Posts for: August, 2018
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.”
For a healthy pregnancy, it helps to have healthy teeth and gums. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourages its members to advise expectant moms to see their dentist. But maintaining oral health can be more challenging when you’re expecting. For one thing, hormonal changes make you more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease, which has been linked to “systemic” (general body) health problems including preterm labor and low birth weight.
Periodontal (gum) disease results from the buildup of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces in the absence of good oral hygiene. It typically starts as gingivitis — inflammation and redness around the gum margins and bleeding when brushing and flossing. If the infection progresses, it can attack the structures supporting the teeth (gums, ligaments, and bone) and may eventually result in tooth loss. And if the infection enters the bloodstream, it can pose health risks elsewhere in the body. Studies suggest that oral bacteria and their byproducts are able to cross the placenta and trigger an inflammatory response in the mother, which may in turn induce early labor.
TLC for Your Oral Environment
Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing or using another interdental cleaner at least once daily is your first-line defense again bacteria buildup. Professional cleanings are also important to remove hardened plaque (calculus) that brushing and flossing may miss. And regular checkups can catch problems early to avoid or minimize adverse effects. Periodontal disease and tooth decay aren’t always painful or the pain may subside, so you won’t always know there’s a problem.
Dental emergencies such as cavities, root canals and tooth fractures should be treated promptly to address pain and infection, thereby reducing stress to the developing fetus. Of course, if you know you need a cavity filled or a root canal prior to becoming pregnant, that’s the optimal time to get treated!
If you would like more information about dental care during pregnancy, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”
Teeth damaged by decay, periodontal (gum) disease or trauma are often removed (extracted) if they’re deemed beyond repair. But there’s another reason we may recommend an extraction: a tooth is causing or has the potential to cause problems for other teeth and your overall oral health.
Some of the most frequent cases of “preventive extraction” involve the third molars, or wisdom teeth, located in the very back of the mouth. They’re usually the last permanent teeth to come in, which is related to some of the problems they can cause. Because they’re trying to come in among teeth that have already erupted they don’t always erupt properly, often at abnormal angles or not fully erupting through the gums, a condition called impaction.
Impacted or misaligned wisdom teeth can put pressure on adjacent teeth and their roots, which can cause root resorption that damages the second molar. They can also increase the risk of periodontal (gum) disease in the gum tissues of the second molars, which if untreated can ultimately cause teeth and bone loss.
Because of current or possible future problems with wisdom teeth, we often consider removing them at some early point in the person’s dental development. Such a consideration shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, since wisdom teeth extraction is often complex and fraught with complications, and it usually requires a surgical procedure.
That’s why we first conduct a comprehensive examination (including x-ray or other imaging to determine exact location and possible complications) before we recommend an extraction. If after careful analysis an extraction appears to be the best course, we must then consider other factors like planned orthodontics to determine the best time for the procedure.
Once performed, a wisdom tooth extraction can resolve existing problems now and reduce the risks of gum disease or malocclusions in the future. When it comes to wisdom teeth, removing them may be in your or your family member’s best interest for optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on wisdom 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 “Wisdom Teeth.”