Posts for category: Oral Health
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.”
Removing plaque, a bacterial film that builds up on teeth, daily is crucial in preventing dental disease, but is your brushing and flossing making enough of a difference?
Plaque forms every day in our mouths as a result of eating. The bacteria in it produce acid, which can erode tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Certain strains can also infect the gums and cause periodontal (gum) disease. Either of these primary diseases could lead to tooth loss.
Daily plaque removal with brushing and flossing keeps bacteria growth under control, so a quick swish of your toothbrush across your teeth won't be enough. Plaque's soft, sticky consistency enables it to hide in hard to reach places below the gum line, irregular biting surfaces, or in fillings or other dental work.
Because it's virtually invisible, it's hard to tell if you've successfully removed it. That's where disclosing agents can help. These are solutions, swabs or tablets with a dye that temporarily stains plaque while not staining tooth surfaces. Dental hygienists use them to show patients where they're missing plaque when brushing and flossing, but you can also use them at home to see how you're doing between dental visits.
After brushing and flossing, use the disclosure product according to the package directions. If you're using a solution, for example, swish it around in your mouth for about thirty seconds and then spit it out. The dye reacts with leftover plaque to stain it a bright color. Some products even offer a two-tone dye that displays older plaque in a different color from newer plaque.
After noticing the dyed plaque in a mirror, brush and floss until you don't see it anymore. You may have to change your approach, which will help you perform better in the future. Although safe in the mouth, you should still avoid swallowing the agent or getting it on your clothes. Any on your lips, gums or tongue will eventually wear off in a few hours.
A disclosing agent gives you a snapshot of where you need to improve your oral hygiene. Occasional “spot checks” will help keep your brushing and flossing well tuned.
We’re all familiar with “naughty” and “nice” lists for food: “nice” items are beneficial or at least harmless; on the other hand, those on the “naughty” list are not and should be avoided. And processed sugar has had top billing on many people’s “naughty” list for some time now.
And for good reason: it’s linked to many physical ills including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. As a favorite food for oral bacteria that cause dental disease, sugar can also increase your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Most people agree that reducing sugar in their diet is a great idea health-wise. But there’s one small problem: a great many of us like sugar—a lot. No matter how hard we try, it’s just plain difficult to avoid. Thanks perhaps to our ancient ancestors, we’re hard-wired to crave it.
But necessity is the mother of invention, which is why we’ve seen the development over the past half century of artificial sweeteners, alternatives to sugar that promise to satisfy people’s “sweet tooth” without the harmful health effects. When it comes to dental health, these substitute sweeteners won’t contribute to bacterial growth and thus can lower disease risk.
But are they safe? Yes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency has approved six types of artificial sweeteners for human consumption: acesulfame K, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, sucralose and rebaudioside A. According to the FDA any adverse effects caused by artificial sweeteners are limited to rare conditions like phenylketonuria, which prevents those with the disease from safely digesting aspartame.
So, unless you have such a condition, you can safely substitute whatever artificial sweetener you prefer for sugar. And if dental health is a particular concern, you might consider including xylitol. This alcohol-based sweetener may further deter tooth decay—bacteria can’t digest it, so their population numbers in the mouth may actually decrease. You’ll find xylitol used as a sweetener primarily in gums, candies and mints.
Reducing sugar consumption, couple with daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, will certainly lower your risk of costly dental problems. Using a substitute sweetener might just help you do that.
If you would like more information on sweetener alternatives, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
While most tooth loss stems from dental disease or injury, another major cause is a condition known as cracked tooth syndrome. What begins as a microscopic crack in an individual tooth’s enamel could ultimately grow to a fracture that endangers its survival.
Most often related to age-related brittleness, expansion and contraction of the enamel surface because of hot foods followed by cold foods and beverages, or grinding habits, cracked tooth syndrome usually occurs in three phases. The first phase is the emergence of miniscule cracks in the outer enamel known as craze lines. These can be very difficult to detect even with x-rays, and usually calls for specialized detection methods such as probing with a sharp instrument (an explorer) or fiber-optic lighting with dye staining to highlight enamel abnormalities. If you have pain symptoms, we may ask you to bite down on a bite stick or rubber pad to locate the area by replicating the sensation.
In the next phase, the craze line grows into a crack that penetrates below the enamel into the tooth’s dentin. Pain becomes more prominent and the risk of infection increases. Left untreated, the crack may enter the third phase, a full break (fracture) occurring deep within the inner layers of the tooth. The deeper the fracture occurs, the more serious the danger to the tooth, especially if the pulp is exposed.
The best treatment approach is to attempt to detect and treat a crack as early as possible. Craze lines and moderate cracks can usually be repaired with restorative materials like composite resins. A deeper crack extending into the pulp may require a root canal treatment and the tooth covered with a permanent, protective crown.
If, however, the fracture is too deep, the tooth may be beyond repair and will need to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant or permanent bridge. In any event, the sooner a cracked tooth is discovered and treated, the greater your chance of avoiding pain, discomfort, and, ultimately, tooth loss.
If you would like more information on cracked tooth syndrome, 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 “Cracked Tooth Syndrome.”
When you’re among the top players in your field, you need every advantage to help you stay competitive: Not just the best equipment, but anything else that relieves pain and stress, and allows you to play better. For top-seeded Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic, that extra help came in a somewhat unexpected form: a custom made mouthguard that he wears on the court and off. “[It helps] to not grind my teeth while I play,” said the 25-year-old up-and-coming ace. “It just causes stress and headaches sometimes.”
Mouthguards are often worn by athletes engaged in sports that carry the risk of dental injury — such as basketball, football, hockey, and some two dozen others; wearing one is a great way to keep your teeth from being seriously injured. But Raonic’s mouthguard isn’t primarily for safety; it’s actually designed to help him solve the problem of teeth grinding, or bruxism. This habitual behavior causes him to unconsciously tense up his jaw, potentially leading to problems with muscles and teeth.
Bruxism is a common issue that’s often caused or aggravated by stress. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to suffer from this condition: Everyday anxieties can have the same effect. The behavior is often worsened when you consume stimulating substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs.
While bruxism affects thousands of people, some don’t even suspect they have it. That’s because it may occur at any time — even while you’re asleep! The powerful jaw muscles that clench and grind teeth together can wear down tooth enamel, and damage both natural teeth and dental work. They can even cause loose teeth! What’s more, a clenching and grinding habit can result in pain, headaches and muscle soreness… which can really put you off your game.
There are several ways to relieve the problem of bruxism. Stress reduction is one approach that works in some cases. When it’s not enough, a custom made occlusal guard (also called a night guard or mouthguard) provided by our office can make a big difference. “When I don’t sleep with it for a night,” Raonic said “I can feel my jaw muscles just tense up the next day. I don’t sense myself grinding but I can sort of feel that difference the next day.”
Â An occlusal guard is made from an exact model of your own mouth. It helps to keep your teeth in better alignment and prevent them from coming into contact, so they can’t damage each other. It also protects your jaw joints from being stressed by excessive force. Plus, it’s secure and comfortable to wear. “I wear it all the time other than when I’m eating, so I got used to it pretty quickly,” said Raonic.
Teeth grinding can be a big problem — whether you put on your game face on the court… or at home. If you would like more information about bruxism, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”