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.”
Not long ago, the most affordable option for total tooth loss was a removable denture. Dentures, prosthetic (false) teeth set in gum-colored acrylic plastic bases, can effectively restore function and appearance. But the appliance continues to have one major drawback: it can accelerate bone loss in the jaw.
Like other living tissues, older bone cells die and become absorbed into the body (resorption). Normally they're replaced by newer cells. The forces generated when we chew our food travel through the teeth to stimulate this new growth. This stimulus ends when we lose our teeth, and so cell replacement can slow to an abnormal rate. Eventually, this causes bone loss.
Removable dentures can't provide this stimulation. In fact, the pressure generated as they compress the gums' bony ridges can even accelerate bone loss. That's why over time a denture's fit can become loose and uncomfortable — the bone has shrunk and no longer matches the contours of the dentures.
In recent years, though, a new development has been able to provide greater support to dentures while at the same time slowing or even stopping bone loss. We can now support dentures with dental implants.
Implants are best known as individual tooth replacements: a titanium metal post replaces the root, while a life-like porcelain crown attaches to the post to replace the visible tooth. In addition to providing a longer-lasting alternative to removable dentures, implants provide a very important health benefit: they improve bone density because they mimic the function of natural teeth. Bone cells are naturally attracted to the titanium; they adhere to the titanium post and are stimulated to grow through the action of chewing, increasing bone density and securing the implant's hold in the jaw.
Using the same technology we can support removable dentures, or even full fixed bridges. Rather than rest directly on the bony ridges, a denture can make a secure connection through a coupling system with just a few strategically placed implants. We can also permanently attach a full bridge by fastening it to a few implants with screws.
Not only do we eliminate the pressure from dentures compressing the gums and bone tissue, we can actually stimulate bone growth with the implants. Although more costly upfront than traditional dentures, unlike traditional dentures which must be replaced every five to seven years, long-lasting implants may be more cost-effective over the long-run.
If you would like more information on implant-supported tooth replacement, 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 Teeth in One Day.”
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
It's National Nutrition Month! Good nutrition is key to overall health, but poor dental health can have a big impact on your ability to get the right nutrients. Your mouth is the first step in the digestive system, so if teeth and gums are in poor shape, food choices can be severely limited. Here are some nutritional guidelines that will benefit your oral health as well as your overall health.
Get plenty of fruits and vegetables. Plant foods provide many oral health benefits:
- Crunchy fruits and vegetables scrub debris from your teeth during chewing and stimulate the production of saliva, which neutralizes acid and helps rebuild tooth enamel.
- Dark, leafy greens are a good source of iron, calcium and many vitamins that are good for your teeth and gums.
- Several fruits have vitamin C, an essential for healthy gums.
- Bananas have magnesium, which builds tooth enamel.
- Many yellow and orange fruits supply vitamin A, which keeps the soft membranes in your mouth healthy.
Go for dairy. Dairy products—for example, cheese, milk and unsweetened yogurt—neutralize acid as well as contribute tooth- and bone-strengthening minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.
Eat whole grains. An excess of refined carbohydrates can lead to chronic inflammation, which contributes to gum disease and many other ailments. However, the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains work against inflammation.
Incorporate all food groups. Strive to eat a balanced diet that includes healthy foods from all food groups. For example:
- Lean proteins are essential for keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
- Good fats such as those found in salmon and nuts work against inflammation. In addition, nuts stimulate the production of saliva and contain vitamins and minerals to keep teeth strong.
- Legumes are a great source of many tooth-healthy vitamins and minerals.
Limit sugary or acidic foods and beverages. Acid from certain foods and beverages can weaken tooth enamel, leading to cavities. The bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid that eats away at tooth enamel, causing cavities. How you eat and drink also affects dental health. For example, if you indulge in sugary treats, do so with a meal if possible so that other foods can help neutralize the acid. And if you drink lemonade or soda, don't brush your teeth immediately afterwards. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to give your saliva a chance to neutralize the acid.
Getting the right nutrition for a healthy body requires good dental health, so it pays to take good care of your teeth. For a lifetime of good oral health, choose foods that keep your teeth and gums healthy, and don't forget to schedule regular dental checkups to make sure your teeth and gums are in great shape. If you have questions about diet and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
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