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.
The longer many health problems go on, the worse they become. Treating them as early as possible could stop or slow their development.
That holds true for poor bites: while we can certainly correct them later in life, it's often better to "intercept" the problem during childhood. Interceptive orthodontics attempts to do this with treatments that influence how the jaws and other mouth structures develop during childhood. Many of these techniques are usually best implemented before puberty.
For example, some very complex problems called cross bites can occur if the upper jaw grows too narrowly. We might be able to stop this from happening by using an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander during the childhood years. It works because the bone at the center of the palate (roof of the mouth) has a gap running back to front until the early teens when the gap closes.
We fit the palatal expander up under and against the palate, then extend out metal arms from a center mechanism to the back of the upper teeth that exert outward pressure on them. This widens the center gap, which the body continually fills with bone as the device gradually exerts more pressure. Over time this causes the jaw to widen and lessens the cross bite. Timing, though, is everything: it's most effective before the gap closes.
Another way to aid jaw growth is a Herbst appliance, a hinged device that alters the movement of the jaws. As a child wears it, a Herbst appliance draws the lower jaw forward to develop more in that direction. Like the palatal expander, it's best used before significant jaw growth occurs.
These are just two examples of techniques and tools that can guide structural growth and prevent bite problems. Because they're most effective in the early years of oral development, your child should undergo an orthodontic evaluation as early as age 6 to see if they need and can benefit from an interceptive treatment.
Interceptive orthodontics can stop or at least slow a growing bite problem. The effort and expense now could save you much more of both later on.
If you would like more information on interceptive orthodontics, 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 “Interceptive Orthodontics: Timely Intervention can make Treatment Easier.”
A root canal treatment is a highly effective way to save a deeply decayed tooth. Sometimes, though, complications make it difficult or even impossible to perform the traditional procedure. In those cases, we may need to use a different option.
Tooth decay becomes an imminent threat to a tooth's survival if it works its way into the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. It's only a short advancement from there into the roots by way of the root canals.
In a typical root canal treatment, we access the pulp by drilling a small hole in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back side of a front tooth. We remove all the tissue within the pulp and fill it and the root canals with a special filling to prevent re-infection. After sealing the access hole, we cap the tooth with a crown to further protect it.
Although root canal treatments have a high success rate, re-infection can still occur. Often, a second root canal will save the tooth from the new infection.
In some cases, though, using the traditional procedure might do more harm than good. It's possible we may find extra canals previously undetected branching out from the primary canal at the root end. Canals can calcify and narrow, making them extremely difficult to fill. Subsequent dental work may also prove troublesome: we would have to take the restoration apart, which could further weaken the tooth.
The alternative is a procedure known as an apicoectomy. Instead of accessing the pulp through the crown, we access the root end through the gum tissue. We then focus on removing infected tissue at the tooth's root end, along with a tiny amount of the root tip. We then place a small filling at the end of the root canal (essentially plugging it up) to prevent further infection. We may also perform grafting to encourage bone growth in any voids left by the procedure.
Endodontists, specialists in root canals, have the advanced training and specialized equipment to perform an apicoectomy. With their expertise, they may be able to save your tooth with this specialized procedure when a root canal treatment won't work.
If you would like more information on options for treating decayed teeth, 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.”
The Golden Globes ceremony is a night when Hollywood stars shine their brightest. At the recent red-carpet event, leading man Viggo Mortensen had plenty to smile about: Green Book, the movie in which he co-starred, picked up the award for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy. But fans looking at the veteran actor's big smile today might not realize that it once looked very different. A few years ago, an accident during the filming of The Two Towers took a major chip out of Mortensen's front tooth!
That might be OK for some movies (think The Hangover or Dumb and Dumber)—but it's not so great for everyday life. Fortunately, Mortensen visited a dentist promptly, and now his smile is picture-perfect. How was that accomplished? He didn't say…but generally, the best treatment for a chipped tooth depends on how much of the tooth's structure is missing.
If the tooth has only a small chip or crack, it's often possible to restore it via cosmetic bonding. This procedure can be done right in the dental office, frequently in a single visit. Here's how it works: First the tooth is cleaned and prepared, and then a tooth-colored resin is applied to the area being restored. After it is cured (hardened) with a special light, additional layers may be applied to build up the missing structure. When properly cared for, a tooth restored this way can look good for several years.
For a longer-lasting restoration, veneers may be recommended. These are wafer-thin shells made of durable material (most often porcelain) that cover the front (visible) surfaces of teeth. Strong and lifelike, veneers can match the exact color of your natural teeth—or give you the bright, high-wattage smile you've always wanted. No wonder they're so popular in Hollywood! Because veneers are custom-made for you, getting them may require several office visits.
If a chip or crack extends to the inner pulp of the tooth, a root canal procedure will be needed to keep the tooth from becoming infected—a situation that could have serious consequences. But you shouldn't fear a root canal! The procedure generally causes no more discomfort than filling a cavity (though it takes a little longer), and it can help save teeth that would otherwise be lost. After a root canal, a crown (cap) is generally needed to restore the visible part of the tooth.
When a damaged tooth can't be restored, it needs to be extracted (removed) and replaced. Today's best option for tooth replacement is a dental implant—a small, screw-shaped post inserted into the bone of your jaw that anchors a lifelike, fully functional crown. Implants require very little special care and can look great for many years, making them a top choice for tooth replacement
If you have questions about chipped or damaged teeth, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
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.”
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