in saliva, so keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day helps ensure a ready supply. Drinking water also helps dilute acid concentrations and washes away leftover food particles that could become a food source for oral bacteria, the main source for mouth acid.
Ask questions about your medications. Many medications can trigger chronic dry mouth including drugs to treat cancer, high blood pressure, depression or allergies. If you have chronic dry mouth, talk with your physician about the medications you're taking and ask if there are any alternatives that have less of an effect. If not, drink more water, especially while taking oral medication.
You can also reduce dry mouth symptoms by using a humidifier while you sleep or using products that boost saliva production. And be sure you're brushing and flossing daily to further reduce your risk of dental disease. Managing dry mouth won't just make your mouth feel better—it will help your teeth and gums stay healthier too.
As your dental provider, we're always alert for signs of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the two leading causes of tooth loss. But we're also watching for less common conditions that could be just as devastating.
Root resorption falls into this latter category: it occurs when a tooth's root structure begins to break down and dissolve (or resorb). It's a normal process in primary ("baby") teeth to allow them to loosen and give way when permanent teeth are ready to erupt.
It's not normal, though, for permanent teeth. Something internally or—more commonly—externally causes the root structure to break down. External resorption usually occurs at the neck-like or cervical area of a tooth around the gum line. Known as external cervical resorption (ECR), it can first appear as small, pinkish spots on the enamel. These spots contain abnormal cells that cause the actual damage to the root.
We don't fully understand how root resorption occurs, but we have identified certain factors that favor its development. For example, it may develop if a person has experienced too much force against the teeth during orthodontic treatment. Injury to the periodontal ligaments, teeth-grinding habits or some dental procedures like internal bleaching may also contribute to later root resorption.
Early diagnosis is a major part of effective treatment for root resorption. Because it's usually painless and easily overlooked, resorption is often too difficult to detect in its early stages without x-rays—a good reason for regular dental exams. Beginning spots or lesions are usually small enough to surgically remove the tissue cells causing the damage and then filled with a tooth-colored filling material. If it has advanced further, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment.
At some point, the damage from root resorption can be too great, in which case it might be best to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant or similar restoration. That's why catching root resorption early through regular dental exams can give you the edge for saving your tooth.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
Via a recent Instagram post, pop diva Ariana Grande became the latest young celebrity to publicly acknowledge a dental milestone: having her wisdom teeth removed. The singer of hits such as “Break Free” and “Problem” posted an after-surgery picture of herself (wearing her signature cat-eye eyeliner), with a caption addressed to her teeth: “Peace out, final three wisdom teeth. It’s been real.”
With the post, Grande joined several other celebs (including Lily Allen, Paris Hilton and Emile Hirsch) who have shared their dental surgery experience with fans. Will "wisdom teeth removal" become a new trending topic on social media? We aren’t sure — but we can explain a bit about the procedure, and why many younger adults may need it.
Technically called the “third molars,” wisdom teeth usually begin to emerge from the gums between the ages of 17 and 25 — presumably, around the same time that a certain amount of wisdom emerges. Most people have four of these big molars, which are located all the way in the back of the mouth, on the left and right sides of the upper and lower jaws.
But when wisdom teeth begin to appear, there’s often a problem: Many people don’t have enough space in their jaws to accommodate them. When these molars lack sufficient space to fully erupt (emerge), they are said to be “impacted.” Impacted teeth can cause a number of serious problems: These may include pain, an increased potential for bacterial infections, periodontal disease, and even the formation of cysts (pockets of infection below the gum line), which can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
In most cases, the best treatment for impacted wisdom teeth is extraction (removal) of the problem teeth. Wisdom tooth extraction is a routine, in-office procedure that is usually performed under local anesthesia or “conscious sedation,” a type of anesthesia where the patient remains conscious (able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli), but is free from any pain or distress. Anti-anxiety medications may also be given, especially for those who are apprehensive about dental procedures.
So if you find you need your wisdom teeth extracted, don’t be afraid to “Break Free” like Ariana Grande did; whether you post the results on social media is entirely up to you. If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Periodontal (gum) disease can weaken gum attachment and cause bone deterioration that eventually leads to tooth loss. But its detrimental effects can also extend beyond the mouth and worsen other health problems like heart disease or diabetes.
While the relationship between gum disease and other health conditions isn't fully understood, there does seem to be a common denominator: chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism the body uses to isolate damaged or diseased tissues from healthier ones. But if the infection and inflammation become locked in constant battle, often the case with gum disease, then the now chronic inflammation can actually damage tissue.
Inflammation is also a key factor in conditions like heart disease and diabetes, as well as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. Inflammation contributes to plaque buildup in blood vessels that impedes circulation and endangers the heart. Diabetes-related inflammation can contribute to slower wound healing and blindness.
Advanced gum disease can stimulate the body's overall inflammatory response. Furthermore, the breakdown of gum tissues makes it easier for bacteria and other toxins from the mouth to enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body to trigger further inflammation. These reactions could make it more difficult to control any inflammatory condition like diabetes or heart disease, or increase your risk for developing one.
To minimize this outcome, you should see a dentist as soon as possible if you notice reddened, swollen or bleeding gums. The sooner you begin treatment, the less impact it may have on your overall health. And because gum disease can be hard to notice in its early stages, be sure you visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups.
The most important thing you can do, though, is to try to prevent gum disease from occurring in the first place. You can do this by brushing twice and flossing once every day to keep dental plaque, the main trigger for gum disease, from accumulating on tooth surfaces.
Guarding against gum disease will certainly help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. But it could also help protect you from—or lessen the severity of—other serious health conditions.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating gum disease, 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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