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.”
Do you grind your teeth? If you're not sure, ask your family—sometimes the sound of teeth grinding against teeth might make enough noise to be keeping them up at night. You might also be waking with sore jaw muscles and joints.
If you suspect you have this habit of involuntarily grinding, gnashing or clenching your teeth, it's a good idea to get it checked. Here are 3 things you should know about this odd habit.
Teeth-grinding more prevalent among children. Children are more likely than adults to grind their teeth in their sleep, thought to be a consequence of their developing swallowing mechanism, but usually grow out of it without any long-term effects. Adults with the habit seem to grind their teeth for different reasons, one of the most significant being a response to high stress. Tobacco could be another factor: users are twice as likely as non-users to grind their teeth. Adult teeth-grinding may also be associated with high caffeine consumption, illicit drug use or Parkinson's Disease, which impairs brain nerve function.
Sleep apnea can be an underlying cause. There's one other major underlying cause to add to that list: obstructive sleep apnea. One international study of thousands of patients from different countries found both high anxiety or stress and sleep-related breathing disorders were two of the most significant risk factors for adult teeth-grinding. It's believed the physical stress generated by these temporary episodes of breathing obstruction occurring several times a night could trigger teeth-grinding.
Teeth-grinding can cause dental problems. While having a teeth-grinding habit doesn't automatically mean you'll have dental issues, your risk can increase dramatically. Due to its chronic nature, teeth-grinding can lead to excessive tooth wear, dental work damage or jaw joint dysfunction. In some extreme cases, it could cause tooth fracture.
If you grind your teeth, your dentist may be able to help by creating a custom-made occlusal guard that can reduce biting forces while you're wearing it. You might also minimize teeth-grinding by quitting tobacco and other lifestyle changes, or getting a better handle on stress management. And if you're also diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, getting treatment for that condition will not only improve your overall health, it could help put an end to your teeth-grinding habit.
If you would like more information on bruxism, 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 “Teeth Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”
A third of people treated for cancer develop adverse side effects within their mouth. But while these effects can be devastating to teeth and gums, there are ways to minimize the damage.
Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation work by destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, they may also destroy normal cells. The accumulation of this “collateral damage” ultimately affects uninvolved areas and organ systems of the body. Chemotherapy, for example, can interrupt bone marrow blood cell formation and decrease the body's ability to fight infection.
These ripple effects can eventually reach the mouth. It's not uncommon for cancer patients to develop mouth sores or see an increase in tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The treatments may also inhibit saliva flow: because saliva neutralizes acid and provides other benefits that lower disease risk, dental disease is more likely to develop when the salivary flow is reduced.
The first step to minimizing these effects is to improve oral health before cancer treatment begins. An unhealthy mouth vastly increases the chances for problems during treatment. Cooperating with your cancer physicians, we should attempt to treat any diseases present as soon as possible.
During cancer treatment we should also monitor your oral health and intervene when appropriate. If at all possible, you should continue regular dental visits for cleaning and checkups, and more so if conditions warrant. We can also protect your teeth and gums with protective measures like antibacterial mouth rinses, saliva stimulation or high-potency fluoride applications for your enamel.
What's most important, though, is what you can do for yourself to care for your mouth during the treatment period. Be sure to brush daily with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. You can use a weak solution of one-quarter teaspoon each of salt and baking soda to a quart of warm water to rinse your mouth and soothe any sores. And be sure to drink plenty of water to reduce dry mouth.
While you're waging your battle against cancer, stay vigilant about your teeth and gums. Taking care of them will ensure that after you've won your war against this malignant foe your mouth will be healthy too.
If you would like more information on taking care of your teeth and gums during cancer treatment, 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
As a regular part of your daily hygiene you may be using a mouthrinse — or “mouthwash” — mainly to keep your mouth feeling fresh and clean. Some mouthrinses, though, do more than give you fresher breath.
While there are countless mouthrinses available, we can place all of them into two broad categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. The first refresh your mouth and breath, usually with a mentholated or minty taste and smell that masks unpleasant odors. How well they work is mainly subjective: if you feel better after using them, they’ve done their job.
Therapeutic rinses have a different role, intended to improve oral health in some way. We can divide these into anti-cariogenic (decay prevention) or anti-bacterial rinses. You can find fluoride-based anti-cariogenic rinses over-the-counter in retail or drug stores, usually containing about .05% sodium fluoride per volume. Numerous studies have shown these rinses highly effective in preventing tooth decay when used with daily brushing and flossing.
Likewise, over-the-counter antibacterial rinses have proven somewhat effective in reducing bacteria that leads to dental disease. Formulated usually with triclosan, sanguinaria extract, zinc or essential oils, they can also help reduce the incidence of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), but only if used in conjunction with brushing and flossing.
Perhaps, though, the most widely studied and substantiated therapeutic mouthrinse is chlorhexidine, a prescription-only rinse. Chlorhexidine inhibits the formation of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces, the main trigger for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. It’s often used as a post-surgery rinse when brushing and flossing may not be possible, but dentists will often prescribe it for patients who have a high propensity for dental disease.
Using a mouthrinse depends on your current oral health and personal preferences. Therapeutically, most people gain some added tooth strength protection from using a fluoride rinse in their daily hygiene. If fresh breath and the way your mouth feels are important to you, you should consider such a rinse that also has a pleasant taste and effect for you. We can further discuss with you whether a different type of rinse, or a prescription-strength formula, might be best for your particular needs.
If you would like more information on mouthrinses, 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 “Mouthrinses.”
Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.
Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.
Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:
- If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
- If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
- If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
- If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.
What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.